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Woodburn Police Chief Jim Ferraris wraps up a diverse, 43-year law enforcement career in early 2021

PMG FILE PHOTO - Jim Ferraris says his five years as the Woodburn police chief were the 'highlight of my career.'As a young detective with the Beaverton Police Department, Jim Ferraris investigated a case that would become notorious throughout Oregon and beyond.

At 9:06 a.m. on Nov. 20, 1983, Philip Kenneth Johns telephoned police to notify them that his wife had been accidentally shot. Court records described the scene:

"The police arrived at the scene shortly thereafter and discovered the victim on the bed, lying on her back with her head on a pillow. A .38 revolver and four cartridges were on the bed near the victim's knees. She was taken to the hospital, where she died the next day. An autopsy determined the cause of death to be a gunshot wound to the back of the head. The bullet's trajectory was almost straight from the back to the front of the head, and it lodged above her left eye. The state's evidence was that the gun was fired from a distance of about six inches to two and one-half feet from the muzzle to the victim's head."

Johns was described as "in shock, nervous and talkative."

COURTESY PHOTO: CITY OF WOODBURN - Woodburn Police Chief Jim Ferraris.Ferraris recalled: "It wasn't readily apparent as a murder. Initially, we investigated it as an accidental shooting. As I investigated we started putting pieces together where we established a means and a motive and intent. Johns had a girlfriend, and he had taken out a large insurance policy on his wife."

The investigation sent Ferraris on an information-gathering trail that led to the southern hemisphere where he discovered that Johns, a New Zealand citizen, had attempted to kill his first wife on Dec. 25, 1977. He was institutionalized for that incident, released and eventually found his way to the United States and, ultimately, Oregon.

Johns was arrested in Beaverton, tried and convicted. The case was appealed and overturned. Washington County's district attorney appealed to the Oregon Supreme Court which ultimately restored the conviction.

Long law enforcement career

The ordeal is still clear in Ferraris' mind, which is remarkable considering it amounts to a sliver of his 43 years in law enforcement.

Ferraris announced last week that he will retire as Woodburn's chief of police, officially taking place early next year. The retirement comes after providing five stellar years of leadership to the department.

Growing up in a southeast Portland neighborhood, Ferraris graduated from Central Catholic High School in 1975. He always had an interest in law enforcement, and after spending several years studying at Portland Community College and Portland State University, he decided to feed that interest and entered the Multnomah County Sheriff's Explorer program.

COURTESY OF WOODBURN POLICE DEPARTMENT - Woodburn Police Chief Jim Ferraris has been the public face of the department for five years. "That's a great program for young people who are interested in law enforcement," Ferraris attests to Explorers.

At 20, Ferraris started in a reserve deputy program with Multnomah County. About the time he turned 21, Ferraris entered a reserve officer program with Beaverton police. Six months later he was hired to the force.

After five and a half years in Beaverton, Ferraris joined the Portland Police Bureau, the department he had his goals set on from the onset. In his 28 years with PPB, Ferraris was a patrol officer, drug investigator, precinct commander, supervising sergeant in the detective division, commander of the detective division and assistant chief of investigations before retiring in 2011.

Along the way, Ferraris found time to return to school and earn his bachelor's degree in management and organizational leadership from George Fox University in 2010.

When he retired from the Portland Police Bureau, Ferraris was hired by Salem Police Chief Jerry Moore for a deputy police chief position. After five years with Salem, the position for Woodburn police chief opened up, and a number of regional law enforcement officials, including then Marion County Sheriff Jason Myers and district attorneys Walt Beglau (retired) and Paige Clarkson, encouraged Ferraris to apply. He did, and the city hired him to serve in what would prove to be Ferraris' most rewarding portion of a more than four-decade career.

Putting knowledge to work

City of Woodburn sources note that City Administrator Scott Derickson "hired Ferraris as Woodburn's 14th police chief in December 2015 following a competitive national search and rigorous selection process."

"The last five years spent being the police chief in Woodburn has been the highlight of my career — and I don't say that lightly," Ferraris said.

Upon his hiring, Ferraris immediately began meeting each member of the department and gathering information, determining what works and what needs work. He put that knowledge to work restructuring the department in ways his experience and understanding would best serve the community's public safety.

"The first thing we did was reorganize the department into a more efficient, streamlined command model," Ferraris said. "We eliminated some positions and created some.... Our current organization model is more effective than the previous model. We appointed almost an entirely new leadership team."

It required some adjustments and trust.

"When you have new leadership, change is inevitable," former WPD Det. Rick Puente said. "Chief Ferraris hit the ground running and in 2016 made some changes that shifted the department in a new direction.

"Although change is not always easy, with the wealth of knowledge and experience Chief Ferraris brought to the department, you had to trust the process and work with the change."

Among the changes was establishing a clearer path for promotions and transfers, creating an objective, thorough process for advancement. There was also a renewed focus on procedures and training, and an emphasis on ethics, integrity and relationship building with the community and the regional law enforcement community.

Conduct and performance became paramount dimensions.

"Our goal was to push those expectations from chief through the organization on all lines," Ferraris said. "We all operated on the same page."

"Woodburn has benefited greatly from Jim Ferraris' service," Derickson attested. "Jim brought a deep sense of compassion for vulnerable communities and people along with his high standards for integrity and ethics. In doing so, he successfully picked up the baton and carried it forward, resulting in a more professional police department richly connected to its community.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Jim Ferraris was sworn in as Woodburn's new police chief in December 2015."His presence will be missed."

Along side of building relationships, Ferraris emphasized crisis intervention training, furnishing every line officer and every supervisor with crisis intervention training. WPD partners with the sheriff's office, Marion County Health and Salem Police, using a grant that provides for a mobile crisis team that includes a qualified mental health employee working together in a countywide reach.

"So, not only do they focus on mental health crisis calls in Woodburn, but throughout the county," Ferraris said. "It's an excellent program, something we are very proud of."

'Something to be proud of'

Ferraris is president of the Oregon Association of Chiefs of Police, where he will continue as the past president next year. He is also an instructor with the Oregon Department of Public Safety and Standards, and he plans to do some consulting and private investigative work upon "retirement."

"Jim is a consummate professional, respected by everyone inside and outside our police department and our city," Woodburn Mayor Eric Swenson said. "We've been extremely blessed he chose to serve as our chief."

There is also a legacy element in that service.

"In the time I worked with Chief Ferraris, he encouraged anyone to seek growth in leadership and education, and opportunities would follow," said Puente, who is currently the director of public safety in the Beaverton School District. "Because of his encouragement, it opened an opportunity for me to take a leadership role in law enforcement with a different agency. For that I am truly thankful. I will always take those words to heart."

Looking ahead, Ferraris does express concerns about how growth will affect the city's law enforcement capability, about recovery from the aftermath of COVID-19 complications, about legislative decisions that affect public safety and about public perceptions of policing in general.

But he feels he's leaving WPD in a good position to move forward, and he's confident that the community of Woodburn will ensure it does just that.

"By and large, I think our police department is something to be proud of," Ferraris said. "They work hard to provide the best public safety possible in Woodburn."

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