PERF spoke with three of our members who recently retired, to hear their advice for prospective chiefs and what they’re planning for their “Chapter 2.”

-- Jim Ferraris retired as chief of the Woodburn, OR Police Department on March 1 after five years leading the department. He spent his entire career in Oregon, starting as an officer in Beaverton from 1978-1983. He served in the Portland Police Bureau from 1983-2011, rising to the rank of assistant chief, and was the deputy chief in Salem from 2011-2015.

-- Terry Sult retired as chief of the Hampton, VA Police Department on March 26, a position he had held since 2013. He previously served as police chief in Sandy Springs, GA from 2008-2013 and in Gastonia, NC from 2004-2008. He began his career with the Charlotte, NC Police Department, which later merged with the county police to become the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, where he rose to the rank of commander.

-- Jessica Robledo retired as chief of the Pflugerville, TX Police Department on February 23 after four years leading the agency. She previously served with the Austin Police Department for 28 years, retiring from that agency as an assistant chief.


Chief Jim Ferraris

What advice would you give new or prospective police chiefs?

The first piece of advice is to have a plan going in. Know what you’re getting into. Develop a plan for the first 30 days, 60 days, 90 days, 180 days, and one year. Think through it and put it on paper. It’s a living document, so you can adjust it accordingly, but have a plan before you start that job.

Once you’re in the door as chief, learn the landscape. Meet with employees. Meet with your fellow department heads if you work in a city, county, or state. Know your criminal justice partners. Know your community leaders. Get to know your elected officials, including those at the local and state level and your federal Congressional delegation. And get to know your union folks. Listen to all of them. They’ll talk to you and give you information.

Communicate with staff from day one. You’re the new chief, and they want to hear from you. Put a message out. Tell them a little about you, what you expect, and what they can expect from you.

I’ve seen a lot of chiefs go into jobs wearing plainclothes, but I’m a big proponent of chiefs wearing the uniform. Fly the flag. It connects you with your department and the people in your department who also wear the uniform. It also connects you with your community, because you’re the most visible person in that organization, and wearing that uniform helps bring people confidence in the leader of their police department.

Use social media and work with the news media. Chiefs have a tremendous amount of influence, so use it. You have influence at the community level, in your local and state legislature, in your local government, and certainly within your own department. Use your influence.

What do you wish you had known when you first started as chief?

I knew the job would be difficult and challenging, but I didn’t realize how much so. I spent many years as a number two, and I always had a decision-maker above me. But as the chief, you are the decision-maker. That buck stops with you, and you don’t have a safety net any longer. I wish I had thought about that going in, because I faced some very difficult decisions in the first couple years of my tenure.

If you make a mistake, own it and don’t make the same mistake in the future.

What is the most rewarding part of the job? What is the most challenging part?

I think the most rewarding thing is watching change implemented for the better. I took over an agency that was in crisis. It was in a leadership crisis, a community crisis, and there was crisis in the rank-and-file. It’s a department with 45 personnel, and 12 people left in my first year and a half, either by discharge or on their own.

Watching the majority of the employees embrace change and help me move that department forward was very rewarding. When I walked out the door, I felt really good. I left a good legacy. I left capable, respected, professional law enforcement employees who can take that department to the next level. I left on my terms, and I know they’re in good hands and will do a good job. For me, that’s the most rewarding part.

The most challenging part is almost parental: a feeling of disappointment about employees who choose to disregard policy and the law and are self-serving. Luckily we were able to root most of them out, and that was very well received by the department. But it wore on me. It’s tiring, physically and emotionally. Having a peer outside my department to talk with, vent to, and look to for advice saved me many times.

What are your plans for your “Chapter 2”?

When PERF’s Chapter 2 book came out, it really inspired me to think about where I was at the time and where I’d be going when I left law enforcement. I was in the business for 43 years in 4 departments across Oregon, so I have a lot of experience at the chief, command, and line level.

I planned out and stood up a management consulting and investigations firm that has become very successful. In addition to that, I took on a training coordinator role for the Oregon State Sheriffs’ Association. Both of those are part-time, and I have full control over my life and my schedule. It keeps me engaged, keeps me relevant, and gives me a chance to use those 43 years of experience to help others solve problems. I don’t know that I would have put pen to paper, sought advice from others, and developed that level of a plan if I hadn’t read Chapter 2.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Being a police chief is a great job. It’s rewarding. It gives you an opportunity to make a difference and make things better. But not everybody is cut out for it. So if you don’t feel like you’re cut out for it, don’t take the job. If you feel you’re up for the challenge, then take it. But know what you’re getting into before you walk in the door.


Chief Terry Sult

What advice would you give new or prospective police chiefs?

I think the biggest piece of advice is to understand the range of what you don’t know, and be willing to ask questions. Don’t assume that simply because you were chosen as chief, you’re smarter than you were the day before.

You have to learn delegation, and hopefully you’ve learned that before you were selected. You have to learn trust, and trust means allowing people to fail, but fail forward.

And just remember that it’s all about the people – both the citizens and your employees, sworn and civilian.

What do you wish you had known when you first started as chief?

I wish I had known how national and international policing is.  Often new chiefs came up through the ranks, and they understand policing from their viewpoint or the viewpoint of their agency. I came up through Charlotte, and we had a very broad view, but when I took over as chief in the city next door, Gastonia, I learned very quickly that there’s a different perspective on policing. That was a little bit of a learning curve. Police agencies have not all evolved to the same level.

Being involved in PERF, IACP, NOBLE, the Police Foundation, or other professional organizations early on, before you take a chief job, will give you more national insight. I was fortunate to be exposed to some of that.

What is the most rewarding part of the job? What’s the most challenging part?

The people, and the people. The most rewarding is the relationships you build with people, both internally and externally. If you know what you’re doing and value the community, you get to know people. And not only the movers and shakers and the political people you have to know, but you also get into the community and are accessible to everyone as much as possible. That’s extraordinarily rewarding.

Internally, it’s rewarding to understand and reward the talents and capabilities in your organization. There’s that old saying: “None of us are as smart as all of us.” Understanding that will help you understand how extraordinary your people are. It’s very satisfying to help mentor, nurture, and provide resources to people.

I’ve always seen my job as chief as three things: (1) Set the goals and objectives of the organization, (2) Provide resources, and (3) Tear down obstacles. That’s it.  My job isn’t to go out there and tell everyone the technical aspects of what they do. We have trainers, teachers, field training officers, and field training supervisors for that. I have to provide support and let them know that they’re backed, particularly these days.

The most challenging part is also the people, because people sometimes do dumb stuff, or they do things that may not be poorly intended, but they don’t think of the consequences. And you have to hold them accountable, because if you don’t, the whole organization suffers, and the community suffers.

The buck stops with the chief. You can’t change the facts; you can only play the cards you’re dealt. Sometimes it’s most difficult when there’s really no decision to make at all, because the facts are very evident. But it can be hard to hold individuals accountable because you understand that you are human yourself, and you too make mistakes. Also, when you’re holding them accountable, it has impacts on their families and friends. That can be very stressful.

You lose more sleep as a chief over internal issues.

What are your plans for your “Chapter 2”?

This is actually my “Chapter 4,” because I retired in North Carolina, Georgia, and now Virginia. I’m going to be doing consulting with my son. And I’ll be teaching with another group of folks.

My son has a strong background in cybersecurity and co-founded a successful company in Singapore with his cousin. He’s now working for another cybersecurity company in the United States. We’re going to be doing some consulting in that area, blending the law enforcement and cyber angles. I’m a founding member of the Computer Crime and Digital Evidence Committee at the IACP, so that will play into what we’re doing.

And I’m going to be involved with PERF, particularly the Critical Issues in Policing. Policing is evolving, and we have to stay on top of it. And sometimes an old perspective is as good as the new perspectives coming up through the ranks.


Chief Jessica Robledo

What advice would you give new or prospective police chiefs?

Do not take this job unless you’re willing to give it your all. It’s not a Monday-Friday, 9-5 job.

Don’t be afraid to lead and make the difficult decisions. People are watching you and testing you to see if you’re just all talk.

Don’t sacrifice your integrity to be popular. Some will like you, and some will dislike you for the changes you bring, so don’t take it personally.

Remember to be fair and impartial to everyone. Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you. And try to sleep on things. Sometimes I knew the answer quickly, but other times I’d have to sleep on it or go for a run to help things make more sense.

Don’t expect a culture to change overnight, because it takes years. I was in my job for four years, and there’s still a lot of work to do.

As leaders, we forget to make ourselves and our self-care a priority. Model that behavior for your people, and create those resources so they know how to deal with stress.

Jobs like this are a multi-level sacrifice and commitment for you and your family. Be mindful, and know when to listen to your loved ones. If they say, “Hey, you’re starting to change a little bit,” pay attention, because they know you best.

Surround yourself with a group you can trust and can bounce ideas off of, especially during difficult times. That can be done with regional relationship-building, especially if you’re new to the area.

You always have to believe in yourself and what got you the position. That strength and confidence will get you through it.

You have to make decisions. Own them. If you make a mistake, own it. You’re human.

Know your personal and professional boundaries, and don’t settle for less.

Position yourself to be financially sound before you take a job, so that you have options in case you need to pivot. Develop a plan going in, because politics happen. Or something may happen with your family that causes you to say, “I need to take a break.”

Don’t make promises you can’t keep. The buck stops with you, good or bad. Be open and honest with your staff and the community. I loved showcasing the agency and humanizing the badge, especially now.

What is the most rewarding part of the job?

I knew being in a leadership position was rewarding, but I never realized just how rewarding it would be to care about a community that wanted to work with me and our officers. That impact is profound.

You need to know how to engage the community. Teach your staff how to engage. And lead by example. If you tell your folks there are three events this weekend, you need to be there. You need to lead and teach them how to engage.  Sometimes police are notorious for standing in the corner and “podding” by ourselves. Tell them to go meet somebody, introduce themselves, and give them their best smile. If somebody is coming at you with a smile on their face, you can’t help but smile.

I love mentoring others and pushing them out of their comfort zone. I would tell people that I was pushing them out of their comfort zone because I wanted them to maybe sit in my chair one day. You should see the look on their face, because nobody has ever told them that.

What is the most challenging part?

I think I bring a different perspective. In Texas, we have very few women chiefs. I’m a diverse chief and I check off many boxes. I’m a driven leader. I’m high speed, and I’m going drag you with me. Eventually you’re going to walk fast next to me, and eventually we’re both going to be jogging. Then I’m going to hand you the baton, stay back, and cheer you on.  But a driven leader at any rank is generally not embraced openly, and especially in smaller agencies.

Teach your team the importance of accountability and liability, especially with negligent retention. If you keep bad cops, it reflects on your leadership team. I know we don’t like to document a lot of personnel actions in our profession, but it’s important, especially if you’re changing a culture. You have to teach accountability and hold people accountable. Documentation is your savior. I tell people who want to take on this role to always have a witness during their critical conversations.

What are your plans for your “Chapter 2”?

I’m learning to ease into my day and make my personal life a priority right now. Those who know me laugh when I tell them that. But I’m working on it.

After 34 years in law enforcement and being a female chief, you bring a different perspective and not many people can tell that story. I’ve learned a lot, and I think I still have something to give back to the profession, perhaps in a consulting role. I don’t know that I’ll ever say no to a good community, or job, or someone who needs a little help with their agency. At this point, I’m open to anything. But for now, it’s about me.


The PERF Critical Issues Report is part of the Critical Issues in Policing project, supported by the Motorola Solutions Foundation.


PERF also is grateful to the Howard G. Buffett Foundation for supporting this work.