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Minot Police Chief Jason Olson retires this week

Jason Olson rose through ranks

Kim Fundingsland/MDN Jason Olson, Minot Police chief

“At least I didn’t screw it up,” remarked Jason Olson with a wide smile and brief laugh.

Olson was playfully reflecting on his time as Minot’s Chief of Police. He has announced his retirement, effective Friday. At just 53 years of age, retirement might not seem the right description for Olson stepping away from his job, but he has been a member of the Minot police force since he was 21 years old.

Following his graduation from Williston High School, Olson enrolled in the Criminal Justice program at Minot State University. As he was approaching the completion of his junior year at MSU he learned the Minot PD would soon be interviewing job applicants.

“I just wanted the testing and interview experience going into my senior year of college,” recalled Olson. “I had no expectation of getting hired. I was thinking of a position down the road.”

Olson was surprised to learn he was one of four fortunate applicants out of a pool of about 120. He took the job and his career as a policeman began. He stuck with college too.

“It took me three more years to finish my last year because I was working full-time,” said Olson.

While Olson was taking criminal justice classes at Minot State one of his instructors was Captain Dan Draovitch of the Minot Police Department. Draovitch, who would later become Minot’s Chief of Police, was influential in Olson’s career choice.

“I probably was most inspired by Draovitch,” said Olson about his choice of careers. “He really got me excited about police work. He made it sound really interesting.”

When Olson joined the Minot PD he put on a badge amidst a very veteran police force, one that had no new hires for almost four years.

“I was working a shift with people that had been here 15 to 20 years,” remembered Olson. “I was green. It took a while for that to wear off.”

Olson says he wrote more tickets than a lot of the older officers and he quickly developed a reputation as an enforcer of driving under the influence violations. Those early years with the department helped him grow as a police officer. He welcomed any opportunity to learn more about his profession.

“I’d pretty much sign up for any training class that was offered. It didn’t matter,” recalled Olson. “I put in for S.W.A.T. and, lo and behold, I was chosen. I did that for 18 years, the last six as commander. That was a tremendous experience. We had more training and were exposed to more situations, higher profile calls.”

The experience with S.W.A.T. included additional marksmanship training. It also opened the door for further advancement within the department.

“I’d say that 75-80% of the folks that have been promoted over the years were S.W.A.T. officers. It’s kind of a gateway to most promotional opportunities,” stated Olson.

Dealing with people professionally, no matter who they are or what the situation is, is something Olson practices and requests from his officers.

“Many times I’ve told my officers that, whatever they are doing, treat the people with respect whether their actions at the time deserve it or not,” stated Olson. “I’ve always tried to live up to that.”

Carrol Erickson was Chief of Police when Olson began his career over 30 years ago. He also served under Draovitch and Jeff Balentine before being named chief in 2012. Olson says he learned from that trio as well as numerous fellow officers he has served with during his time on the force. Some, he said, had a great way of talking to people. Others exhibited common sense but could be stern when necessary.

“You learn from everybody,” said Olson.

Captain John Klug, who has been at Chief Olson’s side for the past eight years, has witnessed Olson’s positive influence on the department.

“Chief Olson has been a great mentor and leader for many of us throughout his career,” said Klug. “He will be missed by all at the police department and we are glad to know he will remain a member of our community. I’d like to thank him for his more than 30 years of dedicated service to the police department and the City of Minot.”

Among the more memorable events during Olson’s police career was the January 18, 2002 train derailment that sent an early morning cloud of anhydrous ammonia over much of the city. Olson was called from his home and told to report to the police station immediately. All he was told was that there was a cloud coming down the valley. It had reached the police station by the time he arrived.

“I was told to jump in a patrol car and I drove up to South Hill near Minot High School. I could see the whole valley just kind of being enveloped in a white cloud,” recalled Olson. “I was envisioning that the entire valley that was engulfed in that cloud was going to be dead.”

Many others who saw the cloud, not knowing what chemicals it contained, had similar thoughts that day. One person died as a result of exposure to the cloud, but hundreds of others suffered varying degrees of eye and lung problems.

Another memorable event for Olson occurred when he was serving on the S.W.A.T. team and was called out to the city of Kenmare. It was the closest Olson ever came to firing a weapon while on duty.

“A guy was armed with a loaded rifle, and I came face to face with him. I had to make a split-second decision not to pull the trigger on him. Thankfully he was taken into custody,” said Olson. “I’ve had a few close calls and drawn my firearm many times in different situations, but never had to fire a shot.”

Olson calls the historic 2011 Souris River flood one of the biggest challenges of his career as police dealt with a myriad of flood related issues, including patrolling a city divided by floodwaters.

During his reign as police chief Olson promoted the implementation of advances in technology, even when some officers may have thought otherwise.

“I’ve always been a person that wants change, that enjoys pushing the envelope for change,” explained Olson. “There’s a lot of things I’ve had my hand in. I felt the body camera program was important for our department to be a leader in that. Everybody has a smart phone, has a camera. We may as well have our own video.”

Olson says he is looking forward to the next chapter in his working career, but doesn’t know what it will be. With six grandchildren in the region, he says he wants to stay in the area. There’s another reason too.

“The community has been a great place to work, my whole career,” stated Olson. “I’ve really enjoyed public support. It’s much appreciated. Minot is a great place to live and a great place to have a career.”

“Chief Jason Olson is the type of police executive that officers of all ranks and experience levels hope to work for. His leadership, mentorship, and advocacy for his officers should be viewed as an example of conduct for folks in leadership positions of law enforcement agencies of any size. All too often in our society, law enforcement labor representation organizations such as ours are viewed as a burden, with suspicion or have an adversarial relationship with agency heads. This has never been the case with Chief Olson. In fact, he’s displayed the complete opposite behavior, has actively sought our input on policy changes, and has always made himself available to meet with executive board members to address concerns with a focus on teamwork in finding solutions. While we are happy for him on the occasion of his well-earned retirement and wish him the best, Lodge 7 is sad to see Chief Olson go.”

– Aaron Moss, president, Fraternal Order of Police, Souris Valley Regional Lodge No. 7

(Prairie Profile is a weekly feature profiling interesting people in our region. We welcome suggestions from our readers. Call Regional Editor Eloise Ogden at 857-1944 or call 1-800-735-3229. You also can send email suggestions to eogden@minotdailynews.com.)

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