Police chief to focus on diversity, staffing and future

Laura Jean Schneider ljschneider@ptleader.com
Posted 9/24/21

 

Although he’s been working at the Port Townsend Police Department since May,  Chief Thomas Olson officially finished moving to Port Townsend from Auburn over Labor Day …

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Police chief to focus on diversity, staffing and future

Posted

 

Although he’s been working at the Port Townsend Police Department since May,  Chief Thomas Olson officially finished moving to Port Townsend from Auburn over Labor Day weekend.

So far, he said recently, the family seems to be settling in well. His two children, 11 and 13, have their first weeks at Blue Heron Middle School in the books, and his wife of 15 years has been recruited to teach a Zoomba class.

In his own spare time, the chief has volunteered to coach the middle school football team at Blue Heron. As a die-hard Vikings fan who supports youth in sports, it seems like a natural fit.

The chief said he’s enjoyed a positive response from the community thus far.

“Generally, overall, I’ve been very supported and welcomed here by the Port Townsend community,” he said during a recent conversation.

Before accepting the job offer from the police department back in March, he made sure to scope out Port Townsend on his own, specifically reaching out to local minorities to ask about their experiences in Jefferson County. He wanted to settle in a community where his family would feel comfortable, he said. (Olson’s wife is from Peru; his children are biracial.)

Positive feedback from the community put his mind at ease.

“It’s not the most diverse community,” he said, but the chief recognizes the desire to grow toward greater inclusion.

And he has the years of training and experience to help facilitate that.

From a  young age, the accountability, structure — even the uniform, down to the shiny shoes — of law enforcement officers appealed to Olson.

He built a career in law enforcement from a four-year stint in the Air Force Security Forces. A native of Minnesota, Olson joined with the Washington State Patrol in October 1988 and was commissioned as a trooper in July 1989. After serving more than 25 years with the Washington State Patrol, he worked at the University of Washington for just over seven years before relocating to Port Townsend.

At the University of Washington Police Department, Olson worked with more than 40,000 students during some of the most politically sensitive events of the past decade, including Black Lives Matter, the coronavirus pandemic, and in Seattle specifically, homelessness.

“A lot of exposure in a short amount of time to just about every aspect of a police department,” is how Olson describes his years of service at the university.

It was night-and-day from the State Patrol, he added, as he helped students deal with theft and identity fraud, and assisted Seattle police with complicated fraternity house or sorority issues. He was also responsible for internal investigations, social media, and information technology, among a myriad of responsibilities.

He applauded the Port Townsend Police Department for taking proactive steps before he came aboard.

“We’re 2½ years ahead of our counterparts in the community,” the chief said of the use of body cameras by the department.

A fully transparent department is key, he believes, to building trust between the community and police.

COVID has delayed what he anticipated as a first step upon joining the department, an open forum where the community could voice their comments and concerns.

“The department has never had a strategic plan,” Olson said.

Zoom isn’t the appropriate platform for the meeting, the chief added. He said he feels it really takes a physical space where problem-solving by a diverse group of police and community members can determine what’s the best direction to take.

The chief takes public input seriously, and considers it essential to serving his community better.

“It’s my belief that every complaint is investigated,” Olson said.

With the strategic plan tabled at the moment, staffing is the highest priority, the chief said, both recruiting and retention.

“When people see what we offer, my applicant pool will grow,” he said.

“You have everything at your fingertips here.”

Comments

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Jeff Gallant

An electric bike traveling 30 miles per hour hits a pot hole and swerves into traffic. Who is accountable, One wheel, two wheels , three wheels the cycle doesn't have insurance and the didn't purchase a license from which money could go to public safety education and enforcement. Welcome Chief

Friday, September 24