Winnebago hires new police chief

WINNEBAGO – Eric Olson and his family will travel from one end of the state to the other when he takes over as the police chief of Winnebago.

He is currently serving in Soudan, in the Arrowhead region of Minnesota, where he is supervising officer, someone who “assists the chief in his duties,” Olson said. “It’s equivalent to a sergeant working in another department.”

With a total of 13 years as a police officer under his belt, Olson has worked in Soudan full-time for eight years. He also has served in the fire department since 2006, and recently completed certification as an ATV and snowmobile instructor.

“Soudan and Tower combined is 1,100 [people],” Olson said. “I didn’t want to go anywhere bigger. I have a community-oriented policing style. When you look in bigger cities, you go from call to call, you don’t have time to spend with the community. I like the small town feel of things. I like how open people are.”

Olson knows smalltown Minnesota well. He grew up in Cloquet and got a first-hand look at a cop’s life.

“My father was a police officer; I’m second generation,” he said. “From the age of five on, there was nothing else I wanted to do with my life.”

He earned an associate’s degree from Hibbing Community College and plans to finish up his four-year degree online through Bemidji State by this fall. He also attended the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Leadership Academy. His wife, Jamie, is finishing up a nursing degree. Olson has a step-daughter, 17; two sons, ages 12 and 5; and a daughter, 3.

“I’m very, very excited for this next step and next opportunity and my family is too,” Olson said. “We’re all excited about coming down there.”

He is just not sure exactly when that will happen since the Winnebago City Council wanted him to pass physical, background and psychological evaluations before making the formal job offer.

Olson has served in this part of the state before, beginning his career with the Worthington Police Department. He gained experience in Hoyt Lakes and Breitung Township, which includes Tower, as well as a security firm out of Duluth.

“I want to expand on what Bob (Toland) and Mike Beletti have been doing [in Winnebago], and make sure the community feels confidence in the police department and trust in the police department and can come to us with their issues,” Olson said.

“I care about the public; I’m there to help them,” he added. “Change negatives to positives at the end of the day – if I can do that, I feel I’m doing a pretty good job.”