As a 28-year-old salesman on the car lot of the White Bear Lake Dodge dealership in 1987, Jim Olson was ready for a career change.
He grew tired of his workplace interactions being driven by a sale, but he wanted to continue to serve people. The best solution, he thought, would be a career serving and protecting.
Now the Carver County sheriff, Olson announced his retirement last week after three decades on the force. Olson, 59, of Waconia, has been the county sheriff since 2011 and will not run for re-election after this session.
“I really love what I do — I’ve been in law enforcement for 31 years,” Olson said. “I know I have a couple years left in me, but I’m not sure if I have another four,” he said.
During his tenure as sheriff, Olson oversaw public safety operations during the aftermath of Prince’s death and the Ryder Cup in 2016. He serves as an instructor of the Carver County Citizens Academy — an initiative to inform the public about the role of the sheriff’s office — and is also a member of the Carver County Mental Health Consortium, a group initiative to raise public awareness of mental health resources. Olson continues to support the Hope House, a Chanhassen youth homeless shelter in Westwood Community Church that’s sponsored by the Open Hands Foundation.
When Open Hands surveyed the area to examine its needs, Olson shared stories of picking up homeless youth and having to drive them to Bridge for Youth in Minneapolis, far from their local support systems, because there were no nearby shelters.
“I’ve never had a reason to know my sheriff until [Hope House],” said Pam Langseth, executive director of Open Hands. She said Olson is “engaged in creating a great community. He’s been such a dedicated member and has gone beyond his service.”
Olson, an avid motorcyclist, has ridden his Harley down to the Florida Keys and up to Banff National Park in Alberta. He said his treks on his motorcycle won’t be as adventurous with two new grandchildren, but added that he and his wife, Susan, intend to camp in the Grand Canyon and Alaska.
Olson joked that being a peace officer is a lot like sales, but instead of selling a product, officers sell community members on changing their behavior.
“I hope that I’ve left this office better off today than it was when I started,” Olson said. “Carver County has been wonderful to me, and I greatly appreciate all the opportunities — and it’s been a great run.”
Olson isn’t the only suburban county sheriff hanging up his badge this year. Last week, Wright County Sheriff Joe Hagerty announced that he would not run for re-election. Hagerty, who joined the sheriff’s office in 1985, worked in the jail, dispatch center and on patrol. He was elected sheriff and took office in 2011. Hagerty said he struggled with the decision to step down but decided that it’s time.
“I have a passion for public service and public safety and I am intent on leaving while I still enjoy it,” Hagerty said in a statement. “I’m proud of the men and women who provide quality customer service to the people of Wright County, and it has been a pleasure to serve with them.”
Trevor Squire is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.