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City begins search to replace police chief

Havre Mayor Bob Rice said he will accept applications through today from within the Police Department to replace Chief Kevin Olson.

Olson's last day on the job will be Friday. Montana Attorney General Mike McGrath announced last Friday afternoon that he had appointed Olson to head the Montana Law Enforcement Academy in Helena.

Olson made Assistant Police Chief Mike Barthel interim chief after Friday until Rice chooses a permanent replacement.

Rice said he has to accept applications from within the department first. If no qualified applicants apply, he will open up the search to candidates to outside the department. He said he has heard that three people plan to apply, but he hasn't received any applications.

Candidates have until the end of today to apply for the position. Barthel said he plans to apply.

After Olson, the highest-ranking officers within the department are Barthel and Lts. George Tate and Stan Martin.

Tate and Martin could not be reached for comment this morning.

Rice said he is going to meetings out of town this week, and will look at the applications and conduct interviews when he returns.

"It may take a while," he said.

Like all city department heads, the Havre police chief is appointed by the mayor to a two-year term, City Clerk Lowell Swenson said today. The appointment must be approved by the Havre City Council, he added.

Olson will start his new job as administrator of the academy on March 8. The academy trains officers for work in police and sheriffs' departments and tribal law enforcement. The MLEA is located just outside Helena in the old Mountain View School. More than 2,000 officers and other criminal justice personnel take part in academy programs each year.

The staff he will supervise includes former academy administrator Howard Webb, now a training officer at the academy. Webb lost the top job after the state Justice Department, headed by McGrath, said law enforcement officials had lost confidence in him to the point that some agencies considered sending their cadets out of state for training.

Olson, 43, said he was invited to apply for the job, which will pay $57,000 a year.

''I wasn't actively pursuing it,'' he said Friday.

''I was asked last week if I'd be interested in talking to them. The opportunity presented itself, and I took it.''

Rice said Olson is making $47,318 as police chief.

Both Olson and Webb said their working relationship will be ''fine.''

''I haven't had a chance to visit with Howard, but I don't anticipate any critical problems pertaining to that relationship,'' Olson said.

Webb said he knows Olson ''and I have a lot of respect for him.'' But Webb said he will persist with a grievance that he filed seeking reinstatement as administrator. The grievance alleges that proper procedures for demotion were not followed, said Webb, who was academy administrator from June 2001 until this month.

McGrath said Olson has ''the perfect background and experience for this position.'' He has been active in the state association of police chiefs and ''has lots of experience working with our customer base,'' McGrath said.

''There'll be a learning curve involved,'' Olson said. ''I look forward to making assessments. If changes need to be made, we'll make them. I won't make them in sweeping fashion, but I will make them over time.''

Olson was appointed Havre's chief in 2000. He worked for the Havre department from 1981 until 1987, then was an agent in the Montana Department of Justice's Division of Criminal Investigation from 1987 until 1989. He rejoined the Havre Police Department in 1989. He also worked one year as a police officer in Chinook, from 1980 to 1981.

In 1997, Olson studied criminal justice education at the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Va. He has participated in a variety of Montana Law Enforcement Academy programs as a student and instructor.

At Olson's request, Havre city attorney Mary VanBuskirk asked McGrath for an opinion on whether police can keep secret the names of all victims of crimes against persons, which include robbery, homicide and assault, and the location of some offenses. The request drew criticism from a number of news organizations throughout the state, including the Havre Daily News and the Montana Newspapers Association.

Currently, only the names of victims of sex crimes are not public information under state law.

McGrath has not prepared an opinion yet and said the request for one is not affected by Olson's departure from the Havre Police Department.

''This whole issue about defining what's public information ... is an ongoing issue,'' McGrath said. ''It's everybody's issue, not Kevin's issue.''


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