Archive for Tuesday, July 6, 1999

July 6, 1999


Lawrence Police Chief Ron Olin enjoys gourmet cooking, motorcycles and getting involved in the community he grew up in and serves.

Surrounded by art, framed diplomas and awards, and an American flag draped in a corner of his office, Lawrence Police Chief Ron Olin cracks a smile when asked if his childhood was filled with dreams of being a cop.

"I had an interest in either being a lawyer or an FBI agent," he said. "I was always interested in solving puzzles."

As a child, he delivered the newspaper to Lawrence's deputy police chief and would pick the officer's brain while collecting the bill.

Like Douglas County Sheriff Loren Anderson, Olin has carved out a career in law enforcement in his hometown. The Lawrence High School graduate started with the Lawrence Police Department in 1971 and has been chief since 1987.

The son of a sculptor who died earlier this year, Olin guards his privacy but still leads what he calls "a very public life." His home telephone number isn't listed, but he said the public always can reach him, either through his secretary or through law enforcement dispatchers.

His interests are varied, from sailing and riding motorcycles to cooking classical Japanese and modern French food. He's an educated lawman who holds a doctorate in developmental psychology.

Olin's traveled a lot and is fluent in German and French, important because his second wife is from France.

Asked to describe himself, he uses the words "teacher, thoughtful, curious."

In a 1987 interview just a few weeks after his appointment as chief, Olin said he couldn't imagine himself staying in the job for 10 years.

He said he gets job offers every year but still enjoys his job as chief.

"I had as much fun as a uniformed police officer on this department as any job I've ever had, although I feel very honored to be police chief. I do love my job," he said.

Honesty, integrity

Lt. Steve Zarnowiec, one of the six lieutenants who answers directly to Olin, has been with LPD for 15 years and said he stays because of the chief's leadership.

"The fact that this police department is not a corrupt police department, that its core principles are centered around serving the community, and honesty and integrity," the technology division commander said, "that's a big thing for me personally, and it's mostly because of Chief Olin."

The department has not been without its criticisms. Allegations of racism were rampant in the early 1990s after the deaths of young American Indians. Olin reassigned the department's media spokesman, Chris Mulvenon, after Mulvenon refuted claims a serial killer was in town and wrote in a trade journal that the only thing serial about the deaths was "cereal malt beverage."

People have accused Olin of collecting Nazi memorabilia, but he fervently denies the allegations. He does collect German police memorabilia and believes people might have mistaken his interests.

Community ties

Olin financed his way through college as a police officer. Like Anderson, he's worn several hats in his department, from crime analyst to deputy chief.

Unlike Anderson, he's not elected. Olin reports to City Manager Mike Wildgen and assistant city manager Rod Bremby.

Wildgen calls Olin "highly professional and dedicated to Lawrence and the community he grew up in. I personally think if he wanted to leave Lawrence for higher profile jobs, he could have done that several years ago. But he has ties here as I've got ties here too. He's stayed here and has continued to work to improve this community in spite of strong possibilities he could have moved on. He's kind of got the teacher hat on him at the same time he's got the operational hat on him."

Olin is methodical in his approach to management and is a good details person, Wildgen said.

"He's not one to jump quickly at conclusions," the city manager said. "He does his research well and comes back with good solid recommendations that are based on research and options that can be looked at and studied. He represents the city very well."

Wildgen said Olin has done a good job focusing on community issues, which is not always easy.

"Police work is a difficult situation," Wildgen said. "You get a lot of people pretty upset at you at times, even people who support the police department."

Although the department stresses community involvement, Olin said, "We are still in the business of order maintenance. Civility and decency is what we're all about, but not everyone is civil and not everyone is decent."

Push-up record

Olin teaches classes at Haskell Indian Nations University and Kansas University. He volunteers his time and is not paid for either position.

At Haskell, he teaches an introductory course about criminal justice. His team-taught class at KU is titled "Violence and Aggression in the Modern World."

Terrorism and hostage situations are subjects that intrigue the chief on an intellectual level. Research for the doctorate he completed at KU in 1983 focused in part on hostage behavior and performance under stress.

He likes picking up Tom Clancy books and considers himself "fairly well-read on modern espionage and mysteries."

"Technical prose that puts people to sleep is very interesting to me," he said.

Olin was selected for the FBI Academy and went through the 11-week program in 1982. He taught hostage negotiations while he was there and won the record for doing push-ups.

Maximizing efficiency

The chief job is much different from the job he held as deputy chief, Olin said.

"The deputy chief is very hands-on with operations," he said. "The police chief has a much more outward focus with community contact. The focus is pretty much reversed."

Olin doesn't have a deputy chief, but six lieutenants report to him. For a while, the city discussed two deputy chief positions, but they were never funded.

The sheer volume of calls the police department handles makes his job much different from that of the sheriff, Olin said.

His department is more structured than the sheriff's office, and Olin said that's "necessary to maximize our efficiency while still maintaining our contacts with the community."

In 1991, co-workers honored Olin with a medal marking 20 years of service.

"They circulated a petition behind my back," he said.

In the kitchen

In his spare time, Olin enjoys cooking, reading, sailing and riding motorcycles.

"I'm very interested in the cinema. I'm very interested in classical music," he said. As for TV, "I don't watch series. I watch a lot of PBS. 'Frontline' interests me. The news interests me."

"I would consider myself very well-read on classical Japanese cooking and very well-read on modern French cooking. I take it very seriously, like making my own stocks. I really enjoy it."

He's invited to speak to groups frequently, and he's often approached by members of the public.

"People approach me while eating breakfast at Paradise, at Kiwanis meetings," he said. "I try to spend a portion of each day talking to police officers, and I try to spend a part of my day talking to people in the community."

-- Deb Gruver's phone message number is 832-7165. Her e-mail address is

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