Dustin Olson, the new chief of UCSB’s campus police, will be difficult to shock. Olson’s introduction to UCSB student life came in the form of Del Playa Drive on Halloween, but after growing up in Las Vegas, spending a miserable 19th birthday in boot camp, and patrolling University of Nevada, Las Vegas fraternity parties with shootings, Olson said, he didn’t find the experience daunting.
At UNLV, Olson was assistant chief of police. During a recent interview, he seemed excited to be starting his new chief position in this strange land, saying, “I thought it would be a great opportunity to, one, take a promotion and two, come to a premier institution like this.”
Olson has been through a lot to get to this point. “I’m from Las Vegas originally, so, you know, that’s really home for me,” said Olson, graciously launching into a rundown of his life story. “But you know what, I tell people this all the time: Surprisingly, Las Vegas is like every other city in the country. It has communities, schools, churches, a lot of things that most communities have. It’s more just like growing up wherever maybe you grew up.” He added that it might be a little different now that almost two million people live there, because “growing up, it was a much smaller place, but it’s still pretty normal.”
Growing up in Las Vegas had little to do with Olson’s eventual role in law enforcement. Rather, it was the Marine Corps that led him to his career. “I became a law enforcement officer after about 10 years in the Marine Corps on active duty.” It was, in fact, while in boot camp that Olson turned 19, a day he remembers in detail. “That was an unpleasant birthday: getting yelled and screamed at and I didn’t want anybody to know that it was my birthday because then they would yell and scream at me even more!” He does remember having told the “real nice guy from Texas” who slept in the bunk under him, whose name and face he still remembers. “I think I might have whispered to him that it was my birthday, but I was like, ‘Don’t tell anybody!’”
Olson left the Marine Corps almost 10 years later, when he was almost 29 years old, and the next step seemed logical. “I had friends that had gotten out before me and had gone into law enforcement. And I was going to school at the time [at UNLV], getting my undergrad degree in criminal justice so it was a good fit,” he explained. “You know, the Marine Corps and police work, or the military and police, are kind of cousins. They have some things in common and some things that I understood and know and can work effectively in.” He added, “I felt good about the work that I did in terms of serving and protecting the University community.”
Concerning achievements, Olson specified that it is not an award or degree but a shooting that he remembers as “the most critical incident that I was involved in” and his “proudest accomplishment.” He was the senior officer-a lieutenant at the time-“supervising a student dance event at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas hosted by a fraternity.” The incident involved two non-student gentlemen in the parking lot firing weapons, and a student was shot through the arm.
“At the time the rounds were going off, I was probably about 40 feet away and my two officers where within 20 feet-so close that they could see the muzzle blasts in the dark,” he recalled. “As the officer in charge of that event and the detail, everyone went home that night safely in a very, very dangerous situation. [The wounded girl] was transported to the hospital. We arrested the two gentlemen. We got the gun. Everything worked out in such a terrible situation.”
Considering his experience in Las Vegas-which Olson concludes is “an interesting town, so every police officer has certainly [he laughs] had crazy incidents”-he seems ready to take on the UCSB community. Though the primary jurisdiction of the university’s police department is the UCSB campus, Olson said he plans to get to know Isla Vista, where he spent his first nights on the job October 30 and 31, Friday and Saturday of Halloween weekend.
“I was baptized by fire, right? That was interesting!” Olson said of Halloween. “I was right on DP [Del Playa], with the cliffs at my back and the crowds in the front. It was good. A lot to see, you know. Overall I think it went exceptionally. I think everybody did a great job; a lot of professionalism out there by the law enforcement officers that I saw and worked around. And the students seemed to be having a fun time. There’s a lot more people there who are engaged in pro-social behavior as opposed to anti-social behavior. But it’s my first year, so next year I’ll know what to expect and I’ll be able to have a basis for comparison.”
University communities are the communities he is most interested in working with. “Since I’ve become a law enforcement officer I’ve always enjoyed and wanted to work in higher education,” he said. “And these were the only jobs I sought out. I didn’t seek or try to become an executive with any other type of law enforcement agency, and nor would I: [The university community] is a good community. It’s a great mission, I think, that higher education endeavors towards. It’s unique. And the population that colleges and universities serve are, I think, overall much better than some of the populations in certain communities, which are extremely challenging. And that’s not to say that it’s not challenging, but it’s different. And I find the work engaging and enriching.”
Olson said that he plans to work with universities for the rest of his career. As for UCSB, he added, “I don’t see any reason to leave any time soon, that’s for sure.”