Lt. Col. Eric Olson, the Missouri Highway Patrol's "acting" superintendent, soon can drop the "lieutenant" and "acting" from his title.
Gov. Mike Parson on Tuesday named Olson as the Patrol's next superintendent, subject to the Missouri Senate's confirmation.
He's been acting superintendent since Sept. 1, when the previous Patrol head — Sandra Karsten — was named director of the state's Public Safety Department.
"One of the most fundamental missions of government is keeping people safe," Parson said during a news conference in his Capitol office. "Our Highway Patrol is one of the nation's finest law enforcement agencies.
"Lt. Col. Eric Olson (is) the ideal fit to be the 24th superintendent of the Missouri State Highway Patrol."
As Parson thought about Karsten's successor at the patrol, he said, "The choice became (more) clear in my mind, each time I talked to people who's opinions on public safety I valued."
Most supported Olson, the governor said, noting he "has the background and experience a colonel needs."
That experience includes serving as commander of the Kansas City area's Troop A and heading the Patrol's Division of Drug and Crime Control.
"In all these positions, Eric has worked closely with the local law enforcement," said Parson, a former Polk County sheriff. "He also has extensive experience working with federal law enforcement and the Joint Terrorism Task Force."
Olsen said: "Along my career path, there have been many police chiefs, prosecutors and judges who have assisted me by providing guidance, and I'm grateful for that."
Olson graduated from Chillicothe High School, then earned his bachelor's degree at William Jewell College in Liberty. He was part of the Patrol's early 1990 recruit class, joining the Patrol on July 1, 1990.
He later graduated from the FBI's National Academy.
Olson told Parson, members of the Patrol's Command Staff and reporters: "I am one member of a great team of dedicated, smart professionals who are committed to providing law enforcement services to the citizens of Missouri — and it's an honor and a privilege to represent them here, today."
Karsten agreed Olson is "the best choice to lead the Patrol into the future."
She added: "There is an old saying — 'When you have integrity, nothing else matters.'
"When I think of Eric Olson, I think of integrity, (which) is one of the Patrol's core values, and Eric demonstrates this each day when he comes to work."
Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe told the News Tribune: "Lt. Col. Olsen is a man of character and integrity who has earned the respect of law enforcement throughout the state. His distinguished career has prepared him for this position, and I am confident that he will continue to represent the Missouri State Highway Patrol well as superintendent."
Parson said the Patrol's commander must "understand the agency's mission and its legacy but also has the vision and foresight to lead into the future."
The superintendent must be "smart, vigilant, experienced and open to new ideas," Parson said, and be "someone who not only lives by the tremendous ideals of the Patrol, but embodies those ideals."
Olson said: "This is certainly a humbling experience for me — and I will do my best to represent the Patrol in a manner that's consistent with those who have gone before me."
He noted that Lewis Ellis (of Bethany) became the first superintendent on July 21, 1931, "nearly 88 years ago and, while much has changed in our state since that time, the mission of service and protection for the Patrol has not."
In his nearly 29-year career, Olson said "technology" has been the biggest change in troopers' lives.
"When I came on, we did everything with a pencil and a pen, and went back to an office and wrote reports, then relayed those over to a headquarters, in a car," he recalled. "Now, all the patrol cars are all equipped with mobile data terminals, video cameras and highly technical equipment."
As for the future under his command, Olson said: "There are many challenges for law enforcement, in general. I like to focus on the factors out there that I actually control.
"While it is important to understand history, looking to the future to identify the potential law enforcement needs for the citizens of Missouri, and how the Patrol can best contribute to public safety, is a high priority for me."
The Missouri Constitution says the Highway Patrol gets most of its funding from the 17-cents per-gallon motor fuels tax that's paid into the state's Highway Fund — although general revenue and other funds are used for the Patrol's work that doesn't directly involve enforcement of the state's traffic laws.
Parson and Olson acknowledged some lawmakers want to move the Patrol out of the Highway Fund.
Parson said he needs to know more about the proposal and, meanwhile, wants to "let it work (its way) through the process."
Olson said: "Whatever the funding source is for the Missouri State Highway Patrol, it needs to be dedicated and sustainable."
He also said: "Closely examining the use of allocated resources, safety for all patrol employees, opportunities to improve public service and strengthening diversity and recruiting for the agency will also receive my full attention."