Olson able to run crime lab alone in Carson City | NevadaAppeal.com

Olson able to run crime lab alone in Carson City

Jason Olson, Crime Scene investigator with the Carson City Sheriff’s Office, is seen in his lab.
Taylor Pettaway / Nevada Appeal |

Running the Carson City Crime Lab with just one person may seem like a daunting task, but crime scene investigator Jason Olson has been running it solo with minimal difficulty.

The Sheriff’s Office’s crime lab has only two positions slated for the department and the lab’s second employee Kurt Urbanski has just retired from the position after 13 years. This leaves Olson running the lab by himself until the vacancy can be filled.

“There hasn’t been a noticeable difference (in the workload) yet,” Olson said. “It has been manageable because not a lot has happened (since Kurt left).”

Though Olson said it hasn’t been difficult, Sheriff Ken Furlong said Olson has done an exceptional job covering the unit alone.

“It is a 24/7 job and while difficult expectations have been placed on him, Jason has risen to each of those challenges,” Furlong said.

It can be difficult to be a one-man crime lab, however, Olson isn’t alone. If necessary, he can call upon other agencies such as Washoe County Crime Lab to assist him in difficult cases.

However, working in a small lab has its perks. Olson said one advantage is the lack of backlogs he has, unlike other agencies who may have evidence waiting for years before it can be tested, and he can work much faster.

“Like with fingerprinting, you can do (the Automated Fingerprint Identification System) in just hours, and that is what’s nice about a small lab like Carson City because you can do it fairly quickly,” Olson said.

Olson has only been with the department since May of 2014, coming to Nevada from working as a CSI in Florida for a year and a half. But, he said he likes being in Carson because the lab is so small and the CSIs get more experience than most labs.

“Here we are more of a forensics department so there are better professional opportunities,” Olson said.

For most department labs, each position is fairly specialized and technicians typically work only in one field. With Carson, Olson is in charge of doing it all: latent fingerprint exams, video forensics, drug analysis, DUI blood analysis and more.

“The day to day is more different and we do disciplines which is good because I wouldn’t want to just be looking at latent exams for 10 hours a day,” Olson said. “It is nice having the variety… there is always new stuff to learn.”

Olson works mainly with detectives, and can be called out at any time to process and collect a crime scene.

“Crime scene isn’t a 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. job, that is the nature of it,” Olson said.

And he has seen some interesting things. While the scenes he works in Carson are pretty mild — mostly property crimes — Olson said he experienced some gory scenes while in Florida. There, it was more personal and violent crimes, and he worked more than two dozen murders and numerous sexual assaults in his year and a half there.

“You have to have the right personality dynamic (to be a CSI),” Olson said. “It is about more than being qualified for the position because there is a lot they can’t prepare you for.”

For the Minnesota native, his favorite crime scenes are those he can work start to finish.

“I like the cases with lots of different types of forensics whether it is persons or property crimes,” Olson said. “I like the cases that can go start to finish and do the processing for them… I like the scenes where I can implement different areas of processing and do the presumptive testing.”

The Minnesota native has his master’s from St. Leo University in Florida in Criminal Justice with a forensics specialty. He originally went to school to go into law enforcement, but after getting injured during a defensive tactics course, he switched to the investigation side.

“It really made me reevaluate,” Olson said. “I liked the investigating, not necessarily the law enforcement side.”

While most agencies require their lab technicians to be sworn officers, Carson is one of the agencies that allow civilians, like Olson, to work as their CSIs.

“Lots of agencies go that direction in order to provide a sense of impartiality so you are separated from the law enforcement side of it,” Olson said.

Olson is a vital part of the department; he won the 2015 Civilian of the Year award from the Sheriff’s Office and Furlong said he brings a higher level of expertise to the lab.

“He has been the backbone of the crime lab for years and he allows us to envision higher standards and service levels (for the unit),” Furlong said. “Jason came here with enthusiasm, qualifications and experience that all have significantly enhanced what we are doing.”