Appleton makes history with new police chief

Chief Polly Olson acknowledged breaking the glass ceiling for other women in law enforcement
Published: Jan. 3, 2023 at 6:31 AM CST|Updated: Jan. 3, 2023 at 4:05 PM CST
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APPLETON, Wis. (WBAY) - Appleton’s new police chief made history when she was sworn in on Tuesday.

Polly Olson is the first woman to lead the department.

A ceremony was held at 9 a.m. at the Appleton Police Department.

Olson succeeds Chief Todd Thomas, who retired.

“My family, three generations plus, have been from the community and still are here, so I feel those strong ties and such love for this community. To be able to serve in this role and be a part of it, is really, it’s huge,” Olson said.

Olson has been on the Appleton police force since 2001, first as a patrol officer. She’s also served as a school resource officer, patrol captain, and captain of investigations and support services, and she became assistant chief in May 2021.

She was named the Appleton Police Department’s Officer of the Year in 2012, NAMI Fox Valley’s Crisis Intervention Team Officer of the Year in 2010, and the Wisconsin Association of Women Police’s Woman Officer of the Year in 2008.

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It was about 100 years ago that Appleton hired its first female police officer.

For many women working in law enforcement, especially in Appleton, this was a significant moment. Olson acknowledged that just after taking the oath, knowing the glass ceiling she just shattered.

“I’m glad that hopefully now, I can be that person for other women as they get into this profession and be here to say this is something they too can strive for and have that be a goal for them,” Chief Olson said.

Olson said she always aspired to serve in a leadership role but never envisioned being police chief in a profession dominated by men.

The mayor said he has a lot of confidence in her ability.

“I’m so proud of her accomplishment, reaching this milestone in her career and also for young people in our community. She’s setting an example that anybody can serve in a role like this, a man or woman can serve in a role like chief so we’re just really proud of her,” Mayor Jake Woodford said.

Olson has spent her entire career with APD, starting out as a patrol officer back in 2000. However, she admits her biggest challenge yet, is in this new role. Recruiting, especially, will be a top priority.

“We’ve come a long way in the last 20-plus years to change the workplace into a space where employees feel understood, appreciated, and have opportunities to grow. We still have work to do. I will remain focused on hiring the best people for our agency and the community. I will seek out opportunities for us to continue to grow. You and your families will also be my top priority,” Olson said.

Polly Olson acknowledges being the city's first female police chief and how that role fits into her priorities leading the department