Belgrade Police Capt. Dustin Lensing took the helm of the city’s police department on Wednesday upon the retirement of longtime Chief E.J. Clark, Jr., the day before.

City Manager Ted Barkley, who made the appointment, announced his decision last Thursday.

“I’ve worked with Capt. Lensing for 7½ years now and have been impressed with his innate leadership skills and broad knowledge and professionalism,” Barkley said.

Barkley said Lensing was the “odds on favorite” to succeed Clark, though the city took its time to exercise full due diligence before the final decision was made.

Lensing has spent his entire career with the Belgrade PD, starting in 2001 as a patrol officer and working his way up to detective and detective sergeant before being promoted to captain in December 2020.

Chief Clark, who was one of the supervisors who hired Lensing 20 years ago, said of him then, “There’s pretty much nothing he can’t handle. It’s nice to have him on board doing what he needs to get done.”

Shortly after his appointment was announced, Lensing told the Belgrade News he was interested in the top job because “it’s a great opportunity to usher us in the direction we need to go” as the city grows.

“Obviously I have very large shoes to fill,” he said. “We have come a long, long way as a small department, growing and evolving. I’ve been fortunate to be along on a good portion of that journey the last 20 years.

“I’m excited to foster the department and grow the agency in a way that best serve the citizens that we work for,” he said.

Lensing was born in Chouteau and spent most of his youth in Olympia, Wash., though the family visited Montana often to see his grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. After he graduated from high school, his parents decided to return to Montana. Lensing made the move with them and enrolled at Montana State University, where he studied criminal justice.

After a “brief flirtation” with the idea of law school, Lensing decided to pursue his long-held interest in a law enforcement career.

“I was hired on by Belgrade when I was 22 years old and I’ve been here ever since,” he said. “I think I made the right decision.”

During his 20-year career, Lensing has seen both the Belgrade Police Department and advances in technology “grow by leaps and bounds.” When he started with the department, officers used tape recorders and 35 mm cameras as investigative tools.

“Now we have iPads in police cars and body cameras and, obviously, all the challenges that also come with all that,” he said.

But in an ever-changing world, there are some things Lensing is adamant about maintaining – primarily the department’s intimate connection to the community. Describing himself as “a down to earth sort of fellow” who is “pretty easy to get along with,” Lensing said he enjoys working in a town the size of Belgrade.

“One of my favorite parts of this job and being a police officer is just being able to be out in the community. I want to keep the small-town policing feel … we don’t ever want to lose sight of that vision to be connected to the community and its members,” he said.

Lensing is looking forward to his new duties.

“There’s challenges ahead – I’m looking forward to the challenges, though,” he said. “It’s going to be fun.”