What happens when an engineer becomes a police chief?
Payson is about to find out.
Expect a little social engineering to reduce crime and make the community safer.
After all — that’s what engineers do: Solve problems.
Newly hired Payson Police Chief Ronald Tischer started off his working life as an engineer sitting behind a desk building models, destroying those models, analyzing what happened and then fixing the models’ flaws.
“I have a degree in mechanical engineering,” he said. “I had a great job. I ran testing for a large commercial company. We’d build prototypes and then destroy them. Then write computer programs doing all that data analysis.”
It’s not hard to see Tischer’s inner engineering “geek.” Glasses, conservative haircut and a soft Midwest-tinted speech evoke a NASA engineer more than a street cop.
But he found he “didn’t really like engineering” so he turned to law enforcement. He liked the officers he met growing up in his neighborhood and later through a job with the town.
“After hearing about what they did, I thought, ‘You know, this sounds really interesting — something different every day,’” he said.
But his engineering roots go deep when he tackles a social problem. Just like back at that engineering desk, first he gathers the data by meeting with the community, then he designs a new approach to tackle drug abuse or homelessness or drunken behavior at a parade. Then he evaluates the solution and adjusts. That level-headed engineering approach helped Tischer rise through the ranks at every law enforcement job he’s held until reaching the position of chief in La Crosse, Wis.
Now, he plans that same approach in Payson — a town that prides itself on community. Tischer found mixing a love of community with policing created an effective response to crime.
He’ll start by analyzing the problem.
“My job for awhile is to sit back, listen and learn to take everything in to see what the town wants to see and what the businesses want,” he said. “There are a lot of newer officers. I think it is important to get them involved to see how they would like to run the department. It’s important for the volunteers, the dispatch center, and civilian employees to have a say. Everybody has something to contribute ... then come up with a plan on how we’ll move forward.”
An effective solution to crime Tischer started in La Crosse — a university town with similar demographics to Flagstaff — were community resource officers.
“We have one officer assigned to patrol one community,” he said.
He launched this program through donations from the hospital, a private school and private foundations.
“I funded two officers and assigned them to two neighborhoods to go to every day and clean up,” said Tischer. “They could enforce code violations and do building inspections. They had the autonomy to fix problems ... if they didn’t fix it, they had to deal with it the next day.”
These officers met community members that helped them prioritize the most offensive drug houses. They brought in social workers to help find services for struggling families. Then Tischer asked them to play with the kids’ after school.
“This one neighborhood had a Boys and Girls Club,” he said. “They were told, ‘You will go every day and hang out and get to know these kids.’”
That investment paid off.
“We saw this complete evolution of kids trusting the officers ... when other officers showed up for a domestic, the mom or dad would tell the kids, ‘Don’t ever trust the police,’ but the kids would say, ‘Oh no. They’re OK.’ The parents would get irate that their kids were befriending the police officers.”
Eventually, the relationships that started with the kids spilled over until the adults trusted to call the police for help.
Early on, the La Crosse mayor was skeptical.
“I predicted that after people got to know (the officers) they would have a spike in crime because people would actually call in crimes. Before, they never called the police,” said Tischer. “Sure enough, crime spiked. Then I said, ‘Now we know the real crime rate. Now we can actually fix it.’”
And they continue to make progress.
So successful was the community resource program that the mayor found money in the town budget to fund it and “downtown businesses soon said, ‘When will we get our community resource officers?’”
Tischer told them, when they paid for them.
So they did.
La Crosse now has eight community resource officers.
Tischer hopes the city will continue the community resource program because, “My philosophy on everything is when you take something over you leave it bigger and better than you found it.”
Payson residents who needed “to do something” in response to the two mass shootings within 24 hours this weekend, one in Ohio and the other in Texas, chose peace at an interfaith vigil on Aug. 5.
Carrying signs, battery-operated candles and glowing cell phones, more than a dozen residents sat in front of the former Carl’s Jr. to pray for a loving response.
“Can you imagine going to Walmart to pick up a box of crayons and getting killed?” asked one attendee.
So far, the U.S. has seen more mass shootings than days this year.
That is according to data from the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive (GVA), which reports as of Aug. 5, the 217th day of the year, there have been 255 mass shootings in the U.S. While no set definition exists for “mass shootings,” the GVA defines it as an incident where at least four people are shot. This does not include the shooter.
Pastor Sarah Allen from Payson United Methodist Church challenged those in attendance to “work together to be kind, loving and respectful.”
She acknowledged that many in Rim Country own or carry a weapon.
“We need to be conscious that many people have grown up with guns as tools, not weapons that kill people,” she said. “As a tool, a gun can make a difference.”
Allen once lived in El Paso and still has friends there.
She prayed for people to “take action in a loving way.”
“In the face of hatred may we show love,” said Worship Pastor Adriane Blanco from Mountain Bible Church.
The group sang “Amazing Grace” accompanied by Blanco as the sun sank into a pink sky and motorists honked their horns in solidarity.
Kay Posvar couldn’t always be at Arizona State University football practice at Camp Tontozona as the owner of Kay’s Lawnmowers in Mesa.
Well, that’s no longer an issue. He retired 20 years ago and has been spending his summers in Payson for the last decade.
These days, you can usually find Posvar on the hill overlooking the football field watching the Sun Devils’ practices at the iconic camp located in the Tonto National Forest, 17 miles east of Payson.
He was there for the first of ASU’s five practices at Camp T on Tuesday morning. And he planned to return for the remaining four.
He’s been watching the Sun Devils practice at Camp T since 1975.
“I used to come on Fridays and Saturdays, but now I’m here all week,” he said.
He was looking forward to seeing the new artificial turf field that will prevent the Sun Devils from having to move practices to Rumsey Park in Payson when it rains. Last year’s weeklong trip to Camp T was canceled because the new field wasn’t installed in time. He said second-year head coach Herm Edwards and athletic director Ray Anderson deserve credit for the new field and upgrades at the camp.
“They’ve done a good job,” Posvar said. “They’ve done some very good recruiting this year, too.”
He’s excited about the four-way battle for the starting quarterback job between redshirt junior Dillon Sterling-Cole and freshmen Jayden Daniels, Ethan Long and Joey Yellen.
“These freshmen quarterbacks are something else,” Posvar said. “I’m excited about them.”
Posvar was one of about 40 people who made their way to Tuesday’s opening practice.
While Saturday’s final practice will draw thousands, weekday practices don’t attract anywhere near that total. And that’s just fine with this group of retirees and folks who are lucky enough to have jobs that afford them the ability to sneak over to get an up-close look at the Sun Devils as they prepare for another season.
Posvar came with John Shipp, who has lived year-round in Payson for 22 years. He worked in the paint and auto body industry in Glendale before retiring 20 years ago.
Shipp has been an ASU fan since 1970. He had held season tickets for about 25 years before he moved to Payson.
He hasn’t attended Camp T practices as often as Posvar, but is a big Sun Devils fan. He’s glad he accepted Posvar’s invitation to attend just his second Camp T practice.
“It’s just nostalgia,” Shipp said when asked why he came. “I saw Danny White (on the field). I saw him when he was playing quarterback for ASU and followed him when he went to the Dallas Cowboys.”
Shipp loves the new field and the other improvements made around the field.
“Man, this is something else,” he said. “It’s beautiful. If Frank Kush was alive he’d probably be out there rolling on it. He would be very impressed by all the groundwork and everything.”
The only other Camp T visit Shipp made was in 2016, when the final practice was canceled because of the wet and muddy field.
In addition to the new field that should hold up well when wet, they’ve also installed pea gravel around the field so mud shouldn’t be an issue anymore.
“It’s nice,” said Cody Webster, another of the die-hards attending Tuesday’s opening practice. “I’ve been waiting for this for a long time.”
Webster grew up and still lives in Heber, where he owns a plumbing business. He had ASU football season tickets for 20-plus years but just wasn’t able to attend enough games to keep buying them. So the chance to see his team up close is something he’s not going to pass up.
“I can’t go to the football games anymore because my business is too busy,” Webster said. “Not being at the games is weird. So, I take off work to come here because this is the only interaction I’ll be able to have with my team. I’ll try and come back all week. I don’t plan on coming back on Saturday because it’s a rat race.”
Webster can’t afford to take the entire week off because he has customers counting on him. However, for one week, he’s not scheduling any morning appointments.
“I made my appointments for 1:30 (p.m.) because I didn’t want to get caught at work before I was able to go here because once you’re on a job you have to stay there until it’s done,” he said. “I just switched everything to the afternoon and I’ll try to do that all week.”
He’s been coming to watch practices here for 20 years.
“It’s just a beautiful place,” he said. “It’s a quick jaunt down the hill and I get to take a drink out of the spring. It’s tradition.”
Webster was watching with one of his customers, retired Paradise Valley High and Phoenix College business teacher Rudy Burgoz. Burgoz, 77, lives near him in Overgaard. He’s been a Sun Devils fan since 1958 and has been attending at least the Saturday Camp T practices every year they’ve held them since 1962. A season-ticket holder since 1966, he’s been making the 42-mile drive from his home to attend all the weekday practices, as well, since he retired 23 years ago.
“I’ve missed four home games in 55 years,” Burgoz said. “I just bleed maroon and gold.”
He’s thrilled that the Sun Devils are back at Camp T for the first time since 2017.
“I was disappointed last year when the field wasn’t ready,” Burgoz said. “Since the last scrimmage in the spring I could hardly wait for Camp T to open up. It’s just something I look forward to. My wife told my son last night, ‘he probably ain’t gonna sleep tonight because he’ll be thinking of Camp T.’”
Chuck Domino, a retired critical care nurse from Phoenix and a 1987 ASU graduate, drove up from the Valley with his retired friend from high school, John Steinbach, on Tuesday morning. They headed right back to Phoenix after watching the one practice. But it was worth the drive, especially since they didn’t get to make the trip last year with the cancellation.
“We love coming up here,” he said. “We missed it last year. This is awesome andit’s ASU football. Man, this is just terrific. Herm and Ray Anderson are doing a great job. And they’ve done a fantastic job on the field because we were here two years ago and there were mud spots and it was slick. It’s first class now.”
A change in the way the state treats online sales could offer a life-jacket for hard-pressed towns and counties.
Or maybe not.
That’s the take on a new state law from the County Supervisors Association of Arizona, which lobbies for counties statewide.
The lobbying group has worked for several years to find a way to keep the huge shift of sales from stores to online outlets from crashing county budgets.
Gila County counts on the sales tax for key services, including most of its road building and maintenance.
However, people don’t pay sales tax when they buy online from businesses based outside the state. By contrast, they pay nearly 10 percent when they buy from brick-and-mortar stores. Payson gets 3 cents and Gila County about 1 cent — with most of the rest going to the state.
The sales tax accounts for nearly half of town revenues, but a much smaller share of county revenues.
The U.S. Supreme Court in 2018 in South Dakota v. Wayfair ruled that the state can collect sales tax from out-of-state business selling their goods online.
The Legislature this year took the first step toward taxing online sales, but with enough conditions and exemptions that experts like Craig Sullivan, executive director at County Supervisors Association of Arizona, aren’t sure what impact the change will have.
“Over the last 20 years, the financial condition of the counties has degraded as more and more commerce has moved to the internet. That has impacted main street businesses, as well as the county bottom line,” said Sullivan.
That’s because customers find themselves paying an extra 10 percent just to cover the sales tax when they go into a local retail store, which not only provides jobs for locals but supports police, fire and other services for everyone.
“That has put increased pressure on the property tax as the sales tax has eroded,” observed Sullivan at a recent Apache County Supervisors meeting.
Sullivan said the change could also help local retailers compete. “We have advocated for fairness and equity for Main Street — but it also shores up the financial system for counties and towns.”
Online sales have risen from about 5 percent of total sales to 12 percent of total sales in the past 20 years. In February, online retail sales edged out brick-and-mortar retail sales for the first time in history. Online sales amounted to $60 billion in February.
Auto and auto parts account for 20 percent of all sales. Restaurants, food and beverage and bars accounts for another 12 percent — about the same as online and local retail.
The county lobbying group pushed hard to collect online sales tax, despite the Legislature’s reluctance to support any kind of tax increase.
The new system takes effect on Oct. 1 and will require all out-of-state online retailers to file and pay transaction privilege tax (sales taxes) to the state.
However, the retailer must sell more than $200,000 to Arizona residents in 2019, or $150,000 in 2020 or $100,000 going forward from there.
That law also covers “marketplace facilitators” that operate the platforms people use to buy from other businesses — which presumably means the big dogs like Amazon. The platforms would have to collect the tax and send it along to the state for sellers who meet the financial thresholds.
But no one’s sure how this complicated bit of business will work out — or how the state can effectively enforce the new rules over distant businesses with which has little leverage or communications. The bill doesn’t specify how the money will get divided once the state collects it.
“We really don’t know what it will mean. I’m reluctant to say X dollars will be available” to counties or towns. “but it does shore up the leakage — so that was a good result.”
Weeks after the last flames were quenched, the 123,900-acre Woodbury Fire in the Superstition Mountains still worries officials.
More than half of the Woodbury Fire burned hot enough to create hydrophobic soil conditions, limiting the soil’s ability to absorb water. This raises the risk for flash flooding and debris flows.
Debris flows of ash, sand, silt, rocks and burned vegetation can damage or destroy culverts, bridges, roadways, and buildings miles away from the burned area. A debris flow after the Highline Fire several years ago killed eight people at the Water Wheel recreation area.
“Naturally occurring weather can cause additional damage and destruction in areas surrounding a burn scar before trees and vegetation grow back to normal,” said John Scaggs, public affairs specialist with the Tonto National Forest.
Thunderstorms can produce flash flooding before officials can put out a warning, especially on steep slopes after a heavy rain.
The Forest Service Burn Area Emergency Response process seeks to protect forest visitors, critical natural and cultural resources, water quality, Forest Service lands and staff from further damage.
Each week of the monsoon, the BAER teams across the area partner with the National Weather Service to send out weather reports.
“The BAER hydrologists will meet with NOAA as needed to continue this collaboration,” said Scaggs.
So far, the Forest Service has closed a large area within the Woodbury burn scar, including Burnt Corral, Crabtree Wash, Davis Wash, Lower Burnt Corral Shoreline Area, Three-Mile Wash, and the Upper Burnt Corral Shoreline Area.
Also included in the closure area — 30 miles of the Arizona Trail.
That portion of the AZT will “remain closed through the 2019 monsoon season,” said Scaggs.
The Forest Service will reassess whether to reopen the AZT after the monsoon ends.
The 800-mile-long AZT runs through Rim Country from Roosevelt Lake to Happy Jack. It’s a busy trail. The AZT Association estimates about 450 through hikers complete the trail each year with 65 percent traveling northbound in the spring and the rest traveling southbound in the fall.
The closed area runs through the Superstitions south of Roosevelt Lake.
The AZT Association isn’t taking any chances, however. Executive Director Matthew Nelson said, “There is currently no detour around the fire closure, and long-distance (southbound) hikers should be prepared to arrange a ride from Roosevelt to the town of Superior to avoid the closure area.”
Check with the AZT Association for more updates, aztrail.org.