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.”