Chief Fisher reflects on police work at community Q&A

by Karina Coombs

In his second year leading Carlisle’s police force, Chief John Fisher answered wide-ranging questions as the guest speaker at the annual meeting of the Mosquito’s parent organization, Carlisle Communications, Inc., held on May 16. Fisher holds a Bachelor’s degree from Plymouth State University and a Master’s in Public Administration from the University of New Hampshire. He and his wife and three sons live in Nashua, where he spent 20 years in law enforcement, prior to coming to Carlisle.

Most recently Fisher also provided assistance in Boston after the April 15 bombings, supervising a SWAT team of up to 50 officers as an assistant control chief for the North Eastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council. He provided additional security, along with Sergeant Steve Mack, at a number of locations in the city for the days that followed right up to the suspect’s arrest in Watertown. During this time Fisher continued to meet his responsibilities in Carlisle.

“I’m a huge fan of the Mosquito,” said Fisher, acknowledging that police officers opening up to a room full of reporters for questions “doesn’t happen often.”

Q: Is there something that the police force does in Carlisle to help adjust adrenaline levels (when responding to events of varying severity)?

A: “The best officers are thrill seekers [and] go from zero to 100 quickly and then can de-escalate quickly,” answered Fisher. “A lost child? Zero to 100 like nobody’s business.” He explained that he looks for new officers who are prepared to tackle major events, but can also, and just as easily, know when an extreme response is unnecessary or even adverse to a particular situation.

Fisher also emphasized that training is a valuable tool in keeping his officers sharp. “We exercise at schools, practicing for emergencies. Practicing the really bad stuff helps us be ready should it happen, God forbid, in Carlisle.” Fisher noted that he had recently requested and been granted additional funding for trainings.

Q: How do you imagine the impact of medical marijuana dispensaries on the state and the town?

A: “[It] depends on whether or not someone wants to open one. I think the rules from an enforcement perspective are good about safety, cleanliness and amounts.” Acknowledging he is not “good with unknowns,” Fisher said he will wait to see how things play out, but has yet to see anything outrageous.

Q: Do you see your role as educator to the community or as preventing problems?

A: Fisher said he did consider himself an educator, but always tried to make sure he stayed on the enforcement side of issues and not jump to the legislative side. However, he also noted that the police play a role in public safety education. Besides the D.A.R.E. program and press releases on topics such as telephone scams, Fisher said that he recently conducted two firearm safety classes in town, which were attended by 15 people.

Q: Can you speak about school security after the Sandy Hook incident? Some people want the school to be a fortress and some think all the safety in the world could be for nothing. What do you think?

A: “I can’t imagine any bigger failure on my part than if something happened at our schools,“ said Fisher. He explained that the school has a good security plan and it is practiced well, but understands why people have a natural inclination to protect children as much as they can. “There is a point when you change the texture of education by being oppressive regarding security,” said Fisher. “There are people that want an officer with an automatic weapon at the front door and also people that want zero locks and all doors open. I think we are in the middle . . [and] where we should be.”

Q: What do you worry about most?

A: Fisher said he worried most about the school and about kids. “That keeps me up at night, something happening to a kid,” said a somber Fisher, explaining that was his Achilles’ heel.

Q: What are the most frequent incidents and most common crime?

A: “Residential alarms where there are no burglars, [are the most frequent incidents]” said Fisher with the most common crime reported being domestic quarrels. Fisher explained this is true in police stations everywhere. “There’s no such thing as a typical domestic quarrel [and] they are sad. You have to try to get folks to work together, whatever arrangement you can work out.”

Q: How do you decide between giving a warning or a ticket for traffic violations?

A: “Discretion. Tact. Seeing the big picture,” said Fisher. He tells new officers they need to be both fair and firm, but leaves warnings versus tickets up to their discretion. “The percentage of tickets in Carlisle is not inconsistent to other places,” said Fisher, explaining the state issues each department a report card showing tickets issued and Carlisle’s numbers are about right.

Fisher explained that he comes into Carlisle early on Tuesdays and Thursdays to patrol the roads and look at areas that have reported problems. One driver he stopped one morning had just passed a stopped school bus that had its lights flashing, flag out, with children actively crossing the street. “It almost gave me a heart attack,” said Fisher. The driver reported that she knew that she was supposed to stop but said she just “couldn’t stop [her] car.”

Q: How much time is spent on internet crimes and is it an appropriate role for police?

A: Fisher said that the town had investigated some crimes and noted there were times when there are bursts of financial crimes or bank scams. “Our role is to investigate anyone that could be a victim in the town or put out public service announcements,” said Fisher. “Our role is not to patrol the internet.”

Q: If there is an incident between a car and a bike, is it always the driver’s fault? Do you ever ticket cyclists?

A. Fisher said that he does ticket bikers, while also acknowledging he was an avid biker. “The two most serious complaints tonight [May 16] were incidents involving auto and bike and bike and auto.” Occasionally there will be unregistered cycling groups in town doing personal time trials with two and three riders abreast according to Fisher. He said drivers needed to have respect for cyclists, but acknowledged that some cyclists take “liberties they shouldn’t.”

The biggest issue between the two sharing the road is perception-reaction time said Fisher. He explained the physics of time and distance in relation to a driver or cyclist seeing something up ahead and then being able to react to the situation accordingly. Fisher said there had already been a bicycle and car collision this year.

Q: Has anything surprised you while working here?

A: Fisher said that he had yet to be surprised, emphasizing he had seen enough things on the other end of the spectrum that make him grateful for small problems.

Q: How does small town policing differ from larger cities or towns?

A: Fisher explained he recently gave a talk about this topic to 45 newly promoted police sergeants at Roger Williams University where he teaches. Fisher teaches both First-Line Supervisor and Mid-Management courses to law enforcement personnel. He said that for every four classes he teaches, a Carlisle officer is able to take a free course. While one might think that policing would differ between large and small communities, Fisher said that it was the same job, but with a different pace.

In a small town, Fisher said that officers have the time to take care of problems and practice what they learned in Criminal Justice or Public Administration programs. In a city like Nashua, Fisher explained, officers have approximately 90 seconds between each call during some shifts. Fisher pointed out that it is good to have experience in both camps. He also tells those in his class that a leader on a shift with only one or two officers “doesn’t make you any less of a leader.”

Q: What makes police officers come to Carlisle?

A: Fisher explained that he interviewed between 15 and 20 candidates for a recent opening. “I look for balance and someone looking [specifically] for a community this size.” Given the expense that goes into training and outfitting each officer, Fisher tries to ensure that a candidate will be a good long-term fit. He will explain to candidates that entire night shifts might pass without any calls and hours will be spent driving on patrol without seeing another car.

“We’re a small force that works together and trusts each other,” said Fisher. “That has to be something someone wants.” ∆