Bedford’s new chief of police says helping people is a top departmental priority. But he also is concerned about the welfare of his officers.
“No police officer likes to see people in pain. We want to help people when we can get them help, and there are excellent community partners here – Bedford does a phenomenal job with this,” said John Fisher in a recent interview.
He cautioned that “exposure to adults and young people in distress is one of the things that can really burn our officers out.”
Fisher has been on the job for a little more than a month. He was appointed by Town Manager Sarah Stanton to succeed retiring Chief Robert Bongiorno. Interim Fire Chief Kenneth Fong served for six months before Fisher came on board.
Fisher said in Bedford, “there is solid community work being done every day and there is good police work being done. Our detectives and officers do fantastic jobs.”
“Unfortunately, there’s enough crime going on, but there are also the opportunities to do crime prevention and community caretaking work that is a great part of the job. And it helps police officers be here longer,” Fisher said.
“I feel like our officers see enough action to feel like they help in emergency situations, but they also see enough community caretaking opportunities where they can work to make people’s lives better.”
He said the town’s Department of Health and Human Services and Emerson Hospital are examples of “partners that are better suited for long-term mental health work. I can guarantee that every police officer wants to help with things like addiction.”
“Responsibilities that fall on police have grown greatly, and some of that probably doesn’t belong in our lane,” the chief continued. “There are other partners in our community – nonprofits, faith-based – that have community services.”
In Bedford, “There’s a lot more work we could be doing,” Fisher said, but that would require more personnel. “I’ve met with a quarter of the officers individually so far and each one has brought up to me things they want to do more for the community and the Police Department. That’s something that I would like to help us achieve.”
Meanwhile, officers are working overtime now, and “everybody sees there’s room for growth.”
As a youth, Fisher moved with his family from Harrisburg, PA, to Concord, NH.
“Moving to a smaller town was very difficult, but I had a fantastic high school experience,” he said, and after graduation, “I found a home at Plymouth State College.”
As a freshman, he joined the Coast Guard Reserve, spending one weekend a month and three summers training. “My grandfather was a Navy officer,” he noted. He was assigned to the Gloucester Coast Guard station, which was “an excellent experience. I have the Coast Guard to thank for a lot of the good things that happened to me,” including tuition.
It also led to a career in law enforcement. The chief of security at Plymouth State, spotting Fisher’s Coast Guard bumper sticker, asked him if he wanted a part-time job. By senior year, “I was working a full-time all-night shift. I was a non-traditional student.”
The move to full-time police work wasn’t immediate; Fisher worked for the Boys and Girls Club in Nashua, NH for two years after graduation before joining the police department in 1989.
He was a Nashua officer for almost 23 years, advancing to the rank of captain.
“I had a lot of good mentors and leadership opportunities,” he related. “It gave me a really broad experience.” During his tenure he earned his master’s degree from the University of New Hampshire.
Ten years ago, he was offered a chance to be chief of police in Carlisle. Fisher and his family stayed in Nashua while their three sons finished high school and then decided to remain. The chief said he got to his desk in Carlisle every morning in less than half an hour.
Shortly into his tenure, Fisher successfully applied for an adjunct position: control chief for the Northeastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council (NEMLEC), the consortium composed of police departments in 62 cities and towns with a population of some two million throughout Essex and Middlesex Counties.
According to the NEMLEC website, “officers from NEMLEC’s agencies can be made available in other communities during an emergency or event that requires police services beyond what local police may have.”
“That really helped with my desire to be involved in large events,” such as search-and-rescue, response to emergencies, and special weapons and tactics (SWAT). Fisher said he is involved with about 120 calls a year. As control chief, he is part of the Boston Marathon security planning team, along with former Bedford Police Chief James Hicks, who has held that position in Natick since 2010.
Carlisle also had law-enforcement challenges, Fisher noted. “We had gunfights, we had carjackings, we had everything there. It just didn’t happen every other week like in Nashua, where we had about 90 seconds between calls.”
But in Carlisle, he continued, he had the opportunity “to really see cases and incidents all the way through, and to get to know people much better, to make that phone call and say, ‘How are you feeling?’”
“One of the things that I’ve seen is our police officers are parents and coaches and volunteers in our communities,” the chief said. “No matter what profession you’re in, it helps to have something outside of work that’s really hard but really fun.”
Fisher is the head coach for the boys’ basketball program at Bishop Guertin High School in Nashua. His basketball coaching career began at the Boys and Girls Club in 1987. He said he has coached at every level up to high school over the past 35 years and also coaches lacrosse.
His team won the New Hampshire state championship in 2021, when he was named coach of the year. Fisher and his wife Judy have three sons
, in their 20s. One is a nurse in a Boston hospital intensive care unit, one is a Navy pilot, and the third writes software code.