Bedford’s new police chief says helping people is one of the department’s top priorities. But he is also concerned for the welfare of his officers.
“No cop likes to see people in pain. We want to help people when we can, and there are great partners here in the community – Bedford is doing a phenomenal job at that,” John Fisher said in a recent interview.
He warned that “one of those things that can really burn our officers out is connecting with adults and young people in need.”
Fisher has been on the job for a little over a month. He was appointed by City Manager Sarah Stanton to succeed retired Chief Robert Bongiorno. Interim Fire Chief Kenneth Fong served six months before Fisher came on board.
Fisher said in Bedford: “There’s solid community work going on every day, and good policing going on. Our detectives and officers are doing a fantastic job.”
“Unfortunately, there is enough crime, but there are also opportunities to do crime prevention and community outreach, which is a big part of the job. And it helps cops stay here longer,” Fisher said.
“I feel like our officers see enough action to feel like they’re helping in emergency situations, but they also see enough community nurturing opportunities where they can work to improve people’s lives.”
He said the city’s Department of Health and Emerson Hospital are examples of “partners better suited for long-term mental health work. I can guarantee that every cop will want to help with things like addiction.”
“The responsibilities that fall on the police force have grown exponentially, and some of that probably doesn’t belong in our direction,” the chief continued. “There are other partners in our community — nonprofit, faith-based — who provide community service.”
At Bedford, “there’s a lot more we could do,” Fisher said, but that would require more staff. “I have met with a quarter of the officers individually so far and each has brought up things they would like to do more for the community and the police department. That’s something I’d like to be a part of.”
Meanwhile, officials are now working overtime, and “everyone sees that there is room for growth.”
As a teenager, Fisher moved 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 and spent one weekend a month and three summers training. “My grandfather was a naval officer,” he remarked. He was assigned to Gloucester Coastguard Station which “was an excellent experience. I owe the Coast Guard many good things that have happened to me,” including tuition.
It also led to a career in law enforcement. The Plymouth State security chief, who spotted Fisher’s Coast Guard bumper sticker, asked him if he wanted a part-time job. In senior year, “I worked a full-time night shift. I was an unconventional student.”
The transition to full-time policing was not immediate; Fisher worked for the Boys and Girls Club in Nashua, NH for two years after graduating before joining the police force in 1989.
He was a Nashua officer for nearly 23 years, rising to the rank of captain.
“I had a lot of good mentors and leadership opportunities,” he said. “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 the position of chief of police in Carlisle. Fisher and his family stayed in Nashua while their three sons finished high school, then decided to stay. The boss said he could be at his desk in Carlisle in less than half an hour every morning.
Shortly after his tenure, Fisher successfully applied for an auxiliary position: control chief of the Northeastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council (NEMLEC), the consortium made up of police departments in 62 cities with a population of about two million in Essex and Middlesex counties.
According to the NEMLEC website “Officers from the NEMLEC agencies may be made available in other communities during an emergency or event requiring police services beyond what local police may have.
“It really helped me with my desire to be involved in major events,” such as search and rescue, emergency response, and special weapons and tactics (SWAT). Fisher said he’s involved in about 120 calls a year. As control chief, he is part of the Boston Marathon safety planning team along with former Bedford Police Commissioner James Hicks, who has held the position at Natick since 2010.
Carlisle also faced law enforcement issues, Fisher noted. “We’ve had shootings, we’ve had carjacking, we’ve had it all. It just wasn’t happening every other week like in Nashua where we had like 90 seconds between calls.”
But in Carlisle, he continued, he had the opportunity to “really see cases and incidents in full and get to know people a lot better, make that call and say, ‘How are you feeling?'”
“One of the things I’ve seen is that our police officers are parents and trainers 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 tough but also fun.”
Fisher is the head coach of the boys’ basketball program at Bishop Guertin High School in Nashua. His career as a basketball coach began in 1987 at the Boys and Girls Club. He said he coached at all levels through high school for the past 35 years and also coached 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 an intensive care nurse at a Boston hospital, one is a Navy pilot, and the third writes software code.