Ron Tischer wears an officer’s uniform to work, not a shirt and tie. La Crosse’s new police chief says he’s just an officer at heart.
“First and foremost, he’s a street cop,” said Jake Trussoni, a police specialist who worked alongside Tischer for more than a decade.
The department’s first new leader in two decades is an approachable but no-nonsense, law-and-order type ready to confront several issues the city faces.
“I’m not afraid to get my hands dirty,” he said.
Tischer hails from Waukesha, a southeastern Wisconsin city with a population 20,000 greater than La Crosse but with many of the same public safety issues.
There, he commanded the city’s 65 patrol officers and the department’s technical unit.
Less than two months at the helm here, Tischer says he’s found his forever home. He brings big new ideas to a department that has seen little change in recent years.
The new chief wants to tackle the excessive alcohol consumption and the attitude associated with Oktoberfest. His officers issued 500 tickets during this year’s event.
Tischer plans a crackdown in the campus area and on squatters along the parade route during the 2013 fest.
“There’s going to be some unhappy people next year, because we will start enforcing some of the ordinances,” he said. “There’s so many good things that happen during Oktoberfest … that shouldn’t be overshadowed by the drunken fools out there.”
Street crime unit
In Waukesha, Tischer created a street crime unit to combat the worst problems in the city. He intends to ask for additional hires in 2014 to establish a similar team in La Crosse.
“I think it’s definitely something that’s needed here,” he said.
La Crosse County isn’t tough enough on drug dealers, the chief said, and he advocates for more accountability and harsher penalties. He criticized the county’s drug court as a “revolving door.”
Tischer said his staff is frustrated watching repeat offenders receive minimal incarceration or probation.
“Our guys are hammering the drug dealers, but they get over to court and they’re out in a day or two,” he said.
“Drug dealers come to La Crosse because they know they’re going to get a slap on the hand if they get caught,” he said.
Tischer also wants to work with downtown business owners so their customers feel safe in the wake of the Sept. 15 killings at May’s Photo on Main Street. He wants officers out of their squad cars building relationships.
“We can’t have a random act like this completely shut down the businesses,” he said. “It’s too nice of an area. It’s thriving, and we have to keep it moving.”
His path to being chief
Tischer took a circuitous path to law enforcement.
In 1983, the New Berlin, Wis., native enrolled at the Milwaukee School of Engineering, seeking a mechanical engineering degree. His stepdad was a mechanical engineer, there were opportunities in the field, and his parents were willing to pay for his education.
He figured he’d wind up designing heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems and spent three years in a lab testing ventilation fans before things changed.
“The whole industrial commercial manufacturing field took a nose dive,” he said.
Tischer got out. He always wanted to be an officer, and this was his chance.
He started criminal justice classes at Waukesha County Technical College in 1994 and was hired by the Racine County Sheriff’s Department halfway through the police recruit academy.
On his first day, the sheriff told him he would spend a decade working in the jail before patrol.
He quickly accepted a job offer a few weeks later from the River Hills Police Department as a patrol officer in the small, affluent Milwaukee County community.
Tischer quit the 14-officer department in 1996 and sought a job outside the county when overwhelmed Milwaukee County prosecutors told him they didn’t have time for his cases.
“I thought, ‘This isn’t right,’” he said.
He landed with the 118-member Waukesha Police Department, where aggressive policing helped turn around a downtown full of drug dealers, drug users and prostitutes.
There is a point, Tischer said, where dealing with the same type of call with the same issue caused by the same people is too much for a patrol officer.
He re-enrolled in the Milwaukee School of Engineering to earn the degree he needed for a promotion and made sergeant in 2004, lieutenant in 2006 and captain in 2009.
A supervisory position allowed Tischer to respond to calls when he wanted. Plus, the department was transitioning to a community policing philosophy, and he wanted a role in that, he said.
As captain, Tischer oversaw the department’s 65 patrol officers and another 34 other members of the department. He also served as commander of the department’s tactical unit.
He’s a quiet but hard working natural leader who earned the respect of his department, said Trussoni, who worked with Tischer for 12 years.
“He’s one of those bosses that when the time came he could switch roles and help out,” he said.
Tischer gave freedom and guidance to foster growth in his bureau, said Waukesha police Lt. Tom Wallschlaeger, who worked with Tischer for 16 years. He’s passionate and relentless at fixing problems, Wallschlaeger said.
“I think he will be the voice of the officers there,” said Waukesha police Lt. Dan Baumann. “He is firm but fair. You don’t want to disappoint him, sort of like a father.”
After 16 years in Waukesha, Tischer was ready for a change. He enjoyed his visits to La Crosse and was looking for a position in a city that faced challenges.
“I thought, ‘Here’s my opportunity to take on the challenges in the city of La Crosse and start the last phase of my law enforcement career,’” he said.
‘Drive and motivation’
The city’s Police and Fire Commission selected Tischer from 18 candidates. Commission member Bruce Jentz praised Tischer’s leadership and experience in the private sector.
“He had such a passion for police work that he quit his job and started at the bottom,” Jentz said. “To me that shows drive and motivation.”
Tischer began his tenure Sept. 27, days before Oktoberfest and in the midst of the investigation into the double homicide at May’s Photo.
“It was chaos,” he said.
It’s alarming anyone would commit such a heinous act against two innocent people over camera equipment, Tischer said. He called the man charged in their slayings “pathetic.”
“They didn’t have to die that day,” he said.
Tischer praised his department for an impressive display of professionalism and dedication during the investigation.
“They don’t get any rest until someone is in custody,” he said. “I think one thing that gets overlooked is the amount of dedication that these guys are putting into this job … they’re police officers 24 hours a day.”