Not long after James Fansler entered law enforcement 10 years ago, he encountered a situation that affects him to this day, he said Thursday.
Fansler, who was recently named interim police chief, recalled that he was near a Lake Placid shopping center when "a man came out with a rifle and fired two shots toward me," he said.
He said he was forced to shoot back and kill the man. Afterwards, he said, "We believed it was a suicide by cop."
Fortunately, he said, that incident wasn't typical of policing in a small community where he knows a large percentage of the residents. He said that serious crime is rare, with the last homicide occurring more than six years ago.
Fansler, 35, will replace Phil Williams as police chief for the next year. Williams, who became city administrator, will decide whether he wants to continue after that as city administrator or return to his position as police chief. Fansler said if Williams remains as city administrator he hopes the city will offer him the police chief position on a permanent basis.
He grew up in central Illinois and also lived in Lakeland before moving to Lake Placid about 15 years ago, Fansler said.
Although he did other jobs, Fansler said, he had a long-time desire to enter law enforcement and help people. People told him, he said, that he looked like a police officer before he became one.
One of his goals in entering law enforcement was to "give (the public) a better image of what law enforcement can be," he said.
Fansler said some officers gain a reputation of being bullies.
His view of law enforcement, he said, is to help people. In some cases as an officer, he said, he was able to give some people a break, rather than automatically arrest them and send them to jail.
Officers can do more than just increase the jail population, he said. They can help people redirect their lives, Fansler added.
"I think God wants to help others, as much as we can," Fansler said.
But in some cases, such as the man shooting at him, helping the perpetrator is not an option. Still, Fansler said, fatally shooting the perpetrator is never the preferred outcome.
"I don't know that today I would have handled it any differently, he said, but added, "No normal person wants to take the life of another human being."
He said that before entering law enforcement he encountered the man, who gave no indication then that he had problems.