MSU police captain helps law students think analytically

 By Sheila Pursglove

Legal News
Statistics can impact jury awards, negotiations, and client concerns – as students learn in Penny Fischer’s “Analytical Methods for Lawyers-Statistics” at Michigan State University College of Law. 
“My students often comment they weren’t aware of the role statistics can play in their own careers and how social science has many platforms to share in legal work,” Fischer says. “There’s a recognition that other disciplines beyond their law classes can help them gain new experiences and credentials to assist them in the pursuits after law school.”
A captain with the MSU Police Department–Emergency Management and Special Events Division, Fischer started teaching as an adjunct at MSU Law in 2010. Her one-credit elective course is within a series of similar courses that can be combined to fulfill a traditional three-credit course and gain specific skills for law practice. 
“My passion is to ensure the next generation of lawyers or criminal justice professionals has the skills needed in the complex, global environment to make our professions better than when we arrived – I know that sounds like a greeting card, but it’s truly what drives me,” she says. “Also, with my dual degrees in law and criminal justice, this uniquely allows me to see how both the practice of law and the study of statistics can provide resources to students not otherwise found in traditional law classes.”
In her own student days, Fischer waited four years out of high school to attend college – then more than made up ground by earning a B.S. in criminal justice from Grand Valley State University, an M.S. and Ph.D. in criminal justice from MSU, and a law degree from Cooley.
After landing in an “Introduction to Criminal Justice” class after her first semester at GVSU, she was hooked – not surprisingly, since law enforcement/criminal justice is in her blood. Her father served as a Reserve Deputy in a local county and her grandfather worked for the Grand Rapids Police Department before pursuing an invention for police motorcycles, then becoming a gunsmith. 
At MSU, Fischer oversees a group of seven officers that has deployed for a mass Spartan Stadium evacuation of more than 70,000 fans on two occasions this year due to weather events, a power outage that impacted about one-fifth of the MSU campus that included critical research, and severe winter weather shutdowns that impacted community resources.  
“My job is to be forward-thinking to stay engaged in what hazards may be present and complete plans, training and exercises to develop the needed skills in our community to keep MSU safe and secure,” she says. “Being part of an institution that excels in policing gives me many opportunities to explore new concepts, create new partnerships and develop exciting new ideas.”
Beginning her policing career a few years after women began entering the field of law enforcement, Fischer had very few mentors who recognized her unique needs as a woman in a male-dominated profession. A phenomena that is present for other hierarchies as well – such as race, gender, ethnicity, culture, and class – she appreciates the mentors she developed in her early career were pivotal in the gains she made later in her profession. 
The experience made her a passionate proponent of mentoring programs. About 13 years ago, she proposed the creation of a mentoring program in her department – a huge success in the numbers of employees retained, those that transitioned into the department smoothly and officers who completed the training process with more confidence.  
“Although this program has waned at MSU, the grassroots it created still linger in the members who now seek ways to mentor others,” she says.  
A native of the Grand Rapids area –where her parents, siblings and many other relatives live – Fischer left the area 26 years ago and hopes to return some day. She currently makes her home in Holt, south of Lansing, where she and her partner are avid gardeners. Her large family and extended family are extremely important in her life and she finds ways to spend time with them all. 
A volunteer for her church with various outreach programs, Fischer also enjoys gardening, bicycling, walking, snowshoeing, and reading.


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