ELKHART — Lt. Laura Koch, named assistant police chief Tuesday, admits she has some big shoes to fill in the Elkhart Police Department.
But the officer she’s replacing has plenty of praise for her.
Koch’s promotion was announced at a morning press conference by Mayor Dick Moore, who said she embodies all of the characteristics needed for the job — somebody with a strong work ethic, solid organizational skills and who has already made an impact in the community.
Koch will replace Tim Balyeat, who recently announced his retirement after 26 years with the department.
Balyeat was quick to support the appointment.
“Excellent choice,” Balyeat said. “She will do well.”
Balyeat said Koch’s ability to listen and make good decisions has benefited her career with the department.
“She has exceptional people skills, which will come in handy with this job,” he said.
In making the announcement, Moore said he was reminded of the time he served as fire chief and had to make a series of appointments. His top choices were those with lengthy experience and his second round involved people who possessed “great possibilities” and could learn quickly.
“I feel the same way today about this appointment. It is a wonderful opportunity for anyone to work with Chief (Dale) Pflibsen,” Moore said.
For Koch, the promotion has been a goal that she says most any police officer looks toward.
“I’m always up for a challenge and I think this is definitely going to be a challenge. I’m going to face a lot of obstacles and I look forward to working with all the guys and making the police department even better than what it is right now.”
Koch, a mother of two, steps into the position knowing she’s not breaking any barriers as a woman in Elkhart Police Department history.
Under the previous administration, Mayor Dave Miller promoted Pam Westlake to assistant and later, chief. She was replaced by Moore when he was elected and appointed Pflibsen as chief and Balyeat as assistant.
Koch said she doesn’t consider gender to be a factor.
“I don’t look at it as me being a female. I look at it as me being a police officer and working with the guys,” she said.
Koch has risen relatively quickly in the police ranks.
She is a graduate of Jimtown High School, attended Indiana University South Bend, and then worked in retail for 15 years with Big R, eventually becoming store manager.
All along, Koch said she always intended to enter law enforcement.
She graduated from the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy in 2002 and joined the police department that year. She began in the patrol division and moved to the Community Relations Bureau in 2006 and was promoted to lieutenant in 2010 at the same time she became the department’s public information officer.
In the short term, Koch said she will continue to serve as the spokesperson for the department, but that role is something she said she will discuss with Pflibsen.
The role of assistant police chief is largely managerial.
Balyeat said the department has hired about 50 officers in the past five years and that Koch will have a chance to shape the future of what has become a young department.
Moore began his news conference Tuesday by complimenting Balyeat on his career with the police department, calling him the “epitome” of a police officer.
Balyeat, 55, said he plans to move to Florida.
“It has been his life, his love and I give him about three months before I hear from him about how much he misses this life he is leaving,” Moore said.