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Toolin’ Around Town: Petaluma’s Tim Lyons on the beat and on the trail

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These days, career seekers looking for long-time employment are usually aware that job security isn’t what it used to be. It’s said that today’s workers can expect to hold five or more jobs before reaching retirement age. This is just one reason why reporting for work to the same place for 30 years is such a remarkable achievement for Petaluma Police Department Lieutenant Tim Lyons.

Police work is like no other job.

It’s physically and emotionally demanding. It requires split-second decision making, social skills, street smarts, the ability to compartmentalize unsavory situations and the fortitude to be ready for the next call.

Although the police department doesn’t keep track of employment records, it’s believed that Lyons’ three decades of service ranks among the longest in its history.

“I’ve been around for a while,” said Lt. Lyons, the current department’s longest tenured member, who was sworn in on April 9, 1990, by Police Chief Dennis DeWitt, and chosen Officer of the Year in 2004. “Petaluma still has a great sense of community, which makes it a great place to work. I really love this job and love coming to work.”

Throughout his career, Lt. Lyons has strived for success and promotion. While heading the motorcycle traffic unit, he was Petaluma’s first motorcycle sergeant, and he’s had various specialized assignments including SWAT, Bicycle Patrol and Field Training Officer.

Long before being hired by PPD, though, Lyons was prepared to succeed.

“I wanted an exciting, secure job, preferably outdoors, where I could be promoted. That’s why I got my degree,” he said. “I probably would have been a firefighter if I hadn’t gone into law enforcement.”

Police work is attractive to many because it’s continually evolving.

“There’s a lot more technology involved now, electronic types of crimes,” Lyons said. “And there are more serious crimes, which can lead to high stress levels and burnout. You’ve got to be able to turn that off.”

While stress-related problems can sideline a career, Lyons — who seems relaxed and easy going, even on duty — has a sure-fire remedy to relieve tension.

Hiking.

“I love to hike,” he said. “I got my taste for the outdoors while working as a lifeguard at Yosemite National Park, when I was still in high school. I grew up in San Francisco and for three years I held Yosemite jobs. My family had a place in Monte Rio and for years we came up to the Russian River.”

A high achiever who leads by example, his love for hiking has grown over the years. He’s climbed Yosemite’s Half Dome — a challenging 16-mile round trip requiring excellent physical conditioning — 35 times, often with friends.

“I’ve taken many officers from PPD on that hike,” Lyons said, his voice tempered with excitement. “The best time to do it is at night under a full moon,”

But Half Dome is just a warm-up for the adventurous trailblazer. In 2018, with a group of eight, he hiked the 211-mile John Muir Trail in the Sierra Nevada, a rigorous endurance test beginning in Yosemite and passing through Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, including 14,505-foot Mount Whitney. The trek took 23 days to complete.

If that doesn’t energize you, perhaps his 2015 conquering of Africa’s tallest peak, 19,241-foot Mount Kilimanjaro, in Tanzania will.

Ambitious and career- minded, Lt. Lyons has sought to elevate those around him and boost the reputation of the police community. After moving to Petaluma with his family in 1985, he enrolled in the law enforcement program at Santa Rosa Junior College. A well-paying job as a checker at Safeway in Novato helped with expenses when he transferred to Sacramento State University, where he earned a degree in criminal justice.

He was trained at the Santa Rosa Junior College police academy and has been an instructor at that facility for nearly 25 years. For the past 15 years, he’s focused on teaching response to high-risk incidents and how to handle crimes in progress.

“We’re practicing protocols that are completely new,” Lyons explained. “In the old days, we never wore protective equipment. Now it’s important how we approach people. With the coronavirus, social distancing is important. Changes are in our future.”

A former high school soccer player, he keeps in shape playing in an over-40 indoor soccer league, and training to achieve his long-sought dream of climbing South America’s tallest peak, Mount Aconcagua.

Stated Lyons, revealing his bucket-list goal of hiking to the top of 22,841-foot mountain in Argentina, “I want to reach 20,000 feet.”

(Harlan Osborne’s ‘Toolin Around Town” runs every other week in the Argus-Courier. In this column, Osborne talks with Petaluma residents and history-makers about their lives, careers and living in Petaluma)

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