It wasn’t really what he was anticipating when he did a ride along with Terry Pinheiro years ago.
But now longtime Escalon police officer Robert ‘Rob’ Lackey finds himself in the department’s top spot, taking over as Escalon Police Chief as of July 1. He is settling in to his new office, desk and routine, trading patrol duties for administrative ones.
Lackey was already working for the city, in Public Works, starting there in April of 2000. He was approached a few years later by then-Chief Doug Dunford about perhaps being a reserve officer.
“I had never really considered (police work) but Chief Dunford asked if I would be interested in becoming a reserve,” Lackey explained.
As fate would have it, he was paired up for a ride-along with Pinheiro, who served both with the Escalon Police Department and the Escalon Fire Department during his career, and Lackey got to see Pinheiro in action. A case they worked dealt with a stolen vehicle from Friendly Chevrolet in Escalon and that led to the discovery of the suspect being involved in other crimes.
“I think Pinheiro solved about four or five different cases with that one arrest,” Lackey said, adding that he was hooked from that point on.
He went to the Stanislaus County Ray Simon Regional Criminal Justice Training Center for night classes while still working in Public Works and graduated the academy in 2007. He was hired full-time as an Escalon police officer in July 2007.
“I’ve been here ever since,” he said. “Terry Pinheiro and Chief Dunford, they kind of swayed me to the blue side.”
Lackey said once he knew he wanted to pursue a career in law enforcement, he did want to work for Escalon. He also knew that, at 37 when he went through the academy, he would have life experience along with the formal training to draw on.
He has been a sergeant for the last three years, promoted by recently retired Chief Mike Borges.
“I felt that he was giving me an opportunity, like he took a chance on me and I didn’t want to disappoint him,” Lackey said. “He has been a great mentor and he commands an air of respect.”
Taking the chance to apply for the chief’s position when Borges announced his retirement, Lackey said he hopes to develop the same kind of rapport with officers as his predecessor had.
“This was something I wanted to strive for but following Chief Borges, he is a tough act to follow and some big shoes to fill,” Lackey admitted.
He also pointed to the support he has been given already by the city manager and council members, noting he wants to work cooperatively with them as well to make sure city residents are well protected by the department. He was especially appreciative of the move to adopt the current fiscal year budget with an amendment to add funding for another police officer now instead of during the second half of the budget year.
The new position, along with filling his vacated sergeant’s position, should get the department up to its full complement of staff.
“I’ve got a really steep learning curve,” admitted Lackey. “Escalon doesn’t really have a slow escalation into this position.”
There are also many outside factors right now that have made it a tough time to transition into a leadership role, including dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. But Lackey said he wants to make sure the department is transparent and its officers approachable.
“We’re here for the people,” he said. “I’m going to continue with what Chief Borges established, a focus on Community Oriented Policing, I totally believe in his approach to it.”
With time as a Field Training Officer also behind him, Lackey feels comfortable and confident in his abilities to lead a young department. He also is glad that Chief Borges said he would be available by phone for consultation when needed.
“I’m going to do the best I can for the people that are investing in me,” Lackey said.