Santa Rosa city worker who stopped a purse-snatching gets taste of new career

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Fresh from a year of police academy training in Windsor, Todd Lockhart, 43, this week got to try out some of his new skills when a woman’s yell for help sent him dashing across a Petaluma parking lot after a suspected purse thief.

The story ends with Petaluma police arresting a 22-year-old Petaluma transient and noting Lockhart had cornered the man in a nearby business and held him for officers. The 67-year-old Cotati woman got back her purse and much-needed heart medication. And Lockhart returned to his abandoned bicycle and laptop to find people watching his gear for him and wanting to shake his hand.

“I just graduated from the police academy in December. I kind of knew what to do,” he said a few days after the event. “Everything clicked into place. It felt good.”

Lockhart this week was sealing cracks on Santa Rosa city streets as part of his job for the city’s public works department. He’s worked for the city for 18 years but has long been interested in police work.

Last year, with the encouragement of family and friends, he enrolled in a yearlong police academy program through Santa Rosa Junior College. He worked full time by day and at night attended classes to learn police skills.

On Monday, a day off, he’d ridden his bike to an office supply store on South McDowell Boulevard and was faxing out his job application paperwork to Bay Area law enforcement agencies. Before heading home, at about 4:30 p.m., he stopped at Peet’s Coffee.

“I was just having something to drink and had my bike and my laptop and was about ready to go. Around the corner I heard someone yell, ‘He’s got my bag!’ Then I saw this kid run at a full gallop toward Staples, holding what looked like a purse,” he said.

As Lockhart took off after him, leaving his bicycle and laptop unattended, he called out to a nearby woman to please watch his things.

“I was chasing him, and he kept looking back at me,” Lockhart said. While running, “I was making a plan, thinking ahead … what was drilled into me.”

Lockhart briefly lost sight of the man, but someone yelled that the suspect may have gone into a restaurant.

Lockhart said he ran into the restaurant, shouting to employees, “Where’d he go, where’d he go?” and “Call police!” He was pointed toward the bathroom.

The door to the restroom was shut, and Lockhart could hear a commotion inside. He waited outside, figuring it was safer and knowing the man would come out eventually. Also, police were on the way.

Before officers arrived, however, the door opened and out came a young man, with his hands up.

“He was pretty complacent. He was very apologetic,” Lockhart said.

Using a commanding “grown-up voice,” Lockhart said he ordered the man to the ground, checked for weapons and then held the suspect face down, pinning one arm behind the man’s back, until officers arrived.

Lockhart said he even offered the young man a friendly but firm lecture — “You’ve got to make better choices.”

After officers arrested Nico Lombardi-Vogensen, 22, on suspicion of misdemeanor grand theft and probation violation, Lockhart walked back to the coffee shop.

He was grateful to find people still there, watching his things. He said he received some thanks and a few handshakes, and one man who introduced himself as a retired CHP officer gave him some atta-boy feedback.

It confirmed his hope to change careers. But Lockhart also said he knew the incident could have gone differently. “I won’t lie, I was worried a bit. I was very lucky” nothing went sideways, he said. “It was nice to be able to help out. I was in the right place at the right time.”

Petaluma Police Lt. Danny Fish credited Lockhart with stepping up.

“He was a good guy to chase him down and help police find him,” the lieutenant said.

Rohnert Park Police Sgt. Jeff Nicks was one of Lockhart’s training officers at the academy.

“He’s a great guy,” Nicks said. “It doesn’t surprise me he would act on his gut instinct and that with his (academy) training, he was able to assist and do a great job.”

You can reach Staff Writer Randi Rossmann at 521-5412 or randi.rossmann@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @rossmannreport.

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