It’s Monday evening and Professor Bobby Lomeli is minutes from starting his “Concepts of Criminal Law” class at Pasadena City College.
He sits at his desk, chatting with students about everything from current events to commuting from the Inland Empire, all while sporting a black eye with a baseball size bump on the top of his head.
Lomeli, 68, who has been teaching criminal justice at PCC for 27 years, explains to the class that his injury happened while he was on patrol Friday night as a sergeant for the Pasadena Police Department.
It is in these moments that Professor Lomeli suddenly becomes Sergeant Lomeli and the class comes to life.
“Professionals with current working knowledge of their fields are critical in the field of career education,” said Julie Kiotas, dean of PCC’s Business, Engineering, and Technology Division. “Students have the opportunity to ask questions about actual real-world situations. Faculty who are active police officers are the model of community policing. Officer Lomeli has great feedback from his students, based on his approachability and his willingness to frankly answer student questions.”
One student on ratemyprofessors.com said of Lomeli, “By far the most entertaining professor I have had at PCC. I would always look forward to going to this class. He keeps the subject very interesting, ties his police work experience with class, and most of all brings guest speakers who are also just as entertaining as he. Not once did I ever have trouble doing work in his class.”
Lomeli approaches the students in his class as he does in the community where he’s a police officer – by sharing real life experiences.
“In my years at PCC, I have learned that kids are eager to learn. I have come across hundreds of kids who want to either work in a police department, be a homicide detective, F.B.I., or something in the criminal justice system,” said Sgt. Lomeli, who has been with PPD for 34 years. “I try to bring them an element of what life is like out in the real world. Expand their horizons … I tell them to diversify themselves. They want an education? Great. It’s admirable. But, don’t just learn one thing. Have versatility … because you never know what life has planned for you.”
The Pasadena Police officer speaks from the heart but also from experience. He admits he has had many different experiences since he was just a kid from Hacienda Heights with parents who were farmers:
A Marine in Vietnam
A competitive body builder
Black Belt in Karate.
And, of course, a college professor
“I’ve lived many lives, “Lomeli admits, “But I’ve always been this way. I’ve always wanted to try new things and I did.”
When Lomeli graduated from Los Altos High School in Hacienda Heights, there weren’t a lot of options for him. He came from a broken family; finances were limited, and he didn’t have anyone to help or show him how to get ahead. He knew that he had two choices:
Stay in La Puente and get in trouble.
Go to Vietnam, survive, and come back for college.
He spent three years as a Marine, including a year in Vietnam. When he left the Marines, he came home and enrolled at Mt. San Antonio College and took advantage of his G.I. Bill.
He became an engineer and in-between gigs Lomeli dabbled in competitive body building where he earned titles of “Mr. Southern California, 1982”, “Mr. Pacific Coast, 1984” and “Mr. High Desert.”
But Lomeli’s career as an engineer wasn’t long term. In the military, he found a sense of comfort in structure and consistency and he wanted the same in his work.
“I was laid off from my engineering job. I had some friends at the gym where I trained, and they were Pasadena police officers. They told me, ‘Heck Bobby, apply at the PPD, you don’t have a job anyway,” said Lomeli, “So, I did.”
After boot camp and Vietnam, the difficulty of the Police Academy felt manageable for Lomeli. He passed and started his career at PPD, where he has been for the last 34 years, moving into different assignments and finding his place in the Department’s Field Operations Division.
You can often find him participating the Department’s “Shop with a Cop” events with the Boys & Girls Club, attending community events where he can talk to kids and families, and being a part of internal training with new officers who need guidance.
“I try to make an impact,” said Lomeli. “I think about Maslow’s (psychologist Abraham Maslow) hierarchy of needs. At the top is self-actualization. … People are motivated to fulfill before moving on to another. This is how I’ve lived.”
After several decades of various assignments, and completing degrees at the University of Redlands and the University of La Verne, starting new programs at the PPD, being promoted to corporal in 1991 and taking on a new Homeland Security Course at Pasadena Community College – Lomeli admits he may finally be ready to sit still – for a bit.
He has an 11-year-old son, his girlfriend, a satisfying career at the PPD and PCC, and hundreds of memories and experience that show he has lived a life achieving his goals.
Now, he’s happy to teach the next group of kids and young potential police officers who may need help to answer the eternal question:
“What can I be?”
Professor Lomeli and Sgt. Lomeli may just be able to help answer it.