'The timing feels right': Fairfield Police Chief looks back at 38-year career

FAIRFIELD — After 38 years with the Fairfield Police Department, Chief Christopher Lyddy is retiring next week — and he feels good about it.

“I know that I’m leaving the department in very good hands,” Lyddy said. “There are people below me on an active promotional list so, by retiring, I’m going to create some opportunities for people. The timing feels right.”

Lyddy said his retirement will create some momentum within the agencies, promoting good ideas and allowing people to take leadership positions. Lyddy said three candidates, two captains and the deputy chief, will vie for the position, adding the Police Commission will interview them on Jan. 19.

“They’ll make a decision and give that name to the first selectwoman for approval,” he said.

His last day is Jan. 22.

For as long as he can remember, he wanted to be a police officer, Lyddy said.

“There were two driving forces,” he said. “My grandfather was very influential on me, and he was the chief of police (John A. Lyddy) in Bridgeport for many, many years. The second thing was, at a very early age, I was invited to join the police explorer program here in Fairfield.”

As a 15 year old, Lyddy said, he was welcomed by the police explorers and learned a lot from them. When he graduated college in 1982, they offered him a full-time job.

“I graduated college on Saturday and I was in the police academy on Monday,” he said, noting that he served as a patrol officer and in the Youth Services Division during that time.

In 1989, he was promoted to detective in the Investigations Division. During those three years, Lyddy said he was doing general investigations, as well as working on narcotics cases in the greater Fairfield area.

Getting promoted to sergeant of the Patrol Divison was bittersweet, Lyddy said because he had to leave the detective bureau behind. But there was an upside.

“I think if you ask any officer, patrol sergeant is one of the best jobs in law enforcement,” he said. “There’s a latitude — you can kind of pick and choose the calls that you want to go on. You’re always going on the most significant calls for service.”

During that time, Lyddy said he worked on some big cases, including a sexual assault case in Southport that involved a home invasion. He said he has bad memories of serious, fatal car accidents, but also good memories of locating missing children and resolving domestic disturbances.

“You tend to balance it by not dwelling on the negative stuff that you see and taking home with you the positive interactions that you have,” he said. “As a police officer, you get to choose those positive interactions. You get to make those happen, and I think that’s one of the most important aspects of this job. Try to have as many positive interactions on a daily basis — and those are the ones that you remember.”

Lyddy was promoted to lieutenant and served in the Special Services Division in 2001. He said part of that job saw him modernizing and computerizing the department, adding that software suite is still being used today.

During that time, Lyddy attended the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Va. He said it was the fulfillment of a life-long dream of his and a very prestigious opportunity.

“Less than 1 percent of law enforcement officers get the opportunity to attend,” Lyddy said. “It’s great. For 11 weeks I was able to collaborate with police leaders from, not only every state in the nation, but many international police departments also.”

Lyddy said those who complete the academy are members of it for life, gaining access to law enforcement professionals throughout the world.

“I took a class on investigations, particularly homicide investigations,” he said. “I took a very intense public speaking segment. One opportunity that I had that I kind of relished is that I was asked to come back to the academy to teach their youth leadership program. I did that for six years for two weeks during the summer.”

Later, Lyddy was transferred and became the commander of Fairfield’s Investigations Division.

“That was a really good time in my career, getting back to the detective bureau as a supervisor,” Lyddy said. “Probably the most significant case in my tenure was the Donnelly double homicide at Donnelly Jewelry Store.”

Lyddy was promoted to deputy chief of police in 2010, and served in the role for approximately a decade. He said the deputy chief oversees the patrol and investigation divisions, but a lot of their responsibility is the department’s finances.

“I was in charge of the budget and it’s an opportunity to gain exposure to the different town bodies that you work closely with,” he said.

Being sworn in as chief in 2019 was a natural progression of his career, Lyddy said, noting he did not think it was going to transpire that way because he thought former Chief Gary MacNamara would stay in the position longer.

Lyddy said it has been an unusual time to be a chief, noting it has been busy since the day he raised his right hand.

“We started with the fill pile case, which is still ongoing, and jumped into a worldwide pandemic and throw in the racial tensions that we’ve seen across the country — all of which has had an impact on Fairfield,” he said.

Speaking to the protests against police brutality over the summer, Lyddy said the department had to go into “listening mode” during the protests. He said it was important that officers did not speak as much as they listened.

“I think we learned that segments of our society want their feelings to be heard and they want to be able to express themselves,” he said. “I think we did it. I think it’s an ongoing process though, and it’s something that we have to continue to do — find avenues where we can communicate with different segments of our populations.”

That, Lyddy said, means both people living in Fairfield and those that travel through it. He said they need a seat at the table to explain their feelings as well as how law enforcement can affect their lives.

Lyddy said the Fairfield Police Department has transformed into more of a community-based law enforcement agency during his nearly 40-year career, adding its number one priority is positive contacts with individuals.

He said he is proud of each and every officer and how they go about their work every day. He said the community truly supports their efforts.

“The future of this organization is very bright,” he said.

Lyddy said he is proud of his career, adding he loved every minute of it in every position he held. He said he is excited for the next chapter in his life.

“I look forward to doing something else down the road,” he said, noting he is going to take some time before figuring out what that may be. “I have no idea. My wife left me an entire list of projects that I have to accomplish at home. When I exhaust that list, perhaps I’ll look to do something else.”

joshua.labella@hearstmediact.com