Timothy Tyler knew it wasn’t time to sit around the office.
When a surprise freezing rain event made travel in the metro-east a nightmare during rush hour Dec. 16, Tyler, the interim commander of Illinois State Police District 11, made sure he was out on the roads supporting his troopers and assisting motorists. Even though he could have easily pulled rank and stayed at district headquarters, Tyler never made that an option.
“My first job is to be a trooper and to serve my community members,” Tyler said. “The rank doesn’t matter. Serving others is the most important. Whether I’m making a decision about major operations or whether I’m out changing a tire, it’s going to get the same energy. I was going to be out there as long as my guys were out there.”
On Jan. 16, the interim tag was removed from Tyler’s title. The 45-year-old was promoted to captain, his latest promotion in an 18-year career with Illinois State Police. He oversees 120 officers and civilian employees at the Collinsville-based District 11 headquarters, as well as the Litchfield-based District 18 headquarters. Those districts oversee 10 counties in southern Illinois, with District 11 handling Bond, Clinton, Madison, Monroe and St. Clair counties and District 18 serving Calhoun, Green, Jersey, Macoupin and Montgomery counties.
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Tyler caught the law enforcement bug at an early age while growing up in tiny Hazelhurst, Miss., a town of 4,000 in the southern part of the state. A state trooper befriended a 15-year-old Tyler, who went on ride-alongs and learned what it took to be an officer.
“I knew right then and there that I wanted to be that man,” Tyler said.
He joined the Army and worked in the military police, spending seven months working in the Persian Gulf during Operation Desert Storm. When he returned to the United States, he joined his mother in the Chicago area and landed his first job with the Markham Police Department. He joined the Illinois State Police in 1998 and served in various positions in ISP’s Des Plaines office.
During his time in Chicago, the military called him back into service after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001, and he served as a unit commander in Kandahar, Afghanistan, for a year. He had barely returned to the U.S. when he was summoned to serve for two months in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in the fall of 2005. He remains active in the Army Reserve, where has risen to the rank of lieutenant colonel.
In 2008, he was tapped to be part of a violent-crime unit dedicated to policing gang activity on Chicago’s west side. The experience he gained during that assignment eventually helped bring him to the metro-east. Soon after arriving in April 2014, Tyler was asked to lead the Metro-East Police Assistance Team. He supervised troopers and special agents working the areas of Alorton, East St. Louis, Washington Park and Brooklyn.
“It was like starting all over again,” Tyler said about coming to Southern Illinois and leading that unit. “I felt like a brand-new rookie again, except I had some wisdom.”
After 16 months with that unit, Tyler was tabbed as the interim director of District 11 and District 18, taking over on Nov. 1, 2015. It was a role he never envisioned.
“I look at everything as a privilege,” he said. “I never thought I would make captain in the Illinois State Police. I never thought I would make sergeant, let alone be a commander. To be hand-selected by command and have them say, ‘OK, you’re ready for the next step,’ is one of the most humbling experiences.”
One of Tyler’s goals for himself — and his troopers — is to be active in the community. He is active with the Boy Scouts of America, the United Way of Greater St. Louis, and is a mentor for Southern Illinois University Edwardsville’s Project Success Youth Program. He also is involved in the Metro-East Cadets of Police, something he said allows him to mentor young people like he was as a teenager.
The main duties of the ISP are to investigate crimes and patrol the state’s roads.
Tyler said troopers in District 11 and District 18 answered more than 87,000 calls for service in 2016. The challenges for the State Police, he said, are much the same as they’ve been in the past. Since they primarily monitor the state’s roads, they strive to keep them safe.
“Last year we had an uptick in Illinois (in fatalities),” he said. “We have to get out and educate. The people that are suffering the most aren’t the younger kids; it’s people in my age bracket. I stopped someone recently who was FaceTiming and driving. They had the audacity to say, ‘But I’m hands free.’ I had to explain to them about distracted driving.
“We need to just hang up the phone and pay attention. We’re losing a lot of people to distracted driving.”