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Santa Rosa names 26-year veteran as police chief

  • Tom Schwedhelm, acting chief, takes command of the Santa Rosa Police Department on Sunday.

Tom Schwedhelm, a 26-year veteran, is taking command of the Santa Rosa police department, breaking a long pattern of hiring the police chief from outside the city.

Schwedhelm, 48, who is acting police chief, will officially take the lead of the department on Sunday.

He has been with the department since January 1983. Before serving as acting chief, Schwedhelm was captain of the special services division.

Schwedhelm's ascension to the top job is the first time in at least the past 70 years Santa Rosa's chief has come from within the department's own ranks.

Even legendary Police Chief Melvin “Dutch” Flohr, whose tenure as chief from 1940 to 1974 may be the longest in city history, was Healdsburg's police chief before he took the Santa Rosa job.

City Councilman John Sawyer said Schwedhelm's hiring says something about the quality of the department itself.

“Out of 70 applicants for the job, that one of our own rose to the top says a lot about him and the quality of our department,” Sawyer said.

Schwedhelm accepted the job Wednesday morning after it was offered to him by City Manager Jeff Kolin.

“I'm excited to do it,” he said. “Even with all the challenges, with all the economic problems, we're working to continue to provide great services to the community.”

Schwedhelm said he had no major changes in direction planned and that he anticipated a smooth transition from being the department's acting chief to permanent chief.

“We've already started this process of moving the organization in the direction it needs to go,” he said.

Schwedhelm has served as acting chief twice in the past year. He stepped in when when Ed Flint resigned in August 2008 after 54 months on the job. And he took the position again when interim chief Tom Simms resigned on March 12, 20 weeks short of his one year contract, citing health concerns.

Over more than a decade, Santa Rosa looked to chiefs with professional experience in other cities. In 1996, Chico Chief Michael Dunbaugh took the department's helm, followed in 2004 by Flint, a captain from the Sacramento County Sheriff's department who had served as police chief in Elk Grove. Both came under criticism that they had failed to connect with the community and fully make Santa Rosa their home.

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