Unlike several previous hires, Santa Rosa has tapped a gang prevention manager who has experience with gang prevention.

City Manager Kathy Millison this week announced the appointment of Khaalid Muttaqi to lead the city's gang prevention efforts.

Muttaqi, 42, has headed Sacramento's gang prevention programs for three years. He said he is excited about the opportunity to lead a program with such strong community support.

"Compared to Sacramento, Santa Rosa is way more ahead of the curve," Muttaqi said Friday. "Everyone gets it."

The police chief, city manager, council and community all seem to understand the importance of having a "very proactive stance and approach" to tackling the problem of gang violence, he said.

Muttaqi, 42, who will lead the Mayor's Gang Prevention Task Force, is a father of three who has been a neighborhood resource coordinator in Sacramento for seven years. He has a degree in social welfare from UC Berkeley and a background in social work.

He starts Aug. 19. He will make a salary of $103,000.

Since launching its program in 2003, the city has struggled to find the right person to lead the effort.

In 2005 it hired Dawn Dolan, a university administrator from Michigan with no experience in gang prevention. She quit in 2006 after less than a year on the job.

She was replaced by Ernesto Olivares, a veteran Santa Rosa police lieutenant. He ran the program for two years before stepping down in 2008 to run for City Council.

The program's services manager Ellen Bailey then ran the department on an interim basis for a little over a year. She was named manager in 2010 and retired in 2011.

Then last year the city hired Bethany Facendini, a naturalist with the East Bay Regional Park District, whom city officials praised as an "exceptional fit" for the position. She quit after five months.

Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson tapped Muttaqi to lead the city's new gang prevention task force in 2010.

Initially, the city's Ceasefire Program showed great success in helping broker a truce between rival gangs, he said. Crime rates dropped sharply. But then the budget crisis deepened, resulting in layoff of dozens of police officers and civilian staff and the dismantling of the gang and drug units.

While Sacramento's gang prevention program has been successful at securing state and federal grants, local dollars have been tougher to come by. Next year's budget includes just $50,000 in city general fund revenues, far short of the $1 million requested to implement the city's gang prevention strategy.

"It's been very challenging politically to get this off the ground," Muttaqi said.

For such programs to succeed, they need to continually evolve to meet a changing environment, such as how prison realignment might impact local gang activity, he said.

"You can't just say 'We've got a gang prevention task force and we're good," Muttaqi said.

Millison said in a release that Muttaqi had all the qualities the city was looking for in a leader of the program.

"Mr. Muttaqi's collaborative style, skills and experience will enhance our successful gang prevention program," Millison wrote. "Khaalid is a hands-on manager, he brings a wealth of knowledge and experience, and we are looking forward to him joining us."

While the city's program has been praised as forward-looking for its emphasis on funding programs that keep kids out of trouble in the first place, its effectiveness in reducing gang crime has been less clear.

The Santa Rosa Police Department, partly due to budget constraints, hasn't consistently tracked gang crime statistics. That process has now resumed but with a different methodology, making year-to-year comparisons impossible. Policy makers have expressed frustration at what they've called a lack of accountability of the program, but supporters insist it remains successful by many measures.

Muttaqi said he is well aware of the political sensitivities surrounding the program, but said he thinks everyone shares the same goals.

"What we're really talking about here is community safety," he said.

(You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or kevin.mccallum@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @citybeater)