A high-ranking Petaluma police official is on paid administrative leave pending an internal affairs investigation.

Lt. Dave Sears, with the department for 14 years, was placed on leave June 12, City Manager John Brown said.

"When we receive a complaint — it could be generated by a member of the public, a staff member or an observation of one department member of another — we have an obligation to conduct an investigation," he said.

Brown would not discuss what led to Sears' suspension or what kind of complaint sparked it.

He said Sears has a right to confidentiality and that the city must allow the process to play out fairly. Investigators within the department are conducting the review.

Sears could not be reached for comment. His city-issued cell phone wasn't accepting messages.

Sears, 47, has been with the department since 1999, when he was hired as a lieutenant. Prior to that, he worked for the Benicia Police Department for 11 years. Recently, Sears has handled administrative duties for the 90-member department.

He was promoted in 2004 to captain, the second-highest rank in the department, and served in that capacity until 2011. That's when the City Council restructured the department in a cost-cutting move that abolished the captain rank, resulting in Sears' demotion back to lieutenant and a cut in pay.

The move spurred a rift in the Police Department and engendered widespread community support for Sears, who was then-interim Chief Danny Fish's only rival for the temporary chief spot and many in the department had chosen sides.

Some members of the City Council opposed the restructuring in 2011 because, they said, it appeared Fish was removing his opposition for the permanent job.

Last year, Pat Williams was hired as police chief from Southern California, which bumped Fish back to a vacant lieutenant's job.

One longtime, vocal critic of the department said Sears' integrity is beyond reproach. Petaluma resident John Hanania has battled the department on several issues, including its handling of abandoned vehicles and inconsistent enforcement of other laws.

Sears, known for a calm demeanor and even temper, became Hanania's sole point of contact within the department.

"I've dealt with a lot of people in the department," Hanania said, "and not a single one of them is as honest and as up-front as Dave Sears."

Brown said he had no estimate of how long the investigation may take. He said Sears' leave was routine and not necessarily an indication of wrongdoing.

(You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 762-7297 or lori.carter@pressdemocrat.com.)