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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.

<NO1><NO>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. <NO1><NO>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.

Schwedhelm's selection was hailed by other City Council members for his long-standing ties to the community.

<NO1><NO><NO1><NO><NO1><NO><NO1><NO>"It's just not law-and-order with him. He grasps the importance of a police chief being connected to the community," said Councilwoman Jane Bender, who worked with Schwedhelm on the Mayor's Gang Prevention Task Force.

"My choice from the beginning was Tom. We didn't need a brand new police chief taking a year to get up to speed," said Bender, who was part of the original screening committee.

Councilman Ernesto Olivares, a former lieutenant in the department who retired last year to run for the council, said Schwedhelm will "bring a strong commitment to community policing that has been lacking the past few years."

"That means instead of leaving everything up to law enforcement to deal with," the city would have "cops who know the stakeholders on their beat to help them identify solutions," Olivares said.

Mayor Susan Gorin said Schwedhelm's selection "is a wise choice to bring stability to the department and community."

"He has a relationship with many community organizations and individuals. They have a level of comfort with him" she said.

Flint was the most recent chief to hold the permanent chief's title, but he retired weeks after calling the department "dysfunctional" last June.

At that time the department was ripped into separate camps by a lawsuit alleging unfair labor practices after the firing of Capt. Jamie Mitchel. Mitchel had been named in two of four complaints filed by department employees since January 2007 alleging discrimination and retaliation based on gender and sexual orientation. Flint was named in all four complaints.

Tom Simms, known as a "fix-it chief" was brought in in Flint's wake.

"He was brought in to bring the department together," said Ken Johnson, president of the Police Officers Association. "He treated everyone fairly and that's something that Tom (Schwedhelm) is going to work on as far as bringing department back together."

Johnson said he has had numerous conversations with Schwedhelm about the department's recent history.

"We've talked about all the issues in the department, the termination of Mitchel and Flint leaving and all that, which has been kind of a negative for the department," Johnson said. "We're both on the same page as far as moving the department forward."

Schwedhelm's appointment was made public by Kolin in a memo to city staff on Wednesday. Kolin was out of town and unavailable for comment.

Kolin said Schwedhelm was one of four finalists that he interviewed after April 14 and he called Schwedhelm "the clear choice."

The salary for directing the 256-person department ranges from $145,980 to $181,620. The details of Schwedhelm's contract were not available Wednesday.