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When former Santa Rosa Police Chief Ed Flint nine months ago described his department as dysfunctional and deeply divided, it was Tom Schwedhelm who many said was leading the Flint opposition.

The department hierarchy was mired in allegations of unfair treatment of employees and complaints of retaliation against workers based on gender and sexual orientation.

Today, Schwedhelm is the new police chief and he says those fights are over.

?There is one camp at the Santa Rosa Police Department, and that camp is the Santa Rosa Police Department,? said Schwedhelm, who on Monday will be sworn in as chief of police.

?There?s a real positive vibe in the organization right now. It?s helping people deliver police services to the community. We?re really getting on the same page, and it?s a very rewarding feeling.

Schwedhelm, 48, is the first chief since Melvin ?Dutch? Flohr in 1940 to be hired from within departmental ranks.

What difference does a year make?

?We had personnel changes,? Schwedhelm said during an interview, referring to the departures of Flint and his second in command, Capt. Jamie Mitchel.

?So obviously there were some personality changes ... One of the things I try to bring is clarity as to the roles and responsibilities. I tell (staff), ?You have input into the process but the decision will be at this level.? I try to be very open with them ... as long as they feel like their opinion is being heard and valued it goes a long way to building mutual trust and cooperation.?

Schwedhelm has been acting chief since interim Chief Tom Simms left March 12. Flint resigned under pressure in August 2008 after 4? years on the job.

Schwedhelm said the department?s challenges now are primarily budget based. Negotiations with officer and management unions and Santa Rosa?s budget subcommittee over cutting employee costs have consumed much of Schwedhelm?s attention in his first weeks at the helm and will continue to do so.

Those decisions give Schwedhelm an opportunity to shape the department to his liking by cutting, combining and adding services, programs and staff. Community-based programs, such as Neighborhood Watch and the citizen police academy, will remain intact, he said.

?What I?m asking managers now is: ?How are we going to make this work??? Schwedhelm said. ?If the employee says ?I?m at capacity now,? then what?s going to drop off? We?re not going to do, I don?t know, whatever that other thing is.?

Through it all Schwedhelm, a former captain who has served in the department?s SWAT, property, violent and sex crimes divisions, listens to the police scanner in his office.

?I like listening to police work,? he said.

Here are excerpts from the interview:

Where will you use your resources?

My emphasis is going to be getting back involved with the community: gangs, traffic, quality of life. I think those are still consistent issues the community is faced with.

What crimes are most likely to affect local residents?

Statistically, the city is safer than it was 20 years ago. What that tells me is some of the things that we are doing are working and ... the community should be recognized for their work in helping this crime rate go down.

But in the violent crime rate we have not seen similar reductions. When you factor in all other crimes, it is down, but violent crime itself isn?t down.

One of the things is some of the drug ripoffs that we?ve been investigating. Those have proven to be very problematic for us to investigate because typically the victims of the violent crime are suspects in a drug-related crime and they tend not to want to cooperate.

We?ve had information and attended training from former gang members who said that was the business model that some gangs operate under. They target people engaged in illegal behavior and typically the victims of the thefts have either illegal material or lots of cash, which is a target-rich environment for those willing to engage in illegal behavior.

It concerns me. That?s a serious crime problem.

Can you size up the gang situation in Santa Rosa? Is it better or worse than past years?

I think it?s getting better, due in large part to the gang prevention task force. Right now that?s a classic example of a community issue that?s generated a community response. It?s no longer just the police department providing services. It?s Recreation and Parks and Measure O ...

We?re dealing with second- and third-generation gang members and how do you assist a family to get out of this lifestyle if all they?ve known is a gang lifestyle and that?s the way they were raised. Do you just expect that by giving them a brochure its going to change them? It takes professionals. It takes time and effort and unfortunately that means resources.

I?m really interested in seeing how we can do it; it?s almost like the First Five initiative, in those formative years. If we invest in the kids, it pays dividends down the road and ends the cycle of violence.

Who is committing crime in Santa Rosa? Is it gang members or drug dealers or someone else?

The No. 1 crime that we take people to jail for is drunk in public. It takes a significant amount of time, energy and resources to deal with that.

How pervasive is drug abuse in Santa Rosa?

What we?re seeing a lot of in the high school area is prescription medication and OxyContin, and a lot of marijuana.

Should California legalize marijuana?

I don?t think that?s a good idea. I?m basing that on our experience now and the violence associated with people growing marijuana and those that want to take from those growing and they?re not doing it in a very friendly manner. They?re heavily armed and very violent encounters.

Do you think it was a mistake to legalize medicinal marijuana?

I?m not going to comment on what the voters did. That?s the process that we have. We?re putting a tremendous amount of resources into investigating these crimes where you need cooperation from the victims for the successful prosecution of the case. And when they either flee the state or the country and they have no interest in participating with the prosecution ... then that?s not a positive outcome.

Sgt. Steve Fraga said that there has been cooperation within the department in recent weeks. ?People are working together, dealing with issues around the Police Department and not haggling over personalities.? What is your assessment?

What I?ve been emphasizing for all managers is the decisions that I make are in the best interest for Santa Rosa Police Department and for the community. And everyone is taking that filter and looking at it the same way.

I think everyone gets that they?re not always going to agree, but what I?ve tried to do is identify ?here?s where the decision lies.?

What?s in store in the next several weeks and months for the chief of police?

The budget is still going to be there because clearly it is a revenue issue. We?ve always had mid-year budget reviews but now we?ll be reviewing that much more closely.

For me personally, I?m trying to model the behaviors I want from the rest of the organization, specifically from the command staff. So we now are having managers hearing that involvement in the community is something that this organization and city does value. (People will) see more of a visible presence at community events and in different parts of the community.

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