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.