Santa Rosa Junior College officials announced Thursday that a veteran captain with the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office will head the campus police department.

Matthew McCaffrey will take over as police chief after 29 years with the Sheriff's Office, SRJC President Frank Chong said.

McCaffrey's appointment ends a two-year search for a permanent replacement for former Police Chief Terry Stewart, who retired in 2010 after 34 years leading the force.

McCaffrey actually started the job one week ago, but his appointment will be made official Oct. 9 by the college's Board of Trustees.

Chong said McCaffrey was chosen because he is a veteran of a local agency, "knows the local community, is articulate and collaborative."

"We have shrinking resources and we need to collaborate with other law enforcement agencies. Matt has the ability to do that because he knows the other law enforcement leaders in the county and region."

McCaffrey, 50, was born and raised in Healdsburg. His interest in law enforcement grew after he enrolled at SRJC in 1980 and began studying criminal justice. A friend helped him get a part-time position with the Sheriff's Office that grew into a career.

McCaffrey was promoted to captain about six years ago, he said. As captain, he oversaw field divisions such as the patrol and helicopter units as well as special services, including the gang enforcement team and bomb squad.

McCaffrey said he expects to continue working another 10-15 years and wanted a new challenge.

"I started to get an itch," he said.

He was chosen from among three finalists; the others were from Lake County and Southern California, Chong said.

The departure of longtime chief Stewart, who during his tenure developed a cadet program into a full-blown police force, has left the department in limbo.

Christopher Wilkinson, former chief of the Yuba Community College District Police Department, was originally hired to take Stewart's place in June 2010.

Wilkinson resigned after six months on the job, stating that he encountered resistance to change.

Cloverdale Vice Mayor Joe Palla, former chief in Healdsburg and San Bruno, has been serving as interim chief since March 2011. Palla previously was Healdsburg's police chief and served on the SRJC board of trustees.

Chong said he expects McCaffrey to be a stabilizing force.

"There is a lot of support for McCaffrey, so he succeeds; he is highly regarded," Chong said.

McCaffrey said he will take care to get acquainted with staff and show respect for institutional knowledge on the force, which has a sworn staff that includes the chief, one lieutenant, three sergeants and nine officers.

They will be hiring an additional officer for the Petaluma campus.

"Any changes will be slow and well thought out," McCaffrey said.

He lives in Santa Rosa with his three teenaged daughters.

You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 521-5220, or on Twitter @jjpressdem.