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Santa Rosa Police Chief Hank Schreeder retires after 28 years with department

Santa Rosa Police Chief Hank Schreeder's phone buzzed in the middle of the night, rousing him awake.

An official from the county's emergency operations center was calling to alert him of a fast-moving fire that was advancing into northeast Santa Rosa. It was about 3 a.m. on Oct. 9, 2017, and Schreeder was in Virginia, nearly 2,800 miles away from his Santa Rosa home and office, attending the prestigious FBI National Academy.

After checking local news reports, and making calls to Capt. Ray Navarro and now-retired Capt. Craig Schwartz, Schreeder packed his things and headed to the airport. Meanwhile, the police force he had led since 2015 was racing against the incoming flames, helping residents with evacuations and directing people to safety, away from a historic outbreak of wildfire that would ultimately kill 24 people in the county.

'So much of what you do in police work is preparing and not actually having to do ... to try to prepare for these 'what ifs,' ' Schreeder said. 'To see your department perform at a high level because of what you've done, what the department's done to prepare people, that's a highlight.'

Four years after he was selected to serve as the top cop for Sonoma County's largest city, and 28 years after he was first hired by the agency, Schreeder, 52, will mark his last day Thursday at the helm of the 180-officer department. He announced his retirement in February, saying he felt confident about his decision to leave, given that the department had recouped from the 2017 wildfires and could weather the changes that came with a new chief.

His tenure has been marked by notable transformations within the department, where he oversaw the implementation of several large-scale projects, such as the addition of body-worn cameras in 2015, the adoption of the first independent police auditor in 2016 and the annexation of Roseland into the city a year later.

He's also boosted transparency into operations through greater social media engagement, the online publication of arrest and call data, as well as the creation of annual reports that contain yearly crime trends. The moves were in response to local and national calls for greater police transparency, he said.

'We publish more detail, more data about what we do and how we do it more than most departments around,' Schreeder said.

Those who have worked with Schreeder described him as a well-liked leader, one who likes to crack jokes and is dedicated to improving the skills of his officers, offering opportunities for training and leadership experience.

His successor, incoming chief Navarro, a captain under Schreeder, is one of those who benefited from the approach.

'He's prepared us to continue moving forward and he's prepared us to meet some of the challenges moving on, knowing they may not always be the same,' said Navarro, who was selected for the top job from a pool of 25 other candidates.

Schreeder, a Martinez native, began his career at the Santa Rosa Police Department in 1991, three years after joining the Fullerton Police Department. He made his way up the ranks, with assignments including command of the department's gang crimes team in 2001.

He rose to lieutenant in 2006 and to captain in 2009. He was tapped as acting chief in late December 2013 with the retirement of then-chief Tom Schwedhelm, now the city's mayor.

That promotion came two months after the death of Andy Lopez, the Santa Rosa teen fatally shot by a Sonoma County Sheriff's deputy who mistook the boy's BB gun for an assault rifle.

The death prompted increased scrutiny about police use of deadly force and exposed feelings of deep distrust of law enforcement within the Latino community — a reckoning that had already began among minority communities on the national level.

'It was a tough time but I think we're a lot better coming out on this side of it, we're at a better place,' Schreeder said. 'From that you got body-worn cameras and body work camera footage and how it's going to be released.'

Schreeder's tenure as chief also led to changes in how Santa Rosa police deal with the local homeless population, said Jennielynn Holmes, the chief program officer with Catholic Charities of Santa Rosa, Sonoma County's largest homeless services provider.

Under Schreeder's watch, officers have dedicated more time to meeting with the nonprofit's homeless outreach workers, leading to a partnership between the two agencies.

Officers interacting with homeless people now refer them directly to Catholic Charity services, instead of sending them to jail, Holmes said.

'The mutual respect that has been created by us as a homeless outreach provider and him with the Police Department is not always typical,' Holmes said. 'Chief Schreeder and the police say, 'We're not going to arrest our way out of this, we're going to work with our service providers to work out this issue.' '

Schreeder's mentorship was part of what helped prepare him for the chief position, Navarro said. Though Schreeder will be only a phone call away, the department will have a different feel without his presence — and humor — roaming the halls, Navarro added.

'I'm a better person for working for him,' he said. 'His intelligence and his ability to allow us to work on things to move projects forward, and his humor, made it enjoyable to come to work every single day.'

Schreeder said he plans to remain in Santa Rosa, where he lives with wife.

A self described home-improvement junkie and woodworker, Schreeder said he looks forward to picking up projects around his home with the extra time he'll have in coming weeks. He'll also take the next six months or so to explore new work opportunities in the area, saying he has no set plans for the future.

His annual pension will equal 90 percent of his final salary, or more than $200,000 a year.

'What ever I do, whether it's in this arena or something else, I'd do it for free if I was able to learn something new,' Schreeder said.

You can reach Staff Writer Nashelly Chavez at 707-521-5203 or nashelly.chavez@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @nashellytweets.

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