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Santa Rosa Police Department promotes Rainer ‘Ray’ Navarro to be next police chief

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Capt. Rainer “Ray” Navarro, a veteran of the Santa Rosa Police Department who worked to curb gang violence and homelessness over his 27-year career with the law enforcement agency, will be promoted to police chief.

Navarro, who will become the first Latino to lead the city police department, is the third consecutive chief chosen from within the 182-officer department. He will replace retiring Chief Robert “Hank” Schreeder on Aug. 1, the city announced Thursday.

Navarro, who is turning 50 soon, led the development of Santa Rosa’s outreach and enforcement program for addressing homeless camps, implemented an anti-gang program involving local schools and helped the transition of law enforcement agencies in Roseland after the city annexed the predominantly Hispanic southwest Santa Rosa neighborhood in late 2017.

He also helped manage the city’s response to the October 2017 wildfires, a crucial pivot point in his professional aspirations.

“It wasn’t like I wanted to be chief my entire time,” Navarro said in an interview Thursday. “I wanted to be in a position where I could best impact my organization and community.”

Navarro served as a detective in the city’s gang and violent crimes units, later serving as sergeant in the gang unit and then as lieutenant overseeing traffic and special events. He was promoted to captain in 2015.

Navarro credited Schreeder for making sure he was involved in key roles, such as the department’s struggle to adapt to a landmark police transparency law and its role in dealing with illegal homeless camps. Navarro said that level of engagement has been possible throughout his career with the Police Department, leading to his historic appointment.

“It’s a humbling experience to know that I am a pioneer here, but it really is largely because of how the city has allowed me to develop and given me opportunities,” he said.

That’s not to say there weren’t bumps along the way. In 1996, a 26-year-old Navarro was racing to aid a fellow officer when he crashed his patrol car. A third officer was needed to arrest a combative suspect, and Navarro survived with minor injuries and a serious lesson: “If you don’t get to where you’re supposed to go, you’re putting other officers and the community at risk.”

Engaging the public to build trust will be a top priority for Navarro, starting with a series of meetings out in the community — and they will be out in the community, he emphasized.

“I don’t want to set up a meeting at the police station and have three people show,” Navarro said.

Navarro said he would also focus on maintaining and improving police training procedures — especially for de-escalating tense situations, intervening during a crisis, and responding to active-shooter situations — and on implementing new technology to help the department become more efficient.

“Law enforcement’s usually several years behind the rest of the world when it comes to how we use it,” he said. “I want to bring us current.”

Navarro inherits a department that just lost six positions in a round of citywide budget cuts, and over the next several years, faces the expiration of local tax measures and the ramifications of the city’s broader fight to manage its pension obligations. He said he wanted to focus on “being able to recruit, retain and develop qualified professionals that reflect the community.”

Schreeder said he had faith in Navarro’s ability to grapple with “significant challenges” in the budget of a “fairly lean” department while adapting to new legislative mandates pertaining to police records and racial profiling.

“Ray is probably one of the most conscientious people I’ve ever met,” Schreeder said. “He’s just a genuinely nice person and really cares.”

Navarro’s hiring also was praised by Sylvia Lemus, a member of the Community and Local Law Enforcement Task Force who knows Navarro personally from her work organizing Roseland’s annual Cinco de Mayo festivities. She said she hoped Navarro would be a positive role model for young people, especially Latinos, and would help build relationships with residents of southwest Santa Rosa.

“There’s a big part of the community that still has a hard time relating to law enforcement,” Lemus said.

It was unclear why the hiring process did not involve public meetings, like those that led to Schreeder’s hiring in 2015. City Manager Sean McGlynn did not respond to a request for an interview.

Navarro’s starting salary will be $224,217, the top of the range for the position. He was selected out of about 25 other candidates, mostly police leaders from comparably sized departments, and interviewed with a range of panelists comprised of city staff as well as local educators, business leaders and representatives of Los Cien, the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office, the Council on Aging, and the Boys and Girls Club, according to a city spokeswoman.

He has worked his entire law enforcement career in Santa Rosa.

He previously served in the Navy and attended Santa Rosa Junior College, Sonoma State University and the University of San Diego.

“Being the chief here is very personal,” Navarro said. “Any time there’s a shift in leadership, it’s being able to say, ‘You can trust me as we move forward.’”

You can reach Staff Writer Will Schmitt at 707-521-5207 or will.schmitt@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @wsreports.

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