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