Longtime Petaluma resident appointed commander of Santa Rosa CHP
Longtime Petaluma resident Aristotle Wolfe, a captain in the California Highway Patrol, has been named the new commander of the CHP’s Santa Rosa office, taking over at the helm of one of Sonoma County’s largest law enforcement entities.
Wolfe, 47, began in the new post earlier this month, transferring from his previous role as commander of the San Francisco CHP. His predecessor in Santa Rosa, Capt. Michael Palacio, retired after leading the office since 2015.
“I think it’s always nicer to be home and make a direct impact on the place you live,” said Wolfe, who has lived in Sonoma County for 20 years with his wife, Rayne, an author and former Press Democrat reporter. “You couldn’t blow us out of here with dynamite. We love this town.”
Wolfe is a 23-year veteran with the CHP who has worked in Southern California and across the Bay Area. He previously served as head of the auto theft task force in Sonoma County, working with officers from various local agencies, including the Santa Rosa and Petaluma police departments.
“That’s where I really started to learn about the county,” Wolfe said of the job he held for about four years, starting in 2004.
His new role puts him in charge of 76 officers tasked with patrolling the county’s highways and unincorporated roads, a jurisdiction that stretches over most of the 1,768-square-mile region. Sonoma Valley east of Trinity Road is covered by the Napa CHP.
Wolfe, who grew up in northern Santa Barbara County, began his career with the CHP shortly after graduating in 1993 from San Francisco State University, where he studied English and minored in criminal justice studies. His aim was to become a professor or lawyer, but he said he changed his mind when he discovered he wanted to work in public service. The shift prompted him to seek out jobs in law enforcement, and the CHP ended up being a good fit, he said.
His first post after the CHP Academy was in Santa Ana, but he made his way back to the Bay Area, working stints as a patrol officer in Oakland and then in Santa Rosa in 2000. He was promoted to patrol sergeant in 2002 and based in Oakland.
Two years later, he took the job overseeing Sonoma County’s Auto Theft Task Force, which exposed him to cases that were more complex, he said.
“We worked mostly on making auto theft cases very solid, with specialty talent and resources behind it,” he said.
In 2017, Wolfe earned a master’s degree in Homeland Security Studies through the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, where he learned about social identity theory -- how people self-select into various groups. His classmates ranged from intelligence agents for the Transportation Security Administration to county supervisors and prosecutors.
“The biggest thing was learning about the power of unintended consequences,” Wolfe said.
Also in 2017, he took over as commander of the CHP San Francisco office, with 97 officers, sergeants and lieutenants, and worked there until he saw an opportunity to move north.
“I put in for the job and got it,” Wolfe said of the Santa Rosa commander position at the division’s office in Rohnert Park.
Wolfe’s appointment to the Santa Rosa commander position comes almost five years after the local office’s leadership was upended when then-commander Capt. Greg Tracey was relieved from his post amid an investigation into his management practices. Several sources said an anonymous letter sent to the agency’s Sacramento headquarters detailed instances in which he allegedly retaliated against employees by removing them from special assignments. The letter also alleged Tracey participated in threatening behavior, the sources said.
CHP officials would not confirm whether Tracey was on leave or the subject of an internal investigation at the time of his departure.
Wolfe’s salary in the new post is not set to immediately change, according to a CHP spokesperson. His 2017 compensation included total pay of $172,033, with $106,479 in benefits, according to the website Transparent California.