Schwartz sworn in as seventh police chief

The swearing-in of Burnsville’s new police chief doubled as a celebration of female leadership in the community.

Mayor Elizabeth Kautz provided the context at the May 31 badge ceremony for Tanya Schwartz, Burnsville’s seventh police chief and first woman in the job.

“Today, with your badging, you have helped us achieve a renaissance here in Burnsville,” said Kautz, who has known Schwartz since 1995, when Kautz was a rookie mayor and Schwartz was hired as a community service officer.

“This is the first time in the history of Burnsville or probably any other community in the metro” with so many women holding leadership positions in government and business, Kautz said.

She named several: herself; City Manager Melanie Mesko Lee; Schwartz; City Council Member Cara Schulz; School District 191 superintendent Cindy Amoroso, who is retiring, and her successor, Theresa Battle; District 191 School Board Chair Abigail Alt; Burnsville Chamber of Commerce President Jennifer Harmening; Experience Burnsville Executive Director Amie Burrill; Nichol Higdon, director of the Burnsville YMCA; and Laurie Lewko, executive general manager associate of the Pepsi Beverages Co. in Burnsville and past chair of the Chamber of Commerce board of directors.

The city’s community development director, finance director and human resources director are also women.

Burnsville’s Police Department is also ahead of the curve. According to the city, 19 percent of its sworn officers (14 of 73) are women, compared with 12 percent statewide.

Schwartz was the first woman promoted to sergeant (2001) and captain (2012).

After coming to Burnsville in January to succeed Heather Johnston as city manager, Mesko Lee said she soon faced the task of hiring a new police chief after Eric Gieseke announced he’d be retiring at the end of April.

While still getting acquainted with the department, Mesko Lee said she sought a chief who meets her own “North Star” of leadership, communication, vision, inclusivity and problem-solving.

“And I was smart enough to reach out to the department and talk to them,” Mesko Lee said. She said “pretty much everybody” in the department offered opinions. Schwartz was recommended by Gieseke, her predecessor. She emerged as one of two finalists, along with Eric Kittelson, a lieutenant in the Carver County Sheriff’s Office.

Gieseke and former chiefs Mike DuMoulin, who hired Schwartz, and Dave Farrington, who promoted her in 2001, attended the ceremony.

“They have all taught me one thing that I think is really important, and that is that being a chief is not about rank, it’s not about your title, it’s not about power, but it’s about the responsibility,” Schwartz said.

“That doesn’t mean all you chiefs who’ve been helping me along the way can disappear on me now,” she added.

Schwartz’s husband, Tom, a Minneapolis police sergeant, pinned the chief’s badge on her uniform. Her sons, Ryan and Jack, each added a star to her collar.

The new chief drew vigorous cheers from an audience of cops, city staffers, community leaders and family and friends.

“There’s people in this room that I’ve known since high school that, without them, I wouldn’t be here,” Schwartz said.

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