SAN PABLO -- Police Chief Walt Schuld is set to retire in May after 31 years with the department, ending not only his own career but a stretch of Schuld men in law enforcement that stretches back to 1940s Detroit, where grandfather Walt Sr. pounded the pavement and chomped on finger-thick cigars.

Schuld, 51, will hang up his holster and look to fill a suddenly empty schedule, maybe with a little hiking with his wife some days, perhaps an academy teaching gig down the road. His one adult daughter, a college graduate, has no interest in law enforcement, and that's fine by him.

Don't expect a wave of emotion from the trim, orderly Schuld when he eases out of his tidy offices for the last time.

"In the old days, cops were expected to hold their emotions inside," Schuld said. "I think growing up with cops, I got a little bit of that."

City leaders have commissioned a nationwide search for an outsider to take his place.

Since taking over as chief in 2010, Schuld's tenure has been marked by a significant decrease in violent crime, a massive expansion in surveillance technology throughout the city and the Bay Area's highest homicide-clearance rate. Of the 16 homicides that have occurred in the city on his watch, every case has been solved.

As of Dec. 20, there has not been a single killing this year in the 30,000-resident city. If the peace holds, 2013 would be the first year the city has not recorded a homicide since 1986, Schuld said.

Rape, robbery, assaults, burglaries and car thefts are also down significantly in recent years, according to department statistics.

"The guy has been close to perfect," said Councilman Rich Kinney. "He's going to be hard to replace."

Schuld, 51, came to California from Detroit as a child in the early 1970s with his parents and four sisters, ferried across the country in a lumbering camper. His father, Walt Jr., was a Detroit cop who grew fatigued by the decaying city and decided to take a new police job in California. Schuld's grandfather, Walt Sr., was with the Detroit Police Department from 1943-68, never rising in the ranks from street cop, a fact that Schuld considers an honor.

"In the old days in Detroit, you had to pay somebody to get higher on the promotion list," Schuld said, laughing. "(Walt Sr.) had too much integrity for that."

While Schuld's tenure has been marked by improvements in public safety, the department remains far different demographically from the city it serves. San Pablo is 32 percent white and 56 percent Latino, according to census data; the department is 64 percent white and only 17 percent Latino. Seventy-five percent of department personnel are men.

"The department is more diverse than when I started, and we pulled out all the stops to get a more diverse candidate pool," Schuld said. "I grade us an A for effort, but we are still below the demographics of the city."

In picking Schuld's replacement, both Kinney and City Manager Matt Rodriguez said ethnic background and gender won't be a factor.

"We want the best qualified candidate, period," Rodriguez said. "We want someone who will serve for the long haul, five to 10 years."

Rodriguez said the decision to look for an outsider rather than promoting from within -- which has been the norm in San Pablo -- is not a criticism of current personnel but a reflection of a young department with an unusual command structure. One of Schuld's reforms since taking over in 2010 has been to flatten the command staff, eliminating captain and lieutenant positions in favor of beefing up the sergeant ranks.

"We have talented police officials, but they don't have the requisite years of experience" to be chief, Rodriguez said.

Schuld said he flattened the command staff to maximize the effectiveness of the 54-officer force.

"It helps us save money and put more boots on the ground," Schuld said.

The city in October approved a $20,000 contract to hire a firm to conduct the nationwide search for a new leader of the $15.5 million department, which absorbs 56 percent of the city's annual general fund budget. The search begins in the next few weeks, Rodriguez said, and the nationwide phase should be done by February.

By spring, Rodriguez hopes to have the candidate pool narrowed to three hopefuls, who will then go through a round of public meetings and interviews with community leaders. Rodriguez wants to decide by April, giving the new leader some time to work alongside Schuld for a few weeks before the incumbent cleans out his desk.

Striding down the department's first-floor hallway adorned with black-and-white photos, chatting briskly between meetings, Schuld says that while he loves the past, the future holds more promise.

"When I came in as chief, (former chief) Joe Aita told me I'd be fine, that the new chief comes in and sees new angles and makes things better," Schuld said. "I think that will hold true again."

Contact Robert Rogers at 510-262-2726 or rrogers@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/SFBaynewsrogers.