NEW ORLEANS Superintendent Ronal Serpas whose tenure included a drop in the city's murder rate but also a large drop in the number of officers on patrol, stepped down from office Monday morning.

Serpas started under Mayor Mitch Landrieu in May 2010 at a time that both he and the mayor said the city's police department was facing major challenges.

'When Mayor Landrieu took office, the NOPDhad clearly come apart,'he said. 'Irealized I had my work cut out for me.'

Serpas said he faced no pressure to step down and Landrieu thanked him for tremendous service. Monday afternoon Loyola University confirmed that Serpas was joining its criminal justice program, though it wasn't specified his exact role.

Landrieu was effusive in his praise of Serpas as he announced his departure.

'We have successfully stopped the bleeding, we have turned the department around,' said Landrieu.

Murder, the most-watched crime statistic in the city, has been on a downward trend the past two years under Serpas, however there have continued to be high-profile shootings that have brought the department under scrutiny.

In addition, the NOPD has had a problem recruiting officers, the staffing having dropped by nearly 400 officers since Serpas came in to office.

'Even though we faced tough times, the men and women of this department have never let the city down,'he said.

Included among the drop in ranks were several high-profile departures, including:Edwin Hosli, the former commander of the 8th District; Kirk Bouyelas, chief of detectives, who left recently to join the DA's office; and Lt. Melvin Howard, who moved to the sheriff's office.

'Rumors of his departure had been swirling since the election,' said Eyewitness News Political Analyst Clancy DuBos. 'It's not a surprise. Ithink he accomplished what he hoped to in terms of restructuring the department and now it's time to pass the torch.'

Criminologist John Penny of SUNOsaid Serpas' tenure would be seen as having mixed results.

'Very inconsistent,'he said when asked how Serpas would be remembered. 'He will be seen as someone who did not have any major impact on several issues that impact the city the most - rapes and robberies. He did not have a great relationship with the public.'

Penny said he would have thought Serpas might have stepped down sooner - in March or May - when he had fulfilled the time to get his full retirement.

'I'm sure he's leaving at a time that's convenient to him,'said Penny. 'Ido believe the tide and winds of low morale and the abundance of people leaving the department helped in making this decision.'

Council President Stacy Head praised Serpas' efforts, particularly in trying to step up recruiting in the face of many departures.

'Chief Serpas has led NOPD for four years and brought many positive changes, including the implementation of a federal consent decree that continues to drive out corruption and waste from the department. He began a robust recruitment campaign that is well underway today and I am confident will ultimately strengthen our force by attracting the best and brightest.'

Police Commander of the 7th District, Lt. Michael Harrison, will serve as interim NOPD Superintendent.

Serpas began his law enforcement career with the NOPD, serving first as an officer and rising to the level of deputy chief between 1980 and 2001.

He served as the Superintendent of Washington State Police (2001-2004) and Superintendent of Nashville Police (2004-2010) before returning to New Orleans as superintendent in May 2010.

In his new role at Loyola, the school said Serpas' vast knowledge of criminal justice would benefit its students greatly.

'Having such a well-respected law enforcement leader as a faculty member in the Department of Criminal Justice will serve our students well in offering a forward-thinking, hands-on education that connects the classroom to the many exciting careers in criminal justice,' said Loyola Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Marc K. Manganaro, Ph.D.

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