Standing before reporters Wednesday, Sacramento police Chief Rick Braziel wanted to make something clear: He is not leaving his post, as rumor may have suggested, because he is being pushed out.
"Quite the opposite, actually," said Braziel, in announcing the end of his 33-year career with the Police Department. "Up until this morning, (City Manager John Shirey) asked if I had changed my mind."
Where any such rumor might have come from was not clear, given the respect for if not flat out adoration of Braziel among many in this city. When Braziel was a finalist for Seattle's police chief job nearly 2 1/2 years ago, everyone from line troops to City Hall politicos went into a tailspin.
There was less panic Wednesday when the 52-year-old Braziel, who has led the department for five years, announced he will retire Dec. 29. But the disappointment was clear.
"Rick could have had the job for as long as he wanted," Shirey told The Bee through a city spokeswoman.
"We're sad to see him go," said Dustin Smith, acting president of the Sacramento Police Officers Association.
Braziel's salary is $208,000. Upon retiring, his pension will be 90 percent of that.
A successor has not yet been named. Braziel said he believes any of his four deputy chiefs and some of his captains are capable of taking the helm, and he said he will strongly encourage Shirey to choose an internal candidate.
Shirey indicated he is on the same page, saying through spokeswoman Amy Williams he does not intend to conduct a national search.
Braziel has long emphasized the importance of succession planning, and he expressed concern shortly after he pulled out of the running in Seattle that budget cuts had hampered efforts to develop talent within the department.
Since then, the number of deputy chiefs has doubled from two to four, and several captains are among those seen to be likely candidates for the top job if not now, then in the future.
Braziel praised his leadership team as "a group of people who are very diverse in thought, very diverse in experience and very respectful of each other."
"That has not always been the case in this department," he said.
The son of a Sacramento police officer who wore the badge for 20 years, Braziel said he feels he has shepherded the department through the worst of the economic crisis.
With signs of hope in the future including the hiring of police officers after voters passed a sales tax measure in this month's election Braziel said it makes sense for him to step down.
Decisions about rebuilding the organization should be made by a new leader, he said, rather than forcing someone else to inherit his ideas.
"We've got the economy, we've got the (leadership) team set," Braziel said. "It's time."
Braziel said he notified Shirey of his decision just before the Nov. 6 election. He told his executive staff, and then the entire department, early Wednesday. The news came as a shock to many, as Braziel had been expected to serve about another year.
"I can't think of anybody I respect more. He was the right leader for the right time," said Deputy Chief Dan Schiele. "Sacramento has suffered a great blow today."
In a statement, Mayor Kevin Johnson expressed disappointment in Braziel's impending departure and thanked him for his "tremendous leadership and commitment to the city."
Braziel was sworn in as police chief in January 2008, about the time the department reached its peak of staffing. From there, however, Braziel's budget suffered a beating. More than $40 million in cuts led to the loss of about 150 sworn officers and even more non-sworn employees. Braziel said the experience was akin to a "free fall from an airplane."
Despite severe downsizing, crime fell sharply during much of Braziel's time as chief. From 2007 to 2011, the city's murder rate dropped about 20 percent; the violent crime rate fell by 35 percent and the property crime rate fell by 25 percent, police statistics show.
Recently, that trend has begun to reverse. Violent and property crime each jumped 7 percent in the city during the first six months of the year, compared with the same period in 2011. It was the first time in six years that the city saw an uptick in crime.
Braziel said the new chief's biggest challenge will be managing the expectations of residents who might unrealistically demand better service as soon as more officers are hired.
"It takes a long time to climb back out," he said.
Braziel's supporters have long lauded him for his approachable leadership style and communication skills. He has never been a micromanager, colleagues say, and has always been transparent in his decision-making.
"He's always remained connected to us in a different way because of that," Smith said.
Former Sacramento County Sheriff John McGinness has known Braziel for 31 years and worked closely with him as both led their organizations.
"I could say it's a sad day, but it's not," McGinness said. "His legacy in the Sacramento Police Department will live on, and it is a better organization for his presence."