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New Orleans police superintendent steps down

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - New Orleans Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas announced his retirement on Monday, bringing to a close a four-year tenure marked by a drop in murders, a reduction in the number of officers on patrol and federal demands to reform the department.

Serpas, who first joined the department as a beat cop in 1980, said during a news conference announcing his departure that he was leaving the organization better than when he took the helm in 2010.

"Together Mayor (Mitch) Landrieu and I, and the brave men and women of this police department, have laid a strong foundation for the future, a future that will be good for the people of New Orleans," Serpas said.

Some 156 people were murdered in the city in 2013, down from an average of 196 in the previous two years, marking a downward trend that has continued into 2014, city records show.

But in that same span, other violent crimes, including rapes and armed robberies, have increased, with a pronounced spike in the first three months of 2014, the latest period for which information is available.

The department is operating under a federal consent decree dating back to 2012 aimed at changing a pattern of police misconduct ranging from discriminatory searches to the use of excessive force.

The department, whose ranks dwindled during a city-imposed hiring freeze under Landrieu, has since had trouble hiring enough police to replace those that have left.

Serpas said the decision to step down was his alone, and that he would remain a resident of New Orleans.

Landrieu announced that Serpas will be replaced on an interim basis by Lieutenant Michael Harrison, whose career with the department dates to the early 1990s.

(Reporting by Jonathan Kaminsky; Editing by Eric Walsh)

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