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New Orleans police superintendent retires

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New Orleans (Louisiana)
Civil and Public Services
Disasters (General)

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana (CNN) -- After post-Katrina New Orleans was overrun with looters and nearly a third of the police force subsequently failed to show up for duty, the head of the city's police said Tuesday he will retire.

"Every man in leadership positions must know when it's time to hand over the reins to someone else," Police Superintendent Eddie Compass told reporters at a joint news conference with New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin.

Compass offered no specific reason for his retirement, instead saying he planned to go "in another direction.

"I want to ask you to respect my privacy, respect my decision and just respect my right to be by myself." (Watch Compass' announcement --1:52)

Compass said he will stay on for a 30 to 45-day transition period. Assistant Superintendent Warren Riley will be acting superintendent, the mayor said shortly after Compass made his announcement.

The New Orleans police were overwhelmed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Several hundred officers failed to show up for work. The rest of the officers faced long and difficult days, often confronted with the fact they couldn't help those in need. Two officers -- including a department spokesman -- committed suicide.

Compass' retirement was announced as former Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Michael Brown blamed Nagin and Louisiana's governor for failing to act before Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. Brown told a congressional committee that FEMA "is not a first responder" and said that role belonged to state and local officials.

While he said Mississippi and Alabama had evacuated properly, Brown criticized Nagin and Gov. Kathleen Blanco for dragging their heels.

Compass had been with the department 26 years, the last three and a half as superintendent.

Nagin called it "a sad day in the city of New Orleans when you have a hero to make a decision such as this."

It was Compass' decision to retire from what had been a 1,700-person department before the hurricane struck, Nagin said. The mayor called the superintendent "a man who helped to guide the city through one of the toughest times it's ever had.

"You have to respect someone who makes that kind of decision; my heart goes out to the chief and his family. I'm sure his wife is probably doing a dance right now. I wish him nothing but the best. I trust that he's gonna make a lot of money after he leaves the city of New Orleans. Hopefully, he'll send me a Christmas card now and then," Nagin said.

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