SAN JOSE -- Outgoing Police Chief Chris Moore said he keeps coming back to the word "melancholy" as he prepares to leave the San Jose department after more than 27 years. It's a retirement that comes sooner than Moore had planned.
Moore elaborated this week on his decision to depart after less than two years as the city's top cop, which he said was sealed when the City Council voted against putting a half-cent sales tax measure on November's ballot to help solve his department's budget woes.
"I felt if I wasn't going to be able to contribute moving forward and my advice wasn't going to be followed, then it becomes the right time for everybody to go," said Moore, who announced his retirement in September.
The 51-year-old chief officially departs Saturday, but his last day on the clock was Thursday. Moore's challenging tenure saw rising crime in the city, a force beset with morale problems and an exodus of veteran cops as City Hall struggled to address the financial burden of growing pension costs.
Those challenges will continue without Moore, which might explain why the search for a replacement is taking longer than expected. City Manager Debra Figone, who had hoped to name a successor before Moore left, has extended the search, and 27-year department veteran Larry Esquivel was named acting chief on Monday.
But Moore said Figone is making a good decision not to rush, saying, "Finding the right fit is more important than just taking the best of what you have." He disagrees with the sentiment that this no longer is a plum job. Moore said he has told potential candidates that the budget situation will not change in the near term.
"But a couple years in," he added, "resources might be available to do some good things. As much as people say nobody wants this job, I think people will."
Moore, who has received widespread praise from local leaders for improving the perception of the department, often has seemed like a man caught between an austerity-minded City Hall and a grumbling rank-and-file who thought he wasn't a strong enough advocate.
"It's frustrating because the troops are looking to me and saying, 'You need to go to City Hall and fight for us,'" Moore said. "And I do that on a daily basis. I just don't do it in public. I gave the mayor, the city manager and the council my best professional advice about what we needed. I sleep well at night knowing I've done that."
That included pushing for a tax measure to bolster a force that has endured a 10 percent pay cut, the first layoffs in department history and a voter-approved pension reform in June. But the council -- on a 5-5 vote -- decided in August against placing the tax measure on the ballot.
"If it had been put to the voters and they had turned it down, then it's a completely different story," Moore said. "But to deny a vote stuck in my craw."
Mayor Chuck Reed credits Moore for mending community fences, particularly among ethnic groups who had complained of heavy-handed tactics by police. But Reed acknowledged in a recent interview that those efforts have been overshadowed by budget cuts.
"What Chris has been stuck with is managing a department that doesn't have enough people, has unhappy officers who have taken a pay cut and now are facing pension reform," Reed said. "He leaves that problem for the next chief. That person will have to deal with this tough fiscal environment and help us figure out how best to rebuild the department."
The force now has a shade more than 1,000 sworn officers -- including not-yet-street-ready recruits. That's down from about 1,400 four years ago. Crime rates have spiked the past two years, topped by a 20-year peak in homicides along with double-digit percentage increases in property crimes.
Walter Wilson, an African-American Community Service Agency board member, initially didn't favor Moore taking over as chief in February 2011. But he came to appreciate Moore's inclusiveness.
"Chief Moore listened to the community," Wilson said. "He wanted people around him with diverse views and people who didn't necessarily agree with him. That's why I have great respect for him."
While Moore was accessible, residents sometimes weren't pleased with his explanations about higher crime rates and slower response times. Michelle Holtz helped organize a meeting in the Cambrian and Blossom Hill neighborhoods last month.
"I felt he was glossing over things because there really isn't a lot that he can do," Holtz said. "You can tell he's been caught between a rock and a hard place."
Moore said residents like those "have a righteous beef," and all he could do was be honest about the department's current staffing. Moore also said he didn't take personally the failed no-confidence vote on his leadership by the police union last August.
"The problems that we're facing had not originated with Chief Moore," said union president Sgt. Jim Unland. "But he could have had a stronger voice, so that was disappointing. Sadly, one of the strongest moves he could make was leaving and bringing the spotlight to the problems."
Moore may be retiring as chief, but he won't be out of the workforce long. Married and with a daughter in high school, he already has received job feelers. But Moore, who underwent hip surgery in October, plans on taking a two-month break.
"This has been a great place to work, and I'm going to miss the people here," Moore said. "They really care about this place, and they're frustrated. Now it's a matter of seeing how this all shakes out."