LONG BEACH — Charles B. Ussery, who rose through the ranks to become this city's first black police chief in 1979, announced his retirement Tuesday.
Ussery, credited with improving relations with minority communities but dogged by police union complaints, made the surprise announcement at an afternoon meeting of top Police Department officers.
The announcement coincided almost precisely with the Oct. 12 date on which Ussery, a Long Beach police officer since 1959, became eligible for full retirement benefits of about $67,000 annually.
His last day on the job, Nov. 3, also precedes by just a day statewide voting on Proposition 61. If passed, the initiative would cut Ussery's salary as a public employee from $92,400 to $64,000 a year.
Ussery, 53, said the ballot proposal had nothing to do with his decision to step down as head of the 675-officer department, a move he said he has contemplated for months.
Appointed in October, 1979
City Manager John E. Dever, who is charged with hiring Ussery's successor, could not be reached for comment on who will be the interim chief or on the process for selecting a permanent replacement. Ussery was appointed acting chief in October, 1979, and was chosen permanent chief by Dever six months later.
In a characteristically terse and formal statement, Ussery announced Tuesday, "I informed the city manager and my fellow department heads that I am going to conclude my present career by retiring at the close of business on Monday, Nov. 3, 1986.
"I feel that it is that time in my life where I should move out of law enforcement as a career," he added. He said he hopes to simply slip away to his west side home and relax with Ramona, his wife of 31 years.
"Initially, I will do what retired people typically do. I just want to retire," he said. It will be a relief not to have to face the pressures that now make up his typical day, he said.
Ussery said he does not plan to re-enter law enforcement in some other capacity, although he might be interested in a second career in another field. Nor will he remain in public life in Long Beach, he said.
"I don't think you can expect to see more of Charles Ussery in Long Beach, " he said.
Several surprised City Council members, including some who have been sharply critical of him, said that Ussery has done a good job and he will be missed.
"I have the utmost respect for the chief. I think he's done an outstanding job under trying circumstances. I'm disappointed he's retiring so young," said Mayor Ernie Kell.
Councilman Wallace Edgerton just two months ago said the Police Department was not responsive to citizens' needs and called for a full-scale City Council review of it. But on Tuesday he said: "I'd say congratulations. He put in a lot of years. He went all the way up to police chief, so he must be proud."
Capt. Douglas Drummond, president of the Police Officers Assn. and a member of Ussery's police academy class in 1959, said that despite the union's many disagreements with Ussery, he has always respected the chief.
"He's had 27 years of hard service, and I know he's been very serious about the job every day he's been there," said Drummond, adding that Ussery told him in January that he was looking forward to retirement this fall.
'Lack of Justice' Perceived
Drummond would not comment on whether Ussery has been a good police chief, but in an interview three weeks ago, Drummond said the department has severe morale problems because of alleged favoritism in promotion and "lack of justice" in how officer discipline cases are handled.
"Today, it's somewhat of a spoils system," said Drummond in the September interview. "You belong to the right clique, you get the right job." Legal action beyond Civil Service appeals is planned to challenge the purported inequities, he said.
Drummond himself was a top candidate for chief when Ussery was named. He has received no promotion since, and has filed a lawsuit challenging Ussery's creation of the non-Civil Service rank of commander above captain. Ussery has said he needed the new level of top appointed officers to improve management.
On Tuesday, Ussery said of the recent union charges, "At this point in my career I will not enter into any discussion whatsoever having to do with the union and the Police Department."
Ussery supporters, however, said the chief has had problems with the union because he has forced the Police Department to be more responsive to the community and reduce harassment of the city's growing minority communities.
Helped Resolve Problems
"He has been under attack and pressure (from the union) on a consistent basis because of those changes. . . . It's been a struggle," said Frank L. Berry, president of the local chapter of the NAACP. Berry credited Ussery with helping arrange a series of community meetings in the early 1980s to help resolve the black community's problems with police.