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Vancouver Police Chief Jim Chu pauses while reading a statement announcing his retirement during a news conference in Vancouver, B.C.

Darryl Dyck/The Globe and Mail

Jim Chu, a 36-year member of the Vancouver Police Department who rose from patrol officer to the force's top job, has announced he will retire as chief in the spring.

The surprise announcement sparked immediate speculation on what the chief will do next, with a federal election drawing near, and the top position with the Toronto Police Service soon to be vacant.

Chief Chu stressed he has not decided on his future post-retirement, though he acknowledged he has been approached by political parties in the past.

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Chief Chu, the first non-white leader in the department's history, took the force's helm in August, 2007. He led a fight against gangs in 2009 and policed the Olympics a year later. He said the department has made the city safer under his watch, pointing to drops in homicides and property crime.

His tenure, however, has not been without controversy. The force was criticized for not having enough officers on the street the night of the 2011 Stanley Cup riot. The pace of the investigation also drew the public's ire: Premier Christy Clark said she was frustrated no charges had been laid two months after the riot, and one newspaper ran a front-page photo of the chief explaining the delay with the words "blah, blah, blah" next to it.

The chief discussed his retirement plans at a news conference Friday, where he was joined by Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson. The mayor called Chief Chu "a friend" and applauded his service.

Chief Chu, 55, said he had always expected to be in the position for between five and 10 years and that he believed now was the right time to move on. His contract was renewed last March and was set to run until August, 2017.

When asked if he had been approached by the federal Conservatives or Liberals about running in the coming election, Chief Chu said: "I've had many political approaches over the years. My standard answer has been, 'My job is serving as Vancouver police chief.' … I think I'll be saying the same thing until I'm not Vancouver police chief any more."

When asked if he was interested in being police chief in Toronto, Chief Chu said he has "no interest in other positions right now." He added that he does not know what the future entails, but loves living in Vancouver.

Chief Chu said one factor in his decision was succession planning. He said the department's senior members are highly sought by other police agencies, and he wanted to ensure those members had an opportunity to lead the Vancouver force.

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In response to a question, the chief said retiring was his decision and he was not pushed out. He said he expects to stay on until the spring, but if the police board needs more time to decide on his successor, he's prepared to stay longer.

Mr. Robertson said the board will launch a Canadawide search, though the chief's comments suggested his replacement would be found within the department.

Deputy Chief Doug LePard, speaking with reporters shortly after the news conference, said he was thinking about applying for the top position.

Robert Gordon, a criminology professor at Simon Fraser University, said Chief Chu's retirement represents a "great loss" for the city. He called the chief an innovative and progressive leader.

A former president of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, Chief Chu has pushed for more supports for those suffering from mental-health issues, and handing out tickets for marijuana possession instead of pursuing criminal charges.

Prof. Gordon said he would not be surprised if Chief Chu was being wooed for a federal election run. He said he does not believe Chief Chu would be an ideal fit for the Conservatives, viewing him as centre left.

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Douglas King, a lawyer with non-profit advocacy group Pivot Legal Society, said his organization has mixed feelings about Chief Chu's reign.

He said there have been positive developments in the areas of drug policy and sex work, particularly the department's decision to prioritize the safety of sex workers over making prostitution-related arrests.

However, Mr. King said the department's insistence on handing out tickets to low-income people, for offences such as jaywalking, is unnecessary and creates acrimony.

Chief Chu, in late 2012, apologized for the department's handling of the investigation into serial killer Robert Pickton.

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