ALAMEDA -- Mike Noonan never thought he would end up as Alameda police chief when he first began patrolling the Island's streets 27 years ago.
"This has always been a great place to work," Noonan said Wednesday after he announced that he will retire June 1. "I always knew I would stay with Alameda. But never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that I would become chief of police."
Noonan stepped into the top slot in June 2011. He initially served as interim chief after Walt Tibbet left to become chief at the Fairfield Police Department.
Mayor Marie Gilmore called Noonan's departure "bittersweet," saying he has led the police department with "honor and professionalism."
Noonan became chief as city officials were looking to save money amid the overall economic slump -- the police had recently lost a lieutenant, two sergeants and four officers due to budget constraints -- and just four months after his appointment he helped save the Alameda Animal Shelter from closing.
The partnership between the city and a volunteer group that kept the shelter's doors open was hailed by many as an example that other threatened programs could model.
"Chief Noonan did a great job of balancing the needs of his department with the economic realities the city faces, and I've appreciated his willingness to openly talk through issues and look for solutions," city Treasurer Kevin Kennedy said. "I thank him for his service to the community and wish him the best in retirement."
Noonan worked to restore public confidence in the police after officers came under stinging criticism for the way they handled the emergency scene at Robert W. Crown Memorial State Beach in May 2011, when a despondent Raymond Zack died after wading into San Francisco Bay.
First responders had remained on shore and critics felt they should have done more to help Zack.
"It was a tragedy for the community," Noonan said. "And it was a real blow to the police department in the public's trust. But as a result of it, we are now better trained and better equipped. I think we are better for it as a department."
Noonan was the department's first School Resource Officer, a program that puts officers on campuses as part of their beat, and was promoted to sergeant in 1998. He became a lieutenant in 2002 and was promoted to captain five years ago.
"Mike is an exceptional chief and a great leader," said retired Alameda police Sgt. Kevin McNiff, who was hired around the same time as Noonan. "He's conscientious and very dedicated. He's the type of a guy that if you came in at six in the morning, you would find him at his desk working."
Noonan was named the department's Officer of the Year in 1996. A year later, he was named a "National Officer of the Month" by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, DC.
Noonan was the first head of a city department appointed by City Manager John Russo.
"Mike has been a stellar police chief by any standard," Russo said in a statement. "It has been an honor to work with such a fine public servant. As much as I wish he'd stay, I am happy for Mike that he will get to travel and spend time with his family."
Russo has named Capt. Paul Rolleri as interim chief. He will take over June 1.
Noonan will act as a consultant to the city for six months after his retirement to help with the transition as officials search for his replacement. He said he plans to spend more time with his wife, two daughters and stepson.
"I am sad to be leaving," said Noonan, whose father retired as a deputy chief at the Fremont Police Department. "But at the same time I love my family. I am looking forward to spending more time with them. I am ready to begin enjoying life."
Reach Peter Hegarty at 510-748-1654 or follow him on Twitter.com/Peter_Hegarty.