Charles H. Ramsey sat in an office with empty walls, behind a desk with empty drawers. His bulletproof vest slumped in a chair nearby. His bags were, quite literally, packed.

"I guess everything in life comes down to the last hour," he said.

It was 2 p.m. on New Year's Eve. At 3, he would walk through the doors of Police Headquarters for the last time as Philadelphia's police commissioner.

Ramsey, 65, was commissioner for just under eight years, brought in amid a skyrocketing murder rate and mayoral campaign promises to bring down crime in a city that seemed plagued with it.

Five officers were killed in the line of duty in his first 13 months. That part of the job never got easier. "It's still hard," he said.

He leaves with the total of murders under 300 for the third year in a row (despite a 12 percent uptick this year), crime down overall, and the city undergoing dramatic change. He plans to stay here for at least a while - his son is a police officer in the 25th District.

He said he was surprised how quickly Philadelphia came to feel like home.

"Philly reminds me of Chicago," his hometown, he said. "It's a city of neighborhoods, and a city full of people that have very strong opinions. About everything."

The city has a strong opinion of Ramsey, too - he had a 78 percent approval rating in a recent poll. In last year's mayoral primary campaign, State Sen. Anthony H. Williams nearly torpedoed his effort just by proposing to fire him.

In his office Thursday afternoon, Ramsey rattled off a list of achievements: his appointments to lead policing organizations and a presidential commission, the new technologies purchased for his department, a renewed focus on training and "fair and impartial policing." He also spoke of all that needs to be done: curbing gun violence, and improving "fragile, very fragile" relationships with communities.

"Safety and security is not just the absence of crime," he said. "It's the presence of justice. I thought we could get rid of crime by locking everybody up at one point, early on in my career. And you mature, you grow."

At 20 minutes to 3. Ramsey called his office assistants into the office one by one, to give them certificates of appreciation. He made a last phone call, to Deputy Commissioner Kevin Bethel, who is also retiring. He showed off one of his retirement gifts - a book of stamps with his face on it, commissioned by the postmaster general.

For his successor, Deputy Commissioner Richard Ross, he will leave "some crime," he said. "Enough to stay busy."

Then he shoved a few papers into his bag and got on the rickety elevator to the first floor. He planned, he said, to slip out quietly.

Instead, he was greeted at the front door by a phalanx of motorcycle cops and a bagpipe brigade. His squad car waited, lights flashing, to drive him home one last time. Dozens of police officers lined the parking lot to say goodbye.

In this city, in this department, Chuck Ramsey would never get to leave quietly. He spent his last minutes in office shaking every hand in the parking lot.

@aubreyjwhelan