By Joseph Ax
(Reuters) - Cathy Lanier, who has served as Washington, D.C.'s first female police chief since 2007, announced on Tuesday she will step down next month to oversee security for the National Football League.
As the NFL's chief security officer, Lanier, 49, will supervise security efforts for all 32 teams as well as for major events like the Super Bowl, the league said in a statement.
"Cathy joins us with a well-deserved reputation of being a tremendous communicator, innovator and relationship builder," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said.
Lanier has spent 26 years with the 3,700-member Metropolitan Police Department. Her last day will be Sept. 17.
At a news conference at police headquarters on Tuesday, Lanier referred to her background as a high school dropout who joined the police department as a patrol officer in 1990 after earning a high-school equivalency diploma.
"Now I have two master's degrees," she said. "I owe my life to this city, the residents and this department."
Mayor Muriel Bowser, who said she would name an interim replacement within a few days, praised Lanier for overseeing a 23 percent reduction in violent crime while improving the department's relations with the community.
"She will leave a tremendous legacy here," Bowser said.
Lanier built a visible public profile, making frequent television appearances and holding numerous meetings with community leaders, to whom she gave her cellphone number so they could reach her day and night.
More recently, the department implemented a body camera program, as police officers around the country have seen increasing scrutiny amid racial tensions.
Despite lower crime rates overall, Lanier drew some criticism after a spike in murders last year. A Washington Post poll in November found her approval rating had dropped to 61 percent from 71 percent a year earlier.
Lanier was one of 10 female police chiefs among the 68 largest city departments in the United States, according to the Major Cities Chiefs Police Association.
(Reporting by Joseph Ax in New York; Additional reporting by Susan Heavey and Tim Ahmann in Washington; Editing by David Gregorio and Cynthia Osterman)