Denver Mayor Michael Hancock has tapped Louisville, Ky., Metro Police Chief Robert White to take the reins at the Denver Police Department, the mayor said this afternoon.

"We hired the very best, I believe ... in Chief White," Hancock said.

City Council must approve the hiring, a process that is expected to take three weeks.

Mayor Michael Hancock said during last spring's campaign that he would replace Chief Gerry Whitman, who has held the job since 2000, if he was elected.

After he took office, Hancock asked Whitman to stay on indefinitely while he conducted a national search for a police chief, and Whitman agreed.

It is the first time in memory that a Denver police chief has been hired from outside the department.

"It does surprise me, but I'm sure they did a thorough search for the best qualified person to run the Denver Police Department," said Det. Nick Rogers, president of the Denver Police Protective Association. "I look forward to learning everything I can about him and meeting him and trying to make this police department a better place for the citizens."

Robert White, 59, who has served as Louisville's police chief since 2003 and led the city to be recognized as one of America's largest safest cities, will be named chief of the Denver Police Department next week. Mayor Greg Fischer announced that he will immediately begin a search for White's replacement.

"Chief White has been a high-caliber leader who has made our city safer and who has earned tremendous respect across the city," Fischer said in a news release. "It's not a surprise that, over the years, many cities have tried to hire him. Denver is gaining a police chief of high integrity."

Fischer said he has begun the process of identifying potential new chiefs from both within and outside the Louisville Metro Police Department. He said he would be seeking input from citizens, police and national experts.

"My goal is to hire the best chief to lead our department and make it even better than it already is," Fischer said. "We are a safe city, but we can be even safer. I'm seeking a leader who can take us to that next level."

White said the decision to leave Louisville was difficult but that he felt that he has achieved all he could in Louisville and he looks forward to new challenges in Denver.

"I'm leaving Louisville in great hands - and I want to thank the men and women of the Louisville Police Department who are dedicated and passionate public servants," White said. "I also wish to thank the citizens of Louisville who have made my job enjoyable every day the last nine years."

White was appointed chief of the newly merged Louisville Metro Police Department on January 6, 2003. The department was created with the merger of the Louisville Division of Police and the Jefferson County Police Department. The department — the 22nd largest in the country — has 1,200 sworn officers and nearly 400 civilian personnel.