The New Haven Police Department celebrated the service of Chief James Lewis and Assistant Chief of Operations Kenneth Gillespie Monday evening at a farewell celebration held at Anthony’s Ocean View Restaurant across the harbor from downtown.

As guests gathered around tables and mingled at the bar, the conversation was light but the mood bittersweet. Guests said they were sad to see the two leave the force and would remember how the duo reinvigorated the NHPD since assuming the reins 18 months ago.

In addition to NHPD officers, administrators and family members, Mayor John DeStefano Jr. and Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal LAW ‘73 also attended the dinner and presented Lewis and Gillespie with citations praising their legacies. Various NHPD departments also made speeches and gave the two gifts and commemorative plaques.

“As much as we regret their leaving, they’ve created an enduring legacy,” Blumenthal said in his speech.

While no official announcement was made about who will be replacing Lewis and Gillepsie, Lewis said in an interview Monday that he will recommend about three candidates to Mayor DeStefano by the end of the week, all of whom have strong backgrounds in policing.

The seven members of the NHPD who gave speeches said Lewis and Gillespie treated their subordinates with gentler hands than the chiefs who preceded them. Karizma Schloss, an administrative assistant at the NHPD and the event’s master of ceremonies, described the NHPD as a tight-knit community in which Lewis was the father figure, Gillespie the uncle and Assistant Chief Stephanie Redding the big sister. Redding will be the interim chief until DeStefano selects Lewis’ replacement.

“You’d be surprised how much should have occurred in the past but didn’t,” Lt. Holly Wasilewski said in a speech. While she praised some of the policies Lewis implemented during his tenure as chief, such as increasing motor vehicle stops and providing officers with .40 caliber handguns and Blackberry cell phones, she added that the “little things,” such as always saying “please” and “thank you,” went a long way in building relationships around the office.

Though Lewis and Gillespie said they were grateful for their colleagues’ kind words and well wishes, they maintained that most of the credit lies with the NHPD’s officers.

“I don’t think we did anything spectacular,” Gillespie said. “We just let cops be cops.”

Lewis said when he agreed to become New Haven’s police chief in July 2008, it was a “daunting task.” At the start, he said he told himself he would measure his success by two criteria: whether the applicant pool for his replacement is better than the one he had once competed in and whether the NHPD officers’ attitude has improved. He said the officers now “stand taller and have more of a spring in their step” than they did when he arrived.

“I’ve made my career out of taking credit for the work of others,” Lewis said. “The best thing I could do when I took the position was to get out of officers’ ways.”

At the dinner, Lewis and Gillespie said they both intend to leave New Haven for retirement this Saturday. Lewis will return to his home in Wisconsin, and Gillespie will travel across the country with his wife and eventually return to their home in southern California. Gillespie added that he believes the announcement will be made his and Lewis’ successors in “the immediate future” and possibly before their departures on Saturday.

Lewis and Gillespie announced in December that they would be leaving their posts when their contracts expired at the end of January.

Gillespie, an avid fan of Ancient Greek military history, said he will leave behind a short reading list of books he recommends every officer read, including Anabasis by Xenophon.