Alexandria Police Chief Charles T. Strobel, who took permanent leave from his job Wednesday after an internal investigation cited "significant failure" in police management, chose to step aside, city officials and Strobel's lawyer said yesterday.

The leave removes Strobel from his post three months earlier than his previously announced December retirement, and came at the same time as a report sharply criticizing his performance. According to the report, released Wednesday, Strobel failed to pursue adequately allegations of misconduct by a former narcotics officer.

David Ross Rosenfeld, Strobel's attorney, said that he asked city administrators last week to grant Strobel extended sick leave because "the past two years have been fraught with stress and strain for him. He needed some relief."

City Manager Vola Lawson said, "If Charlie Strobel had elected to, he would still be working today."

Since she was named city manager in 1985, Lawson has frequently criticized Strobel for his direction of the department. During that time, Strobel was also the subject of two grand jury investigations, though he was exonerated of all allegations.

Despite reporters' repeated requests for details about Strobel's leave when it was announced Wednesday, Lawson did not volunteer that he sought the leave for health reasons. Lawson said yesterday she did not mention Strobel's health because his lawyer asked her not to.

Strobel, a 29-year police veteran whose last five years as chief were plagued by allegations of mismanagement and wrongdoing, had already announced his intention to step down Dec. 3, the first day he was eligible for retirement.

Lawson released the results of an internal investigation Wednesday and announced that two police officers had been disciplined. Virginia law requires that personnel actions remain secret. The report cited violations of police policy by Strobel and Lt. Arthur L. Bratcher, the commander of the department's vice and narcotics unit.

Bratcher was placed on paid leave while he decides whether to accept a transfer to the patrol division.

Lawson declined to say yesterday whether Strobel had been issued a formal reprimand, a form of punishment less serious than dismissal, but said that he was not forced from his job.

"He would have been with the police department until December," she said.

Rosenfeld said that Strobel had amassed more than 1,800 hours of sick leave and that he would draw on it until his retirement.

Rosenfeld declined to respond to the investigation report, which called problems in police management "intolerable."

"I'm not going to comment at all about any discipline the city may have taken," Rosenfeld. "Whatever action the city manager took was absolutely unrelated to Chief Strobel's request to take sick leave.

"The stress and the strain of the past two years had become sufficient enough that there was concern about it taking a toll on the chief," he said. "He requested a leave on the advice of his physician."

The investigation report criticized Strobel and Bratcher for their handling of misconduct allegations against a former narcotics officer, David B. Goldberg. A confidential informant charged in early May that Goldberg tipped off an acquaintance who was the target of a drug probe, but police did not begin looking into the allegation until mid-July.

The report found that Bratcher never told Strobel of the allegation, a violation of department rules, and that Strobel took no action for a month after he learned of the allegation from other officers.

Goldberg was not charged with violating any laws. The results of that investigation have been forwarded to a regional police task force that deals with drug crimes. Goldberg's lawyer has said that his client did nothing wrong.

The investigation found serious management problems in the department's vice and narcotics squad, commanded by Bratcher. According to the investigation, only two of the squad's 12 investigators were actively working Alexandria drug crimes. The City Council has formed a special task force to combat drug trafficking, which it has branded the city's worst problem.

City officials predicted yesterday that the squad's new commander, Lt. Alfred Levesque, would beef up drug enforcement efforts quickly.

"We're trying to take our neighborhoods away from drug dealers and return them to the people who live there," said Vice Mayor Patricia S. Ticer. "It was embarrassing and frustrating" to find so few police involved in drug investigations.

Lawson said, "I think the first thing we'll see is a reallocation of staff in the vice and narcotics unit. That will move quickly."

Lawson also said that Levesque and Acting Police Chief Arlen Justice have been asked to perform a complete review of department management practices and recommend any needed changes by Nov. 1. Lawson hopes to hire Strobel's successor by Dec. 1.

A number of city officials said they believe Strobel's decision to step down will have a positive effect on the department's morale. While Justice characterized morale in the department as good, other officials and officers have said that uncertainty surrounding Strobel has discouraged many oficers.

"A change was needed to clear the air," said Barry Schiftic, an investigator and president of the Alexandria Police Association, which he said represents about 210 of the department's 230 officers. "Everybody has been pretty discouraged, and they needed something to bring about some stability."

Schiftic said that his group recently polled its members regarding the selection of a new chief, and that about 75 percent of those who responded would like to see Strobel's successor come from outside the department. "We don't need more of the same from the Strobel era," he said.

Mayor James P. Moran Jr. said, "The morale of the officers that relates to their trust and confidence in management needs shoring up. It's time to turn to a new chapter."