An afternoon news conference was transformed into a party as city officials hugged each other with joy and relief. At police headquarters, there was a burst of applause when the news was announced.

After more than a year of waiting, Alexandria finally received the verdict yesterday on Police Chief Charles T. Strobel.

Minutes after the clerk of the court announced the "not guilty" verdict on the 12 counts of perjury and obstruction of justice against Strobel, the news flashed across the city.

"I'm so happy for him," said Sue Billmyer, who has worked the city hall switchboard since 1965. "I prayed for him this morning . . . . I would have bawled if I was there . . . it kills me every time we have a scandal."

"We have smiles all around," said Sgt. Ron Graves, who, like many police officers in town, spent the day waiting by the telephone.

Strobel's most visible supporter, Mayor James P. Moran Jr., was elated by the acquittal. He said he hoped the verdict would allow the police department to go about its business without distraction.

"You can find fault with all administrators . . . we're all human," said Moran. "I hope it's all over now and we stop treating the police chief like a criminal."

Others expressed a different reaction.

"I'm amazed that he escapes one fiasco after another," said Charles A. Camp, a waiter at the Old Town Fish Market. "Despite all the bad publicity he's been able to hang in there for so long."

The scandal has dogged the city and its police chief since the initial allegations surfaced in 1984 that Strobel improperly stopped a police drug investigation. Alexandrians have debated his conduct throughout the state grand jury investigation, several civil lawsuits and the highly publicized, year-long federal inquiry.

Many in the city seemed to applaud Strobel's stamina, as well as his victory. At an afternoon news conference, City Manager Vola T. Lawson announced that he could return to work immediately. He has been on administrative leave with pay since he was indicted Feb. 20.

Strobel, with a pink carnation in his lapel and a box of cigarettes tucked in his socks, said he wanted to go back to work yesterday -- but his wife vetoed the idea. He said he intended to be in his office at 7:30 a.m. today.

The big victory for Strobel was a disappointment for some of the police officers who have been feuding with him, and the politicians who lost their seats after months of publicly criticizing him.

Five-term mayor Charles E. Beatley and veteran City Council member Donald C. Casey were defeated in bitter campaigns last May after denouncing Strobel.

Beatley, who is seeking the Democratic nomination to run against Rep. Stan Parris (R-Va.), said he had "mixed emotions about the verdict."

Casey, who has never made a secret of his dislike for Strobel and the way he operates the police department, said, "Of course, I'm disappointed." Casey said he got little work done today while awaiting the verdict.

But the prevalent sentiment throughout the city seemed to be relief, even by those who had not followed the events of the year in detail.

"Did they finally let go of that man?" asked one woman walking her dog in the drizzle as television cameras crowded for a shot of Strobel outside the courthouse. "It's certainly about time."