But Serpas left New Orleans in 2001 to become chief for the Washington State Patrol, and then chief at the Nashville police department in 2004.
It took the aftermath of a powerful, destructive storm and a call from home to pull him back to the city he had such deep roots in. He re-joined the New Orleans force in May of this year.
"My family is here and many of my lifelong friends are police officers here," Serpas said. "[After Katrina] I think like most of America we were like, wow, what a proud day for the police department."
Now with a dark shadow falling heavier on a force that is tainted with scandal, Serpas said he, like many others, was confused about why officers acted the way they did during the aftermath.
"Those officers' selfish behavior … has ripped from the pages of history the dramatic bravery of so many," he said. "I think we all are infuriated ... at a very deep level at the criminal cases the federal government is pointing out. I think we're all mad about that."
But Serpas said he has much hope that the city's police department will get back to the way it was before the chaos of Katrina. Currently, there are 1,481 officers in the New Orleans police department, down from 1,668 before the hurricane.
"It'll take a year or two ... obviously Hurricane Katrina totally changed the game," he said. "We're gonna make New Orleans better. We're going to make it the greatest city in America. I don't have any doubt about that."