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After less than three years at the helm of the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), Chief Robert J. Contee will soon end his tenure.
Contee, a 33-year veteran of the department, recently revealed his intention to leave MPD for an assistant director position in the FBI. With D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) and his fellow public safety officials standing around him, Contee reflected on his years of service to the community.
“When I started this role, I stood before our community bearing my soul and [telling] my story,” Contee said Thursday morning at the John A. Wilson Building. “I’m just a kid from Carver Terrace who happened to dream and do something that’s impactful. It’s my highest honor to be able to serve the residents of the District of Columbia. This is a move that I decided to make for Robert Contee and to inspire young people across our city.”
Contee is the latest high-profile leader to leave the D.C. government in recent months. His departure follows that of John Falcicchio and Chris Geldart, former chief of staff and deputy mayor of public safety respectively. Bowser said a nationwide search is underway for Contee’s replacement.
In 2020, Bowser tapped, and the D.C. Council later confirmed, Contee, a Ward 5 native and D.C. Public Schools alumnus, as the replacement of Peter Newsham, who took a new job as chief of the Prince William County Police Department in Virginia.
At the time of Contee’s confirmation, D.C. and other U.S. cities were in the midst of racial justice protests that inspired calls for police reform. Many residents expressed their desire for a police chief who could get a handle on violent crime while engaging residents and remaining transparent with the community.
Though Contee received accolades for MPD’s response to the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol, critics continue to point at the litany of police-involved shootings and allegations of fourth amendment violations under his watch. The District had also experienced levels of violent crime not seen in previous years, all while the number of officers dwindled.
With Contee at the helm, MPD has launched community-based initiatives, including those focused on homicide reduction and quelling criminal activity in nightlife areas. These efforts have reportedly led to reduction of crime citywide, and at some along Good Hope Road in Southeast and the Brightwood community in Northwest.
The latest iteration of those programs, announced by Contee and Bowser on Thursday, takes patrol officers out of their cars and into District neighborhoods to collaborate with residents and address quality-of-life issues. Contee said that MPD officials will continue to examine the data in conjunction with researchers at George Mason University who pioneered research about community policing.
D.C. resident Mikki Charles expressed skepticism about MPD’s ability to curb crime. She went further to question the veracity of Contee’s assertion that violent crime fell after MPD dispatched officers to affected neighborhoods.
Charles, a member of local abolitionist organization Harriet’s Wildest Dreams, said that inconsistent leadership in the Bowser administration fails District residents. She went on to tell the Informer that the mayor overly relies on punitive measures, and not investments in resources, to address crime.
For Charles, a recent revelation about D.C. Housing Authority Director Brenda Donald’s bonus drives this point home.
“They said they’re building community but they don’t know what community means,” Charles said. “The community for far too long has [talked about] the issues they’ve been facing and [the city] doesn’t address it. They don’t address the cries of the community. We’re living in a food desert. Bowser kills bills that would help the community.”
On Wednesday, Bowser released a statement congratulating Contee.
“Since his first week on the job, and over the past 33 years, [Chief Contee] as been making Washington, D.C. incredibly proud. He’s a son of D.C. who grew up in Carver Langston, joined the Metropolitan Police Department as a cadet at 17 years old, and now he’s ready for his next chapter,” Bowser said.
“He has led MPD through an incredibly challenging time for our country – from the pandemic to January 6th and navigating the effects of a shrinking department during a time when gun violence is exploding across the nation. He has been a phenomenal ambassador of what it means to be a police officer in D.C. – brilliant, compassionate, and determined to build a DC where all people feel safe and are safe.”
D.C. Council member Trayon White (D-Ward 8) also weighed in on Contee’s departure.
“Chief Contee is a solid leader and it’s going to be hard to replace him,” White said. “Homegrown competent leadership is vital to moving the city forward.”