Metropolitan Police Assistant Chief Robert Contee, 31-year veteran and D.C. native, was named police chief Tuesday by Mayor Muriel Bowser.
Bowser’s actions scuttled the planned nationwide search to replace Chief Peter Newsham, who’s leaving MPD for the Prince William County top cop slot in 2021.
“I’m a hometown kid; this is the city that birthed me,” Contee told The Washington Post hours before Bowser’s formal announcement. “I went to school here. I raised my family here.”
District officials had planned to embark on a nationwide search amid assertions from local residents that they should be involved in the process of finding the next chief for the 3,700-member police force, as tensions have deepened between police and residents over what they say are heavy-handed policing tactics.
A group tasked with developing police reform recommendations has implored D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) to include the most marginalized and policed of District residents in the search for Newsham’s replacement.
In a letter sent to the mayor’s office earlier this month, the D.C. Police Reform Commission called for the formation of a selection committee that would host meetings in each ward, and develop a set of selection criteria with community members.
Ron Hampton, a retired police officer and commission member, said the mayor should “allow the community to be in that process so they would play a role in the selection,” added Hampton. “Ultimately, the D.C. Council has to confirm that person, so they would need the support of District residents.”
In the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, the council passed emergency legislation, not only reducing MPD’s budget but forming the D.C. Police Reform Commission. As the District’s homicide numbers continue to rise, however, Newsham, Bowser, and others have remained adamant about the need for aggressive, on-the-ground policing tactics.
Critics said that mindset set the stage, in September, for 18-year-old Deon Kay’s police-involved shooting death in Southeast. More than a month later, protesters would converge on MPD’s Fourth District Station after 20-year-old Karon Hylton-Brown succumbed to injuries sustained in a crash while trying to evade officers chasing him for not wearing a helmet while driving a moped.
The D.C. office of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU-DC) has also been at work. Last year, the organization sued MPD on behalf of Denise Price for its unlawful search of her Deanwood yard a week after her son, Jeffery Price, died in a dirt bike collision with a police cruiser.
This week, ACLU-DC supported the D.C. Police Reform Commission’s call for a transparent police chief selection process. Executive Director Monica Hopkins went further in suggesting that Newham’s successor not come from within MPD’s ranks. The ultimate goal, she said, should center on the installation of a police chief who, not only reflects the will of the people, but embraces widespread calls for defunding police and other reforms.
“The mayor could take a huge step forward to bring the community into her thinking for her vision about the next police chief,” said Hopkins.
“In other jurisdictions where these things happen, there’s a slate of candidates with people to meet in town hall presentations where the community asks them questions and facilitates the selection of a good candidate to get confirmed by the council. These decisions could have an effect on our city for decades to come.”