In 1991, D.C. suffered the infamous designation as the “Murder Capital” of the United States, a theme that resounded worldwide. A city that was struggling with a crack epidemic and violent crime ended the year with 482 murders.
Isaac Fulwood, a native Washingtonian, was chief of the Metropolitan Police Department at that time. A graduate of Eastern High School, Fulwood joined the ranks of MPD in 1964 and was assigned to the Fifth District. He was appointed police chief by Mayor-for-Life Marion Barry, who was arrested five months later by federal authorities on drug charges. Fulwood’s younger brother, who also struggled with drug addiction and imprisonment, was reportedly shot to death in a drug-related altercation shortly after Fulwood retired.
In 1991, a young Robert Contee was a member of the MPD Police Cadet program. He was a 17-year-old high school senior at Spingarn High School who officially joined the force in 1992. Thirty years later, Chief Contee stands where former Chief Fulwood stood, in a city facing a global health pandemic, an opioid crisis, violent crime, and a staggering murder rate.
Chief Fulwood died Sept. 1, 2017. When he resigned, he told a Washington Post reporter that he felt “haunted” by “the record number of homicides, the record number of young, Black men killed needlessly.” And he regretted having to put so many Black males behind bars. He told the reporter that being a police chief is a “taxing job that can leave you scarred.”
Every day at every press conference related to a shooting death, particularly when a child is involved, it is becoming more evident that Chief Contee is experiencing those scars. What more can he say, or could Chief Fulwood say, about another senseless murder?
The good news is that Chief Fulwood’s success in eventually reducing the murder rate came after he resigned. He is credited for introducing community policing. He understood the need and advocated for drug treatment, and he rallied the community to engage with violence reduction and prevention efforts. His initiatives made a difference.
MPD reported 137 homicides as of August 31, which means, hopefully, history will not repeat itself this year. Chief Contee has seen this before, which is why he sought this position for which he spent years in the department preparing. His officers are capturing the perpetrators with the community’s support and putting them behind bars where they will remain with the help of the courts. He’s reinforcing community policing, getting rid of bad cops while addressing the mental health needs of the good ones.
Chief Contee needs to know that he is not alone in this fight to end murders. He needs to believe that the community is fighting with him and that Chief Fulwood, may he rest in peace, is cheering him on.