The announcement by D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham that he will be become the new leader of Prince William County, Va.’s police department next year has District leaders and residents talking about his departure and contributions and who will replace him permanently.
On Nov. 25, District residents learned of Newsham’s departure to the suburban county. D.C. Council member Anita Bonds (D-At Large), who sits on the Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety that oversees the police department, was among the first of the city leaders who have scrutinized him to react.
“Many will miss his service, as his career spans three decades, of which a portion was engaged in modernizing the department and rebuilding morale within the force following the decade-ago findings by the U.S. Justice Department of police brutality against the force,” Bonds said in a statement.
“In fact, when Chief Newsham followed Chief Cathy Lanier in the role, many assumed that robust community support would automatically follow this position. Many others remember with frustration his immediate tenure marred by the continuous escalation of gun activity, violence and countless murders plaguing neighborhoods and taking the lives of our youth. And so, for many he departs without broad confidence in his style of policing. I wish him the best.”
Ronald Hampton, a retired District police officer who serves as a member of the city’s police reform commission said Newsham’s departure didn’t surprise him.
“The life span of a D.C. police chief is three to five years,” he said. “Chief Newsham is [associated with] some good things, such as emphasizing racial understanding in the ranks. He has decided to move on.”
Kathy Henderson, a former Ward 5 advisory neighborhood commissioner who has twice been hailed by Newsham for her support of the police department’s efforts in the community, said she’s not happy about Newsham’s departure, hailing him as “an excellent law enforcement officer.”
“In doing his job he had the patience of Job. He had the ability to connect to the community in a variety of settings. He had the respect of the rank-and-file officers,” she said.
Retired D.C. police officer Lowell Duckett said Newsham knew the city and how it worked.
“Newsham understood the dynamics of the Black and white communities,” he said. “He worked well within the structure of the police department and in the political system.”
Newsham said he will start his new job on Feb. 1, 2021. In the meantime, Bowser said she plans to have an interim police chief in place “soon.” Hampton thinks Newsham’s replacement should be Robert Contee, the assistant chief of the investigative services bureau, a D.C. native and Spingarn High School graduate.
“Assistant Chief Robert Contee knows the city well,” Hampton said. “He is respected by the politicians and the residents. Contee should be the interim chief and the chief in my opinion.”
Contee’s career with the Metropolitan Police Department began in November 1989 as a cadet. He was sworn in as a patrol officer three years later and has climbed through the ranks steadily including command positions in the Second, Sixth and First districts and posts in the Special Operations Division, the professional development bureau and the recruiting division.
In April 2017, Contee became the Chief of Patrol Services South which encompasses the First, Sixth and Seventh Districts. In March 2018, he received the promotion to his present position from Newsham.
Contee holds a bachelor’s degree in professional studies with a concentration in police science from George Washington University and has completed the Management College at the Institute for Law Enforcement Administration and the Senior Management Institute for Police at the Police Executive Research Forum in Boston.
Duckett agrees with Hampton, saying Contee would be an excellent choice for police chief.
“The next police chief should be someone who is best for the city,” he said. “Contee grew up in D.C. around cops and he is aware of what is going on in the Black community. He has the temperament to be the chief and is second to none in that regard. Contee is very intelligent and knows the streets.”
Henderson said she knows Contee.
“He is a stellar law enforcement officer,” she said.