In what was probably not a major surprise, Mayor Muriel Bowser announced today, Feb. 23, that she had named Peter J. Newsham to be the city’s Metropolitan Police Chief.
Newsham, a 28-year veteran of the force, had been serving as interim chief since September, after the resignation of Cathy Lanier, the longtime and popular chief who left to become head of security for the National Football League.
Signs had been pointing to Newsham’s selection over the last two months. The search committee had appeared to be focusing on choosing a chief from within the MPD, as opposed to someone from outside.
In the end, it also appeared that Newsham — who, among his many prior positions, was head of the second district, which includes Georgetown — got the job the old fashioned way. He earned it.
It was pretty clear from the start that Newsham wanted the job, and that he had the experience to be seriously considered. Getting the nod for the interim position (sometimes not entirely a blessing) created the opportunity for him to proactively occupy the top spot. Already a familiar face in all parts of the city, he appeared at announcements, at crime scenes and at meetings as the face of the police department.
The more time passed, the better Newsham looked as chief. He had a commanding presence, but he was also down-to-earth and accessible. But what likely clinched things was the performance of the police force under his leadership during inauguration weekend in January.
Few police departments in large cities have ever quite had the challenge of huge back-to-back, citywide, media- and crowd-drawing events as the 2017 inauguration of President Donald Trump, followed the next day by an even bigger event, the Women’s March on Washington. The latter, which jammed the streets for the better part of the day, had close to half a million attendees — the inauguration not so many, but still a considerable number.
While there were groups, sometimes large, of demonstrators during the inauguration, police contained things, including the sporadically violent activities of one group of demonstrators (200 or so were arrested). It was an efficient and effective show of law enforcement forces, who helped to make both events relatively peaceful, avoiding potential disasters.
Mayor Bowser seemed to think so. “As we continue our work in creating a safer, stronger D.C., I am confident that Chief Newsham has the skills and relationships to successfully lead our police force. He understands and believes in community policing, and he is trusted by the community.
“As interim chief, Peter Newsham has been reliable and consistent,” Bowser said at the press announcement. “Last month, Chief Newsham oversaw the very successful presidential inauguration, as well as the Women’s March on Washington. With the eyes of the world on us, our officers stepped up to the plate and performed. He ensured that the hundreds of thousands of people who came to D.C. had a peaceful expeience.”
Newsham joined the force in 1989 and served as assistant chief for 14 years. In 2008, he was named assistant chief and head of the Investigative Services Bureau, the department responsible for investigating violent property crimes, sexual assault and narcotics crimes. He also oversaw the MPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau.
Newsham joined the force when D.C. was known as the murder capital of the nation. As time passed, crime dropped and homicides moved to their lowest number: 88 in 2012. They have risen again since then, soaring to 162 in 2015 but dropping again last year.