Bowser Names Robert Contee New Chief of Police
By December 23, 2020 0 933•
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced on Dec. 22 that she has named 31-year Metropolitan Police Department veteran Robert J. Contee III as the District’s next chief of police.
In tapping Contee, 48, a native Washingtonian who began his career in 1989 as an MPD cadet and quickly rose through the ranks, Bowser chose to forgo a nationwide search to replace outgoing Chief Peter Newsham. Since 2018, Contee has served as assistant chief of the Investigative Services Bureau.
According to several city officials, Contee’s appointment is likely to help stem the District’s recent crime wave, continue the department’s reform efforts and provide Georgetown with experienced policing.
At the news conference announcing the appointment, the mayor expressed confidence that Contee will find “new and better ways to reduce violent crime while continuing to engage the community.” Contee will step into his new role on an acting basis, pending confirmation by the District Council, on Jan. 2. (On Dec. 15, the Council confirmed the appointment of John A. Donnelly Sr. as chief of DC Fire and EMS.)
“I have not forgotten where I came from,” Contee said, upon his introduction by Bowser. “Many of the challenges and traumas experienced by so many young people today were very real and present in my community, but also in my home.”
Having grown up in the District’s impoverished Carver-Langston neighborhood during the crack epidemic of the late 1980s, Contee observed over-policing and police brutality firsthand. According to the Washington Post, “that perspective has given him added credibility at a time when the city is working to overhaul policing.” Though his father was a teenager addicted to crack, Contee kept his life on track with the help of his mother, his school and caring neighbors.
Promising to “listen intently and learn from our communities,” Contee vowed to work toward policing that is “inclusive and aligned with the values of communities we serve,” reported WTOP, which quoted DC Police Union Chairman Gregg Pemberton’s description of Contee as “a really well-respected member of the police department.”
Though the sidestepping of a nationwide search was decried by the ACLU and police reform activists, Contee’s appointment received immediate endorsements from key officials. In published reports, Chief Peter Newsham — who is leaving to become the police chief of Virginia’s Prince William County (read The Georgetowner’s exclusive interview HERE) — said that he “could not be more proud” of Contee. Vincent Gray, former mayor and Ward 7 Council member, stated that Contee “brings a passion for MPD, the District and its residents that is matched only by his proven proficiency.” Ward 8 Council member Trayon White Sr. said Contee “is able to bolster a great balance between community and law enforcement.”
Ward 6 Council member Charles Allen, who chairs the Council’s Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, released a statement reassuring the public that they will have a voice in the confirmation process. It reads, in part: “This moment demands someone prepared to tackle systemic racism in the District and within policing culture, repair relationships in the communities served by MPD, advance a public health approach to eliminating violence and use the law and Constitution to demonstrate empathy, humility, innovation and vision.”
In an interview with WTOP, D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine said that he would have preferred an open search process to allow public input: “Nationally and locally, there’s a massive discussion going on around crime and justice, fairness and policing … I think [it] would have been an informative process.” However, he added, “I can tell you that I believe that Chief Contee [will be] the chief who embraces data and evidence” and will welcome “the opportunity to innovate, in particular, around reducing unnecessary incarceration while keeping the public safe.”
Contee’s years of MPD experience should prove helpful in stemming the rise of crime in Georgetown. He not only served as a former patrol sergeant in the Second District, which includes Georgetown, but later led the area’s intelligence branch and, in 2004, was promoted to Second District commander.
“There’s room at the table for anyone and everyone who is committed to ensuring focused, balanced and fair policing in our nation’s capital,” Contee said. “It’s time to go to work. Let’s go.”