Robert J. Contee III was sworn in as the chief of the Metropolitan Police Department on Jan. 2, following the resignation of former Chief of Police Peter Newsham in November.
Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) decided to stay within the MPD when selecting the new police chief, as she did when nominating Newsham in 2017. Contee was born and raised in Washington, D.C., joined the MPD in 1989 and currently serves as the department’s assistant chief of the investigative services bureau. In Contee’s time on the force, he served as a patrol officer and led three of the city’s seven police districts. Contee is the city’s first Black police chief since Charles Ramsey, who resigned in 2006.
Less than one week into his new post, Contee responded to a breach of the United States Capitol building by pro-Trump rioters Jan. 6. On the afternoon of the riots, Contee and MPD forces were requested to assist United States Capitol Police in their defense of the Capitol after security boundaries were overwhelmed by rioters.
The U.S. Capitol Police underestimated the threat that the rioters posed to the building’s security, according to Contee.
“I believe that there was a miscalculation on what they were actually going to be dealing with on their part,” Contee said on “The Kojo Nnamdi Show.” “I did not make that miscalculation with respect to the Metropolitan Police Department.”
The new police chief was faced with preparations for the inauguration of President Joe Biden amid concern about further political unrest.
“We’re even more heightened, alert as a result of what happened,” Contee said. “I am right now — I will be meeting with the command staff of the Metropolitan Police Department here in short order to talk about what our posture is going to be going forward in the coming weeks. The National Guard is still deployed in our city, and they will be deployed through inauguration.”
In the weeks before the insurrection, D.C. government officials praised the decision to appoint Contee. In a Dec. 22 press briefing announcing her pick, Bowser spoke about Contee’s potential to shape a forward-thinking police department.
“With all that he has seen, he is confident that MPD can lead the way and serve as a blueprint for a modern-day police department, a department that can be used in new and better ways to reduce violent crime and continue to engage the community,” Bowser said.
“There is no one more apt to fill the position,” the D.C. Police Union said in a tweet following Contee’s nomination.
D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine also communicated his support for Contee in a Dec. 22 statement.
“Chief Contee knows from growing up in the District and serving in the Metropolitan Police Department for over 30 years that community trust is critical to reducing crime,” Racine said in the statement. “I am confident that he will directly engage with District residents to learn about their hopes and needs.”
During the Tuesday press briefing, Contee spoke about his family and childhood, discussing his experiences in a neighborhood marked by poverty and crime. He also touched on his future vision for the department, emphasizing his commitments to safety and compassion.
“I have not forgotten where I come from,” Contee said. “These life experiences will help me to lead and guide the men and women of the Metropolitan Police Department.”
The D.C. Police Reform Commission, formed in June 2020 following nationwide protests against police shootings of Black citizens, recommended several operational changes to MPD, including greater community engagement and interaction.
Following Newsham’s resignation, the Commission called for a community feedback process in the selection of the new chief that would seek input from marginalized communities in D.C.
“It is imperative that the selection panel take special consideration of the communities who have the most contact with the Department,” the Commission wrote in a Dec. 15 statement. “Washingtonians who reside East of the river have historically been the most heavily policed and impacted by DC’s public safety policies and practices. It will also be critical to elevate the voices of the District’s communities of color, immigrant communities, LGBTQ communities, homeless communities, and the disabilities community.”
Despite the commission’s request, D.C. residents were not offered a suitable opportunity to give input on the new hiring, according to Racine.
“I do believe the community should have been engaged in the process, and that we missed an opportunity to actually have a conversation with the community as to how they want to be policed,” Racine said to DCist.
More community engagement would have brought more trust to the relationship between the MPD and D.C. citizens, according to Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large). “Conducting a public search process that sought meaningful community engagement on a nominee would have gone a long way to build critical trust in D.C.’s next police chief,” Grosso wrote in a tweet.