Robert J. Contee III, a DC native and veteran local cop, has been named the District’s new police chief.
Contee will replace DC’s outgoing chief Peter Newsham, who announced in November that he was departing the post in order to run the police force in Prince William County, Va.
Over the course of his four years as DC’s police chief, and especially this year—during the protests that followed the May 25 police killing of George Floyd in Minnesota—Newsham found himself at the center of criticism. “Many D.C. Council members felt that predominantly African American neighborhoods were overpoliced, and that Newsham did not readily embrace changes they felt were needed,” The Post reported. “Newsham accused lawmakers of not fully grasping the devastating toll of violence that he was charged with curbing.”
Contee, who’s been on the force for more than three decades, will take charge of the department on an acting basis in early January, prior to the D.C. Council’s confirmation vote, The Post reported.
If confirmed, Contee will face a difficult set of challenges in the new role. In addition to addressing the use of force issues that attracted national attention in the wake of George Floyd’s killing, he will also content with a troubling spike in murders in the city. As of early December, the city had recorded 187 homicides in 2020 so far—the city’s highest tally in 15 years.
While many cities in the past few decades have moved towards conducting national searches and hiring police chiefs from elsewhere, Contee, as an internal hire, does not fit that model. On the one hand, the Northeast DC native would not need to learn his way around town. On the other, he would be less well positioned to cast himself as an agent of wholesale change.
All of this also takes place against the backdrop of the demographic changes that have transformed the District’s population over the past couple of decades. Though the MPD was led by African American police chiefs for nearly all of the first three decades of home rule, Contee would be the first Black police chief since 2007. Though the police department’s racial makeup remains somewhat more heavily minority than the District at large, the share of white officers has also grown, even as the national conversation about minorities and police has become more urgent.