Mayor Bowser appoints new MPD police chief

January 20, 2021

An MPD car sits parked. Wikimedia Commons

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser appointee Robert J. Contee III replaced outgoing Peter Newsham as chief of the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department (MPD). Sworn in on Jan. 2, Contee assumed leadership of the MPD as tensions are at an all-time high in D.C. following the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol by members of far-right extremist groups.

Contee is a D.C. native, growing up in D.C.’s Carver Langston neighborhood in Ward 5 and joining the MPD as a cadet in 1989 while a senior in high school. Contee gained his first opportunities in the MPD during former D.C. Mayor Marion Barry’s summer youth leadership programs. 

After 31 years as an officer in the MPD, Contee has held positions as a patrol officer, a lieutenant and commander for the First, Second, and Sixth Districts, and assistant chief of the Investigative Services Bureau. His former positions as an assistant chief for two bureaus have allowed Contee to gain experience as an overseer of the police academy, human resources, criminal investigations, and youth programs.

Contee will now lead 4,400 members of the MPD. Contee’s promotion comes after former chief Peter Newsham resigned to become the police chief for Virginia’s Prince William County. While he is acting police chief, the D.C. Council will conduct a confirmation process and public hearing to approve Contee’s nomination.

Contee has highlighted one of his goals as police chief to reduce the number of illegal firearms on D.C. streets. According to retired Police Lieutenant Brett Parson, who led the MPD’s LGBT Liaison Unit, Contee has a record of support for the LGBTQ community as an officer. 

“Our city, agency, and the LGBTQ+ community will benefit from his leadership, vision, and compassion for others,” Parson said in the Washington Blade.

Contee becomes chief of the MPD at a particularly unstable time for D.C. police forces. Four days after being sworn in, D.C. faced unprecedented violence in a Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol building by pro-Trump insurgents while Congress met to discuss the certification of the 2020 presidential election results. On Jan. 8, Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund resigned from his office following the failure of Capitol Police to stop rioters breaching Capitol grounds. To ensure D.C. security during President Biden’s inauguration and in the days to follow, the District is currently under a lockdown after Mayor Bowser announced an emergency declaration extending through Jan. 24.

Contee enters office while public skepticism of officers from D.C. forces swells. Two Capitol Police officers have been suspended after aiding pro-Trump rioters on Jan. 6, one of whom took selfies with insurgents. Ten more officers are under investigation for improper behavior during the attack. 

Contee also heads up the MPD following a summer of Black Lives Matter protests sparked by the murder of George Floyd by Minnesota police officers and a long history of American police brutality. Officers in D.C. and in cities across the nation were criticized in 2020 over excessive force against unarmed protestors. 

D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine expressed support for Contee’s nomination as a chief who will attempt to reduce divides between MPD officers and D.C. communities.

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 wrote in a statement from the attorney general’s office. “I trust that Chief Contee hears the calls for racial justice ringing across the country and will work to address the District’s structural barriers to equality.”

Sarah Watson
Sarah is the former Spring 2022 Editor-in-Chief and a senior in the SFS studying Regional and Comparative Studies. She is a national park enthusiast and really just wants to talk about mountains.

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