IN ANNOUNCING longtime police officer Robert J. Contee III as her choice to be the city’s next police chief, D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said she did not consider anyone else for the job.
It is easy to understand why. Her nominee’s inspiring life story, his 31 years of experience on the force and the general accolades that greeted his selection seemingly make him the ideal choice to lead the department during a time of great challenge and change.
“I have not forgotten where I come from,” he said Tuesday. The assistant chief of the investigative services bureau, 48, described growing up in a Northeast Washington neighborhood wracked by the violence of the crack cocaine epidemic of the late 1980s. His father was a teenager when Assistant Chief Contee was born; the father sold and became addicted to drugs, but his later recovery has served as an inspiration to his son. Assistant Chief Contee credits his mother, along with school and neighbors, for keeping him on track. He joined the police force as a cadet while in high school and rose through the ranks, including as patrol officer, lieutenant, and district commander to his current position. He has had a front-row seat to the lows and highs of a department that was once notorious for its use of deadly force, became a model for reform, and now faces demands for a reimagining of police work. Assistant Chief Contee will take over as acting chief on Jan. 2 from departing Chief Peter Newsham, set to head the force in Prince William County, and, if confirmed by the D.C. Council, would become the first African American to lead the department since Charles Ramsey in the early 2000s. Councilmember Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), who chairs the committee that will conduct the confirmation hearings, said in a statement that he has known the assistant chief for many years and has “deep respect for him and his service.” But he promised rigorous review with involvement from the community. That’s how it should be. This is a critical job, and the stakes are high. Homicides are reaching a 15-year high, and there are demands to funnel money away from police into programs that take a public health approach to combating crime. “I don’t think it has to be an either-or approach,” Assistant Chief Contee told The Post’s Peter Hermann, who broke the news of his appointment. “We have way too many people dying in our city. . . . We need focused, balanced and fair law enforcement. I also see value in some of the public health approaches that have been discussed.” Among his goals: setting a standard of excellence for policing for the 21st century, reducing violent crime, getting repeat offenders off the streets, and building community-police relationships. All right and reasonable, and we look forward to hearing more.