What to expect in the search for DC’s next police chief

WASHINGTON — For the first time in nearly 10 years, the “help wanted” sign is hanging outside the boss’s office at D.C. police headquarters.

Cathy Lanier, who has served as D.C. police chief since 2007, announced Tuesday she’s retiring next month and taking the top security job at the NFL in New York.

Now, officials and even Lanier herself are talking about what to look for in the search for D.C.’s next top cop.

At a Tuesday afternoon news conference, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said she will name an interim chief in the coming days and will then focus on “recruiting the right leader” for the department. Bowser said she will consider both internal candidates as well as department outsiders.

Bowser, a former D.C. council member, said she is familiar with the department and said she doesn’t think she needs a search firm to help recruit for the position.

“This is an agency I know very, very well,” Bowser said.

Lanier said Bowser should pick the candidate “she’s most comfortable with,” although the 26-year veteran of the force who rose through the ranks from patrol officer to chief, said there is already a “ton of talent” inside the agency.

“We couldn’t always say that,” she added. “And I wouldn’t be where I am today, and I wouldn’t have lasted 10 years if I didn’t have extremely talented people around me. I have to give credit where credit’s due … so I will always endorse them.”

Bowser’s pick needs to be approved by D.C. Council.

Kenyan McDuffie, chairman of the council’s judiciary committee, which oversees D.C. police, told WTOP he expects the Fraternal Order of Police and the public to weigh in on the pick.

“There’s going to be some challenges, and you lose some stability when you have somebody like that leave,” McDuffie said of Lanier’s departure.

McDuffie said he’s not opposed to a broad replacement search.

“But I absolutely think that candidates who have dedicated and demonstrated through their work a commitment to the District of Columbia should absolutely be considered for the top job,” he said.

Lanier earned the confidence of elected leaders and was well-regarded by the public, consistently ranking among the most popular D.C. city officials in opinion polls.

For the next chief, Stephen Bigelow, vice chair of the D.C. police union, said members of the rank-and-file are looking for someone who also communicates well with officers. Bigelow said the department is facing real challenges, including understaffing and recruiting.

The replacement is “somebody that’s got to know their officers, got to spend time with them, speak with them, got to see the challenges from their officers perspective,” Bigelow said.

Bigelow told WTOP his personal pick for chief is Robert Contee, the former commander of the 1st District, which includes H Street and Capitol Hill, and before that the 6th District. Contee was recently promoted to assistant chief.

“He’s a great leader, well-respected,” Bigelow said.

Lanier, herself, offered some advice for her still-unnamed successor.

“Always be honest and always be yourself,” she said at Tuesday’s news conference. “People not might like what you have to say, but if you’re telling the truth, that’s your job.”

WTOP’s Dick Uliano contributed to this report.

Jack Moore

Jack Moore joined WTOP.com as a digital writer/editor in July 2016. Previous to his current role, he covered federal government management and technology as the news editor at Nextgov.com, part of Government Executive Media Group.

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