Acting DC police chief on the changes he’d make if made permanent

D.C.’s acting police chief fielded questions on police training, community outreach and more from D.C. Council members who will help decide whether he gets the position permanently.

Robert Contee was named interim chief of the Metropolitan Police Department in January; he was born and raised in the District and has spent his 30-year career working his way up the ranks.

Appearing before the D.C. Council’s Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety on Thursday, Contee talked about “active bystandership for law enforcement” — explaining that it’s an officer’s duty to get involved when they see another cop’s misconduct.

“I want officers trained on that intervention, what it should look like, how to actually do it,” Contee said. “We’re already starting that with our professional development training for this year.”

“Maybe George Floyd would be alive today if one of those officers actually knew how to intervene — one of the new officers who were there — even if it was just to pull him away from George Floyd.”

Contee said during his opening statement that he wants to increase training for officers in several areas, including de-escalation and behavioral health.

Asked what he finds most challenging, Contee said he regrets the lack of options for early interventions for young residents known to need help.

“We put them right back into the environment where they have no structure, where there is educational neglect, where Mom may not have any control, or like my Dad — if you have a chemical-dependent parent — really putting the onus on them like they’re going to magically one day fix the problem,” Contee said.

The chief noted there are numbers of programs available through the judicial system that aren’t offered to teens until they become “system-involved,” perhaps charged with murder as 13- or 15-year-olds.

“On my belt I have a telephone, I have handcuffs and I have a firearm,” Contee said. “I don’t like to use my firearm. I would not like to use my handcuffs. What I would like to do is be able to pick up the phone and connect kids and other people in crisis to services.”

Contee said he has ordered every bureau in the department to have at least one community outreach engagement activity a month. The IT Bureau, for example, will go into the community to work with seniors with their cellular devices, take viruses off their computers or help with whatever they may need.

Contee said a core issue for the community is trust in the police department, and trust within the department.

In his testimony, he said:

I am commissioning a national organization to conduct an organizational health assessment to review MPD’s policies and practices related to diversity, inclusion, and equity in multiple areas, including race, gender, and sexual orientation, in functional domains such as recruiting and training, supervision, promotional processes, EEO processes, and internal investigations. External to the agency, the review will focus on the delivery of police services and ensuring unbiased policing efforts. The review will include a specific focus on extremism, hate speech, and white supremacy – assessing processes and practices to eliminate the impacts of each within the Department.”

As for transparency, Contee said, “You talk about the things that are wrong and you work on fixing it. And let them judge you by the things that have been corrected.”

Contee said he doesn’t think it’s necessary to require officers to live in the city.

“What I see is committed officers coming from all walks of life. They are as dynamic as our city is dynamic,” Contee said.

The public can submit written statements, which will be made part of the public record, until the close of business on Monday, March 29. That can be done by emailing judiciary@dccouncil.us.

The next step in Contee’s review process will be the council committee vote; no date has been announced. After that, if he receives at least three votes, the nomination is voted on once by the entire council.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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