DC police chief raises concerns over shrinking force, officer morale

In a Zoom conference with the head of the Greater Washington Board of Trade Wednesday night, D.C. Police Chief Robert Contee expressed concern about the shrinking size of the city’s police department and morale among its officers.

When asked about the morale of his officers by Jack McDougal, president of the Greater Washington Board of Trade, Contee replied, “it’s a mixed answer.”

“I think we’re doing ok, but I’d be lying if I said to you the members aren’t impacted by the environment and everything that’s been going on,” Contee said.

Without specifying a particular proposed police reform, Contee said there’s a lot of discussion about “legislating law enforcement officers into certain things,” and some career officers are making career choices based on that.

“Right now, our rate of separation, we’re up 11% over what was projected for this time last year…it is very significant for us when we’re not having classes in the police academy to kind of backfield those people who are separating from the department,” Contee said.

Contee said a lack of recruits could, for example, impact veteran officers’ schedules.

“If I’m an officer with Wednesday and Thursday as days off and there are no new recruits coming out of the academy any time soon, I might be sitting in that spot for some time. That impacts my morale,” Contee said. ” When I have to work 12-hour shifts, and I can’t see my son or my daughter, that impacts my morale.”

Calls have resonated across the country to cut police department budgets following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police last year. However, Contee said, the voices of those impacted the most by crime in D.C. aren’t being heard.

Lastly, Contee said he’s concerned about the size of the police force getting smaller and not being able to help residents, calling it “a real issue.”

“When we have over 700,000 residents, and as I look around and see all these cranes and new buildings going up, a lot of people see progress,” Contee said. “I also see calls for service that our police officers are going to have to respond to.”

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Dick Uliano

Whether anchoring the news inside the Glass-Enclosed Nerve Center or reporting from the scene in Maryland, Virginia or the District, Dick Uliano is always looking for the stories that really impact people's lives.

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