DC police killed more people in 2021, and the police chief says he knows why

More people died at the hands of D.C. police officers in 2021 than in 2020, and the city’s police chief believes it’s due in part to a rise in violence and the stress it puts on officers in the field.

Police Chief Robert Contee told the D.C. Council’s Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety on Thursday that D.C. police officers shot and killed five people and injured 11 more in 2021. The Office of Police Complaints report from last year said two people were killed by officers in 2020. (Its report on 2021 data is not yet released.)

Preliminary data from the FBI indicates 2021 resulted in more officer deaths than in any year since 2001. And that violence has led to more citizens losing their lives at the hands of an officer, Contee said.

“I have been open with the public when officers use force, including when I don’t think it is consistent with our standards,” Contee told the committee. “That same candor means I will also tell you that the level of violence on the streets and the unrelenting stress on officers have an impact on the use of force.”

Staffing shortages don’t help the situation either, Contee said. The mayor has the authority to require overtime from officers for large-scale events that have a potential to turn violent; in fiscal 2020, that resulted in more than 1.1 million hours of overtime worked.

“The use of overtime is a necessary tool. But it’s not a good solution, as it contributes to employee stress, illness, injury, and burnout,” Contee said.

The department has a new Use of Force general order, and every officer has been trained in them. The department also hired two data scientists to clean and publish data daily, which now will include Use of Force data.

“We are also training all MPD members on active bystandership for law enforcement to ensure that we are holding each other accountable for meeting high standards. We are continuing negotiations with the union to begin releasing the outcomes of serious use of force investigations to the public,” he said.

The department has also reconstituted the Force Investigation Team and issued revised Use of Force and less-lethal weapons policies.

Megan Cloherty

WTOP Investigative Reporter Megan Cloherty primarily covers breaking news, crime and courts.

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up