For D.C. police, 2022 ended with the loss of more than 200 people to violent crimes, a number that police chief Robert Contee said is “completely unacceptable” even as overall crime declined last year.
“Last year, 203 people lost their lives to senseless violence in our city. That’s 203 too many, period,” Contee wrote in a message to the community Sunday, in which he lay blame for the grim toll on an epidemic of illegal gun violence that is “tearing life from our city.”
However, Contee also noted a roughly 7% reduction in violent crimes compared to 2021 — when there were 226 killings — while acknowledging that these statistics don’t comfort victims’ families.
“It is up to all of us, as we start 2023, to do everything in our power to continue the downward trend of violence in the District of Columbia,” Contee wrote.
The chief added that the year also marked a record number of illegal guns retrievals, the continued use of “an intelligence-led policing strategy,” and a focus on community policing. Contee said the most important tool police have is power of the community in helping solve violent crimes.
“We all have the opportunity to continue the downward trend of crime in our neighborhoods and hold people accountable,” Contee said.
Contee’s message comes after a year of growing concern about violent crime involving guns.
“This is what scares the hell out of people,” Contee told members of the D.C Council in October. “It’s the feeling that people have of being unsafe, and that has to be acknowledged.”
It also follows a year brimming with continued scrutiny of policing in D.C., including the revelation that the department had paid more than $91 million dollars between 2010 and 2020 to settle police misconduct cases in the District.
A report in June from the Office of Police Complaints showed a steep racial divide in reported use of force by D.C. officers.
And in December, D.C. police officers Terence Sutton and Andrew Zabavsky were found guilty in December for the death of 20-year-old Karon Hylton-Brown, who was hit and killed during a police chase in 2020.
Nevertheless, police union representatives have blamed the more than 200 homicides in 2022 on “anti-police legislation” passed by the D.C. Council. Union Chair Gregg Pemberton told WTOP that the measures passed over the previous years limited stops based on reasonable suspicion or placed a heavy amount of work and liability on officers, discouraging them from doing their jobs.
“The message that’s received by the rank and file police officer is that the city doesn’t want them engaging in … responsible, proactive police work. They want them sitting in their cars, sitting on the corner, and just telling citizens that they’re around,” Pemberton said, adding that it led to the violence.
Some of the measures passed by the D.C. Council in recent years include the requirement that D.C. police officers be identified and body camera footage released if they use deadly force.