‘My heart will always be here’: DC police Chief Contee shares why he’s leaving after 33 years

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 16: Outgoing Washington, DC Chief of Police Robert Contee testify before the House Oversight and Accountability Committee in the Rayburn House Office Building on May 16, 2023 in Washington, DC. The committee held an oversight hearing on Washington, D.C. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)(Getty Images/Kevin Dietsch)

On his last working day on the job, D.C. Police Chief Robert Contee reflected back on his more than three decades on the force, acknowledging the personal toll being D.C.’s top cop takes and why he feels he’s leaving this chapter of his career on his own terms.

Last month, Contee surprised just about everyone in public safety when the mayor announced he was leaving to work with the FBI as a new assistant director of its Office of Partner Engagement. Contee joined the DC Police Department as a 17-year-old cadet and rose through the ranks under multiple administrations and other chiefs.

“Interestingly enough, there were people back then who’d say, ‘You’re going to be chief one day!'” Contee told WTOP in an exit interview. “No, really, people said that. And I just wanted to be a sergeant!”

Contee said as a “kid coming from Carver Terrace” — a neighborhood in Northeast D.C. — he was proud to make it on the force. “And then be able to make it to a sergeant,” he added. “Like, that was like the high for me,” Contee said.

Still, there were points in his career he considered leaving the department, specifically in the 1990s under Chief Charles Ramsey when crime in the city was particularly high. Now, he sits in that same position and is ready to hang up his uniform for the opportunity of a lifetime.

“It feels awesome. It really does. You know, I’ve dedicated my life, to public service to the citizens of the District of Columbia, being a kid from the city,” he said. “I mean, that is a great honor. And now, to be able to transition to something different — it feels great,” he said.

Contee believes his new position as a deputy director with the FBI will be easier on his family and allow him to use his experience to improve the bureau’s understanding of local policing. The new job will also allow Contee some work-life balance.

“To be perfectly honest … the weight of the role and responsibility as chief of police of any major city police department, you know, it’s a great weight to carry, it really is.

He pointed to the “toll that being in this role — and being on a bubble all the time — that it takes on you” and also the impact on his family.

“My daughter is going off to college, and my son, he’s 10 years of age,” Contee said. “And he wants to see more of his dad, not less of his dad,” Contee said.

Contee plans to take a family trip with his son and family to Florida and enjoy the Memorial Day weekend before beginning his new position.

“My heart will always be here. But I know when I hear those sirens, it’s never because of a good thing. So to understand and be able to detach from that a little bit — that’s not a bad thing,” he said.

The mayor named Executive Assistant Chief Ashan Benedict to serve as interim chief until a new chief is recruited and approved by the D.C. Council.

“She wants a leader and she wants a crime fighter,” Contee said, about what qualities D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser is looking for in a new leader. “And those are two great qualities in any police chief. I would add … that you want a police chief who is empathetic and you want a police chief who is compassionate for people. I think those are great qualities. And if you get that combination, I think you have a person — who may not be liked by everybody — but I certainly think will bring a level of integrity to the position,” Contee said of his successor.

His last official day with the city is June 3.

Megan Cloherty

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

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