DC police’s Peter Newsham named Prince William Co.’s new police chief

WTOP Reporter Neal Augenstein speaks to Dimitri Sotis about Peter Newsham's new job in Prince William County

D.C. police Chief Peter Newsham has been hired as the new police chief for Prince William County, Virginia.

He is expected to start his new post Feb. 1, hoping to stay on through Inauguration Day, he said first on WTOP.

“This will be my eighth inauguration by my count,” said Newsham, who added that D.C. police are very proud to be involved in the event.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser thanked Newsham for his 31 years of service to the people of D.C. She said an interim chief will be announced soon.

D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson said that the council stands ready to work with Bowser to find the best candidate to replace Newsham.

“During his time as Chief, he led the department through a time of great change and challenge for our city and our nation, and we appreciate his distinguished service to the District,” Bowser said in a statement.

Mendelson said that he’s surprised at the news of Newsham’s decision to leave, and he is sorry to see him go after three decades and a lot of service to D.C.

“Yet this presents an opportunity to try new approaches to law enforcement and new strategies to fight violent crime. We’re losing a good cop, but sometimes a fresh face can be a good, too,” Mendelson said.

D.C. Council Member Charles Allen, of Ward 6, thanked Newsham for his service in a statement Wednesday, and added that the opening at the top of D.C.’s police force came at “a critical moment.”

He added, “The nation is changing, and law enforcement in the District – and what we expect from a chief of police – must evolve, as well.”

Allen said the goals for the next new chief should include “tackling the systemic racism that exists in our city and within policing culture, promoting a public health approach to eliminating violence, and using the law and Constitution to demonstrate empathy, humility, innovation, and vision.”

New challenge

Newsham said that he’s very excited for the new challenge in Prince William County.

“We are happy to welcome Chief Newsham to Prince William County and the level of expertise he brings to the position,” County Executive Chris Martino said in a news release.

The county conducted a nationwide search with a public survey and a competitive hiring process. Newsham said that when the opportunity came around, he took advantage of it.

“It will be very different, but I’ve been fortunate in Washington, D.C., to gain a lot of police experience,” Newsham said.

He feels that he can bring a lot of that experience as he heads what he called an already “very successful police department” in Prince William County.

“Chief Newsham brings a wealth of experience and leadership to this position,” Prince William County Board of Supervisors Chair-At-Large Ann Wheeler said.

Coles District Supervisor Yesli Vega said that she is confident Newsham’s experiences in D.C. have well-equipped him to lead the county police department.

“As the highest-ranking officer in the capital of the free world, he’s seen everything there is to see,” Vega said.

Newsham has been the head of the District’s police department since 2017. Before that, he was the interim chief after Cathy Lanier stepped down to work for the NFL.

He has been with the department since 1989 and had been assistant chief of police since 2002 before being named acting chief.

DC Police Union Chairman Gregg Pemberton wished Newsham the best in his new role and said his contributions over more than 30 years in D.C. will not be forgotten.

“The Union now looks forward to providing some input on Mayor Bowser’s selection for the next permanent Chief of Police,” Pemberton said.

Police reforms

Newsham leaves his post several months after the D.C. Council voted to approve emergency legislation that includes sweeping police reforms.

Newsham has spoken about underfunding police, saying funding is “required for recruitment and hiring of the best people, people who are service-minded and look at this job in that regard.”

He expressed concern about cuts to his department’s budget — attributed to the city’s expenses and lost revenue from the coronavirus pandemic.

Bowser criticized a council vote in July to cut $15 million from D.C. police, saying “they made the District less safe.”

“What doesn’t seem to make common sense to me is to reduce the size of the police department. That, in effect, is what the chairman of the Judiciary Committee is recommending that we do. So, I disagree with that stance,” Newsham told WTOP in June.

Citing 600,000 annual calls for help, increasing violence, a growing population and daily demonstrations, Newsham said he doesn’t think he has enough police officers as it is.

“I can say as the chief of police, I am not comfortable right now with all the responsibilities we have here in Washington, D.C.” Newsham said.

In July, Council member David Grosso said that Newsham should be removed from his post because he thinks Newsham has a pattern of unfairly cracking down on protesters, not striving to find ways to better serve the Black community and lashing out at council members when something goes wrong for him.

Grosso’s call for Newsham’s removal came after the American Civil Liberties Union accused D.C. police of being involved in the June 1 chemical-aided clearing of protesters at Lafayette Square ahead of President Donald Trump’s visit to St. John’s Episcopal Church.

Newsham denied that his officers were involved in supporting the action against protesters ahead of Trump’s walk through the square.

WTOP’s Scott Gelman, Neal Augenstein, Megan Cloherty and WTOP staff contributed to this report.

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