D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser named Robert Contee the new Chief of Police for the Metropolitan Police Department. (Courtesy Photo)

By Micha Green
AFRO D.C. Editor
mgreen@afro.com

When native Washingtonian Robert Contee became a full-time cadet in 1989, his first assignment was as an assistant to then Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) Chief Isaac Fullwood.  On Dec. 22, 31 years later, Mayor Muriel Bowser appointed Contee Chief of Police. 

“So in a full circle moment, he is now before us, he is being appointed Chief of that very Department,” said Bowser proudly at a press conference on Dec. 22.  “His dedication and his mix then, of both talent and energy and love of the city, made him the Cadet of the Year .”

In his over three decades with MPD, Contee has climbed the ranks, serving as commander of three of the seven police districts and led three of the Department’s five bureaus, a resume, Bowser said, makes the new Chief of Police prepared to lead the nation’s capital into the next phase of protecting and serving the community.

“With all that he has seen, he is confident that MPD can lead the way and serve as a blueprint for a modern day police department- a department that can be used for new and better ways to reduce violent crime and continue to engage the community,” the Mayor explained.

However, when Contee spoke, his resume was not as important as his story- the trials he overcame as a young boy from 21st N.E that led him to serving as D.C.’s new Chief of Police.

“To really understand the man before you, you must appreciate the boy from whence he came,” Contee said before going into a passionate and transparent speech recounting his childhood. 

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser named Robert Contee the new Chief of Police for the Metropolitan Police Department. (Courtesy Photo)

“Back then, especially in the 1980s and 90s, life was not easy in my neighborhood.  Many of the challenges and traumas experienced by so many young people today, were very real and present in my community, but also in my home.  Shootings, murders, crime, poverty, joblessness, hopelessness, domestic violence, education and health disparities were all very present in the community.  More closely in my home, I recall the mental impact of drug use and abuse.  You see my father was 17 years old when I was born, and he not only sold drugs, but he was sick with addiction before I was born into this world.  I knew the smell of marijuana as a young kid, I remember the smell of PCP packaged in aluminum foil for sale and stored in a mayonnaise jar in the freezer in our home.  I remember seeing powdered cocaine stashed in my father’s favorite hiding places as well as syringes he used to put poison into his veins.  If that was not bad enough, I remember when crack/ cocaine ravaged our neighborhood, my home was not spared.  My dad was no longer selling drugs at that time, he was totally addicted to crack/ cocaine.  I can recall the homemade crack pipes that replaced the syringes as his addiction intensified over the years.  That addiction would last into my adulthood and well into my rise in the Metropolitan Police Department,” Contee explained.

Despite his father’s challenges, which affected the entire family, the new Chief of Police explained that his mother was the contrast and a huge part of where he is today.

“My mother did the best for us despite her limited resources and physical capacity.  She was my first example of a strong, Black woman.  She was tough on us, but it was her way of showing her love.  She sacrificed and tolerated so that her children would grow up knowing their father, despite his sickness,” Contee said passionately.

As a native Washingtonian who had to overcome battles, Contee said that he is aware that there is definitely work to be done to  build trust between MPD and District residents.  If national distrust of police had not spread to D.C. communities after viral videos of the many instances of racism and brutality from officers, MPD had a couple instances in the past couple months that heightened uneasiness about law enforcement in the nation’s capital.

Local misgivings built after an MPD officer fatally shot Deon Kay less than a month after his 18th birthday in September 2020.  The mistrust reached, what seemed to be, a peak when MPD chased 20-year-old Karon Hylton-Brown on a moped, leading to his death and then weeks of continued protests and demonstrations demanding answers and justice.

“I really think that the men and women of the Metropolitan Police Department have to recognize how we are viewed in our communities,” Contee said frankly.

“Chief Contee knows from growing up in the District and serving in the Metropolitan Police Department for 30 years that community trust is critical to reducing crime,” D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine wrote in a statement. “He cares about strengthening ties between MPD and the District’s communities.  To that end, I am confident that he will directly engage with District residents to learn about their hopes and needs.”

One of the ways Contee hopes to address challenges between MPD and Washingtonians is by examining how the officers truly protect and serve the community- specifically as it relates to stopping violent crime and looking at a public health approach. 

“I do not believe it’s an either, or concept, I think you have to have both.  I think that there are some people in our community that need to go to jail.  I also think that there are some people, in our communities, like my father for example, who are sick, who have issues that are not violent in nature and need treatment really to resolve those issues, not incarceration. So I think that this is a big city, that is resource rich and I think it’s enough space to accomplish both of those things,” the new Chief of Police said confidently. 

Micha Green

AFRO Washington, D.C. Editor