The Washington Post’s editorial board wrote about outgoing Washington DC police chief Robert J. Contee III on Friday. After two years on the job he’ll be headed to the FBI.
D.C. Police Chief Robert J. Contee III announced this week that he will leave his post on June 3, after just two years in the top job, to become an assistant director at the FBI. It’s a blow to the community that in part follows his growing frustration with the degree to which the hands of law enforcement have been tied amid epidemic levels of carjacking and gun violence.
This is especially frustrating when it comes to defendants charged with violent crimes being on the street while awaiting trial. Chief Contee says the average homicide suspect in D.C. has been arrested 11 previous times before allegedly killing someone. “We find ourselves in a system that allows people, after committing a violent offense, to be back out in our communities to further victimize people,” he said. “That’s where it’s broken.”
Chief Contee got a lot of attention when he made that claim last month. Here’s video of his statement in which he says as plainly as possible that the way to keep violent crime down is to keep violent people in jail longer.
Must watch for @CMBrookePinto @charlesallen @ChmnMendelson @BrianneKNadeau @USAO_DC @DCAttorneyGen Enough is Enough!! pic.twitter.com/q9xLwe7rQp
— Potomac Fever (@FeverPotomac) March 6, 2023
One local news station fact-checked that claim and found it was true.
According to police records, on average, a homicide suspect today has been arrested 11 previous times…
In 2001, DC Police reported that the average homicide suspect had 5.3 prior arrests – that’s less than half of the new normal. In fact, having 11 prior arrests was rare 20 years ago, with only 11% of homicide suspects reaching today’s average.
Chief Contee also stood up for hiring police officers and argued that the reason so many are leaving jobs in major cities is that they feel a clear lack of respect.
He championed restoring the school resource officer program, which the D.C. Council voted to phase out, and spoke about the dangers of allowing the size of the overall force to atrophy by attrition.
During a conversation last month, he said officers keep leaving because they don’t feel respected or valued. “We have to demonstrate ourselves as being a city that’s supportive of police officers — period,” he said.
Chief Contee has been saying all of this since he took the job. One of my favorite moments was back in July 2021 after a shooting on the street that got some national media attention because CNN’s Jim Acosta happened to be eating at a restaurant on the corner.
Just hear what sounded like gun shots on 14th street in NW DC. People fleeing the popular Le Diplomate restaurant which seemed a few blocks away. pic.twitter.com/EuD40teccA
— Jim Acosta (@Acosta) July 23, 2021
The next day, Chief Contee was out on the street making the case that the reason shootings like this happen is because the courts were not doing their jobs and were letting too many criminals back on the streets. Here’s a bit of what he said at the time.
“We have to really figure out, what do we want to do as a city in terms of how we respond to this,” Chief Contee said. He continued, “I’m going to give it to you straight…where the issues are. The ecosystem, the justice system that we have right now, it is not functioning the way that it should.”
He went on to say that because courts are barely open there is a large backlog of criminal cases and most of the people charged in those cases are back in the community as they wait for the system to catch up. “The real issue is, we have a viscous cycle of bad actors who do things, no accountability and they end up back in community,” he said. “I guarantee you when we lock up whoever did this [shooting Thursday], they will be no stranger to us,” he added.
“You cannot coddle violent criminals. You cannot. You can not treat violent criminals who are out here making communities unsafe for you, for your loved ones, for me, for my loved ones—they might not want a job! They might not. They might not need services. What they may require is to be off of our streets because they’re making it unsafe for us. And if that’s what it requires then that’s what it requires. We have to own that…Because if not we see more of this.”
Contee was arguing against the push by soft-on-crime DAs and judges who always want to see the criminals as victims of an unjust system. But as he said, sometimes criminals don’t want a job or more services. Sometimes they’re just bad people who need to be taken off the streets for as long as possible. That’s the only way to make the streets safe for decent people but it’s not something police can do on their own. They need support from the rest of the criminal justice ecosystem.
He’s right and Washington DC will be lucky if it finds another chief who is willing to be as blunt and honest as Chief Contee was about why the city isn’t safer. Here’s his 10 minute rant about crime from 2021.
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