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D.C. mayor vows to hire more female police officers

The announcement comes against the backdrop of a federal lawsuit alleging discrimination of Black female police officers.

D.C. police cadets Jekiya Jones, left, and Nydia Cooper hold up signs promoting the police department's “30 x 30" pledge, which vows to increase the percent of female officers in police recruit classes to 30 percent by 2030. (Peter Hermann/TWP)
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The District’s mayor and police chief on Monday vowed to hire more female police officers, joining an effort by law enforcement agencies across the country to increase the number of women in their ranks and create a more inclusive and fair work environment.

Women make up 23 percent of the D.C. department’s 3,512sworn officers, according to the mayor’s office, above the national average of about 12 percent. But city leaders said they can and want to do better.

Police Chief Robert J. Contee III said that by joining dozens of other departments in the “30 x 30 Pledge” — an initiative meant to encourage increasing the percentage of female officers in recruiting classes to 30 percent by 2030 — he wants to make D.C. police “the most equitable agency for women in the law enforcement field.”

Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said the most recent police recruit class is made up of 52 percent women, and the cadet program, a pipeline for local residents to joint the force, is nearly half female.

Bowser and Contee made the announcement at the police marine unit station on the Southwest Washington waterfront, using an armored tactical vehicle as a backdrop. They were flanked by a group of female cadets and officers, some them in the highest ranks of leadership — and at least one who is suing the department over allegations of discrimination against Black female officers.

Two female officers spoke in glowing terms of their tenure on the force, including Assistant Chief Morgan C. Kane, a 23-year veteran of D.C. police, who said her time with the department has been “filled with opportunities and experiences I never could have imagined.” She said the force “provides unrivaled opportunities” for women, adding, “Your work ethic will be recognized and propel you to great things.”

Standing in the crowd of women behind Kane, Bowser and Contee was Assistant Chief Chanel Dickerson. She is among 10 current and former D.C. officers who last fall filed a federal lawsuit accusing the police department of widespread discrimination, sexual harassment, and retaliation for speaking out about bias and misconduct over the past two decades.

Ten current, former Black female D.C. police officers sue the city, claiming discrimination

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in the District, alleges a police culture that degrades women. In her complaint, Dickerson, one of the most senior Black female officers on the force, described years of mistreatment, sexual harassment and practices that gave women in management fewer resources and less desirable departments to run. Dickerson alleges her promotions were stalled by other chiefs and that the department promotes fewer Black women than any other group.

Dickerson was not invited to speak by the mayor on Monday, but she stepped to the microphone when asked by a reporter if she would recommend young women join the D.C. police force.

“Absolutely,” Dickerson answered. “MPD changed the trajectory of my life. I will be forever grateful. It took me from a path of hopelessness to one of resilience. I have served this community with grit and grace and compassion and empathy. Women are needed in this profession to help it evolve.”

City officials declined to discuss specific allegations in the lawsuit, but Kane, who is not a plaintiff said, “I would not dismiss someone’s lived experiences or their personal story. But what I can tell you is the allegations — that’s just not my story.”

Kane, who is Black, added, “That’s not to say there haven’t been difficult days, difficult assignments, difficult bosses, because there certainly has. But I will say that in 2022, it is a different agency than even when I came on in 1998. It has evolved, and it has grown.”

Contee reiterated an earlier promise to hire a female chief equity officer to “ensure that our policies and procedures are free of all bias, promote equitable hiring, retention and promotion of women officers and ensure that our culture is inclusive, respectful and supportive of women.”

The chief and Bowser also used the opportunity renew their call to hire more police officers overall, which the mayor said she would be making to the D.C. Council during the upcoming budget sessions.

The police force has the lowest number officers than in the past two decades, as the city confronts homicides that have risen in each of the past four years, and a spike in robberies and homicides that has renewed residents’ fear of crime.

On Monday, Bowser said she wants the force to eventually grow to 4,000 officers, a goal she had set in 2019, before the council cut the police budget and, according to her administrations, forced police to stop hiring for two years.

3 in 10 District residents do not feel safe in their neighborhoods, Post poll finds

Those budget cuts came during a period of social unrest following the murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis and calls to redirect money into alternative justice programs. A member of a commission established by the council that recommended a smaller police force in the District complained at a recent hearing that neither lawmakers nor police have significantly advanced their proposals.

A recent Washington Post poll found that 3 in 10 District residents do not feel safe in their neighborhoods. And while most of those surveyed agreed more intervention programs are needed, nearly 6 in 10 also said more police would help reduce crime.

On Monday, Bowser said “we cannot endure another year of not hiring” police, noting she poured nearly $60 million in alternative justice programs last year.

Contee said officers are taxed responding to demonstrations and crime, and even though there are fewer 911 calls now than a year ago, he said it is taking officers 90 seconds longer on average to respond to each call.

He said he hears from residents “that there has to be police and there has to be prevention.”

At a candidate forum Saturday ahead of the June mayoral primary election, council members Trayon White Sr. (D-Ward 8) and Robert C. White Jr. (D-At large), who are both also running for mayor, disagreed with Bowser on hiring more officers.

Robert White said addressing crime should start in schools; Trayon White likewise discussed focusing on children, job creation and better coordination between city agencies.

Both Trayon White and Robert White answered “no” during the forum when asked if they supported hiring more officers. Bowser responded “yes.”

Michael Brice-Saddler contributed to this report.