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Assistant D.C. police chief who sued over discrimination is retiring

Chanel Dickerson, one of the D.C. police’s highest ranking Black female officers, is among 10 women involved in the lawsuit, which accuses the department of widespread discrimination and sexual harassment.

Chanel Dickerson, who is retiring from the D.C. police, comforts teacher Jade McKenzie after the fatal shooting of a 10-year-girl in 2018 in Northeast Washington. (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)
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Assistant D.C. police Chief Chanel Dickerson, one of the highest ranking Black female officers in the department and a plaintiff in a discrimination suit pending against the force, is retiring after more than three decades.

The 50-year-old Dickerson grew up in Southeast Washington’s Wellington Park neighborhood, which has struggled with crime. She said she plans to start a consulting business focused on empowering women.

She started in the department in 1988 as a high school cadet.

Dickerson said her official retirement date is June 4, but her last day working and in uniform was Thursday. She has served in a wide variety of jobs over the years, including overseeing patrol, the backbone of the force. She also worked in divisions investigating sexual assault, domestic violence, financial crimes and bank robbery.

Dickerson took over as head of the department’s new Youth and Family Engagement Bureau in 2021. Her duties included overseeing the missing-persons unit and the school-safety division. In that capacity, she was one of eight assistant chiefs, and one of two Black women with that rank.

Dickerson is among 10 current and former D.C. officers who last fall filed a federal lawsuit accusing the department of widespread discrimination and sexual harassment over the past two decades. In her complaint, Dickerson described years of mistreatment and alleged that women in management were given fewer resources and less desirable assignments.

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

On Thursday, Dickerson said in an interview that she will remain a plaintiff in the lawsuit. The District has not commented on the conduct described in the suit, but Chief Robert J. Contee III has called the allegations unacceptable. He hired a new equity officer this month to address issues raised in the lawsuit.

Dickerson said she has no regrets about joining the department, and recommends it as a career choice for women.

“We should be the model department,” Dickerson said. “What we do here and how we treat people will reverberate around the country … I don’t want anyone to think I don’t value the Metropolitan Police Department. We just need to get it right, and get it better.”

In 2017, during her first week as a commander, Dickerson found herself in the national spotlight when she altered the department’s social media policy so that officials would send tweets about every missing person deemed “critical.” Police had previously only sent such tweets about young children, older adults or those believed to be in danger.

The result was a deluge of police tweets about people, particularly children of color, who had disappeared. Though nearly all eventually turned up safe, the messages caused a stir, sparking the police chief and mayor to hold public meetings as rappers, NBA stars and television personalities retweeted the all-caps bulletins with the hashtag #missingdcgirls.

On Thursday, Dickerson said she changed the policy because of her experience growing up in Southeast, and seeing “all these pictures of Black girls coming across my desk, and feeling there was not an equitable or fair system to investigate the cases.”

At her retirement ceremony, according to a video provided by the department, Contee said that like him, the police force for Dickerson “became a lifeline at a very early age.” He noted her career “hasn’t been easy.”

“I know the trials and tribulations,” Contee said.