Assistant D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham, who frequently is the face of the department as he discusses major crimes before reporters or addresses the D.C. Council, was named interim police chief Tuesday to take over for the retiring Cathy L. Lanier.
Newsham has been an assistant chief for 14 years of his 27 years on the force and now serves as head of the criminal investigation division, overseeing all homicide cases and high-profile robberies, burglaries and assaults.
The 52-year-old Newsham, a lawyer and member of the Maryland State Bar Association, will take over Sept. 17, the scheduled last day for Lanier, who is leaving to be chief of security for the National Football League.
Newsham takes on the interim role amid an ongoing search for the next permanent chief under Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D).
Bowser has said she will concentrate on internal candidates but accept applicants from department outsiders.
In a statement Tuesday, Bowser said that a posting for the chief’s opening will be published soon and that after a contender list is winnowed, “a small group of community stakeholders will be involved in vetting final candidates.” Sgt. Matthew Mahl, chairman of the police union, said he has been told the labor group will be part of the process.
Bowser hailed Newsham as having “deep roots serving the District” and said he “believes in the power of building relationships with communities as the best way to deter and solve crime. He has served the people of the District of Columbia for almost three decades and in that time has demonstrated his unwavering commitment to the District and to its residents.”
Criminal-justice experts have said Bowser’s desire to concentrate on internal candidates suggests that she wants to continue Lanier’s legacy of community engagement and rely on what she described as the department’s “deep bench” rather than initiating wholesale change.
Mahl said Newsham’s experience makes him ideal for the interim role. “He at this point can step right in,” Mahl said. “There’s no transition. He’s been intimately involved with the day-to-day operations of the department for some time now.”
On the day last week that Lanier announced her departure, Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) said Lanier’s top assistant seemed like “the first place to start” in looking for a successor.
Newsham has been actively seeking a police-chief job and has applied for positions in at least three cities: Bradenton, Fla., Fort Myers, Fla., and Phoenix. He was a finalist in each but not offered the posts. Mendelson noted last week that Newsham’s recent interviews for those top positions and his placement as a finalist shows that “he’s well regarded.”
Newsham did not return calls seeking comment on his interim appointment.
There are several other high-ranking officials in the mix to potentially replace Lanier, including Robert J. Contee III, the newly promoted assistant chief, who has performed a wide variety of jobs and is well liked by officers and by residents. Two people in the police union have said the labor group is privately pushing for Contee.
Others include assistant chiefs Kimberly Chisley-Missouri, who heads internal affairs; Diane Groomes, who heads the patrol bureau; Michael Anzallo, who heads the corporate support bureau; and Lamar E. Greene, who runs the homeland security bureau.
Philip Pannell, president of the Congress Heights Community Association and a longtime political organizer and leader from Ward 8, said his pick would be Groomes, noting her seemingly constant presence in a neighborhood hit hard by crime.
Linda Jo Smith, who heads the 6th District Citizens Advisory Council, said she fully supports Newsham as interim chief and added that he would be a qualified candidate for the full-time position.
Smith knew Newsham when he stepped out of the police academy as a rookie and walked with residents as part of the Orange Hat Brigade, a citizen patrol to discourage crimes in drug-infested neighborhoods.
“He was one of those people who knew how to get along with residents and the community,” Smith said. “He knew how to deal with folks.” She also has known Contee and Groomes for years and said any of the three would do a fine job as chief. “I can’t say anything bad about any of them,” Smith said.