If police stop a vehicle with four people inside, he said, “and there’s a gun under the front seat or in a glove box, everyone in that car should not have to go to jail to let the courts sort it all out.” Contee said more-thorough investigations are needed to target “people who are in the block with the gun who make our communities unsafe. . . . I think that’s where the community wants us to focus.”
Contee said: “We’re not saying we’re not going to get illegal guns off the street. We’re not going to say we’re not going to police communities where there is violent crime. What I am saying is that we have to be strategic in what we do.”
Contee’s opening remarks and his answers to questions that veered from hiring practices to rising gun crime to the use of deadly force were meant to assuage council members, residents and activists working to reinvent the police department and turn toward a public health approach to fight rising gun crime and homicides.
The five-member Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety will schedule a vote on Contee’s appointment at a later date, and if a majority approves, the full council will hold a final vote. It appeared that members, who met remotely, were largely pleased with Contee.
Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), the committee chairman who often clashed with the last chief, told Contee he “represents a break from the previous administration” and offers a narrative “more reflective of where we need to go.”
Brooke Pinto (D-Ward 2), said, “Hopefully your confirmation will begin a new era of law enforcement in D.C.” She added residents “deserve to have a police force that is open, honest and trustworthy, and there is a lot of work to be done.”
Contee joined the police department in 1989 as a cadet after having grown up in Northeast Washington’s Carver-Langston neighborhood with a father who was addicted to and sold drugs. On Thursday, he spoke at length of his challenging childhood, portraying himself as someone who understands the impact, good and bad, police can have on neighborhoods, particularly on city youth.
If confirmed, Contee will lead a department through a challenging period of social and racial reckoning following a summer of demonstrations after the killing in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd. He also faces new threats of domestic terrorism following the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol.
The council is exploring ways to shift police responsibilities and find other ways to approach schools safety, traffic stops and responding to people suffering mental health crises, as a way of lessoning the footprint of law enforcement in the District. A commission established by the council president is set to deliver a report Wednesday recommending more than 80 changes to policing in the District that could include a smaller department with less money.
Nearly all of the 25 people who testified at the hearing supported Contee, many saying his difficult experiences growing up mirrored their own struggles and those of many District residents to give him an understanding of the impact of crime and of law enforcement.
Roger Marmet, whose 22-year-old son, Roger “Tom” Marmet, was fatally shot by a stray bullet fired in the District in 2018, said the city needs to broaden its efforts to reinvent police to develop a “comprehensive plan across every agency of government” to address the underlying causes of violence.
Monica Hopkins, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of the District of Columbia, criticized the mayor for selecting Contee without first seeking public input, which she called “a serious misstep at a critical juncture in the discussion of public safety and police reform.”
Hopkins said the District needs a chief “who is reform-minded and unafraid of accountability.” She praised Contee for agreeing to review police tactics, such as during the seizure of guns, which she said “for years has terrorized residents through jump-outs and harmful tactics.”
April Goggans, an organizer with Black Lives Matter D.C., one of the groups at the center of the summer demonstrations over Floyd’s death, said it is the institution of policing, not the police chief, that needs rethinking. “We have had Black police chiefs and commissioners for years in cities all over the nation, and nothing has changed,” she said.
Contee assured D.C. Council members he is open to discussing all aspects of policing, but he warned shifting responsibilities away from police should be done carefully and only after alternatives are in place.
“I have a telephone, handcuffs and a firearm,” Contee said. “I don’t want to use my firearm. I don’t like using my handcuffs.” He said if he encounters a youth who needs help, “What I would like to is pick up my phone to get the kid services. Unfortunately, you call to get help, there is often silence. . . . We need to fix that as a city.”