WASHINGTON — District leaders listened to dozens of locals and Metropolitan Police Department Chief Robert Contee discuss the state of policing Thursday.
The D.C Council Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety Performance Oversight Hearing, which lasted more than 12 hours, touched on numerous topics affecting policing in the District.
One of the biggest issues discussed was the Metropolitan Police Department’s efforts to reduce violent crime.
Chief Contee told the Council his officers were observing more armed robberies and violent carjackings than in years past. He added he was disturbed that many of the crimes seemed to involve juveniles.
Contee said there were 426 carjackings in the District in 2021. He said 101 of the 151 arrests for that crime involved juveniles. Meanwhile, in 2019, Contee said there were only 152 carjackings in D.C. He added less than half of the suspects arrested in those cases were juveniles.
Contee believes youth who commit violent crimes need to be held more accountable in the District.
“It is not an exaggeration to say lives literally hang in the balance of the decisions we make regarding our youth,” he said. “I am making an earnest plea to our city to be our best to come together and think differently about this very important issue.”
On Friday, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and Contee are expected to announce a new year-round partnership aimed at reducing violent crime in certain targeted neighborhoods.
The treatment of the rank-and-file within MPD was also discussed during the hearing.
Multiple Black female current and former MPD officers who are suing the department as a part of a multi-million-dollar class-action lawsuit spoke to councilmembers about the discrimination they said they faced while on the job.
Current MPD officer Tabatha Knight said she was sexually harassed and retaliated by a sergeant when she first became an officer on the street.
“From that point on, I decided I was no longer going to take the abuse from the police department because it went from one sergeant to another sergeant and they all would join in with the harassment giving me undesirable assignments,” she said.
When questioned what MPD was doing to protect current officers who had complained of discrimination and retaliation, Contee said he would continue to ask that they come forward with any concerns.
“My commitment is to make sure if any of those are currently experiencing some type of issue, I would encourage them to report it,” he said.
On Wednesday, Contee also revealed that an MPD Lieutenant had been placed on administrative leave as federal agencies investigated whether that officer had any ties to white supremacist groups.
Contee has yet to reveal the officer’s name or what they specifically did to be brought to the attention of authorities. However, he said MPD is working to determine whether he committed any discriminatory acts in the past.
"We're looking at all of that, everything that the member has been involved in,” he said. “There was something that I received this morning, about some prior allegations, but again, that's just what I received this morning. Those are things that will need to be investigated."
Contee went on to say he does not believe there are many members of his department with ties to hate groups.
“That is not anything that is cultural with respect to MPD,” he said.
However, some council members said they were concerned this latest controversy would hurt MPD’s trust in the community.
“It becomes hard to get the community to share tips when MPD cruisers crash while drag racing through neighborhoods,” said D.C. Councilmember Charles Allen. “It’s hard to recruit or retain top talent when officers bring offensive clothing to work with no consequences, [and] create an unwelcoming office culture for Black women or associate with hate groups.”
D.C. Police Union Chairman Gregg Pemberton also spoke at the hearing.
He mentioned he was concerned about MPD staffing and that the department needs to focus on recruiting more officers to reduce overtime problems and fight violent crime.
According to MPD, in the last 16 months, the department has lost more than 260 officers which has impacted its response times. Contee said response times for serious incident calls went up a minute and a half in 2021.
“The union asks for the council to give deep consideration when making decisions that affect the ability to hire and retain our best employees, specifically legislation affecting employee rights and budgetary restraints that will impact hiring and retention,” Pemberton said.