PRINCE WILLIAM COUNTY, Va. — Peter Newsham officially began his new role as chief of the Prince William County Police Department on Monday, a month after he left the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) following more than 30 years of service.
The first announcement of Newsham's new position back in November brought plenty of surprises after he served as chief in the district since 2017 and oversaw the police response to historic protests, the pandemic, and the presidential election this past year.
On Monday, he told WUSA9 that the move to Prince William County brought a new chapter to his career.
"It’s like the first day at the academy all over again," Newsham said. "I have to learn the way they do business out here. I've got to learn all the key players in the community.”
Newsham became the county chief after a long hiring process that involved 50 candidates from 16 states, according to Prince William County Supervisor Chair Ann Wheeler.
Newsham later received near-unanimous support from the Board of Supervisors when the members approved his hiring by a 7-1 vote.
“Chief Newsham brings a wealth of experience and leadership to this position,” said Wheeler back in November.
In his new role with Prince William County, Wheeler said Newsham will be making $215,000. According to the D.C. Department of Human Resources, Newsham made $273,156 in 2019. However, Newsham is entitled to 80% of his salary after he leaves D.C. Police.
On Monday, Newsham told WUSA 9 that he didn't specifically look at Prince William County for his next move but working with the local police department in the past offered valuable insight.
"When we would have dealings with Prince William, they were always professional," the new chief said. "When Prince William County had their opening, it’s a very attractive job and they have a really good police department. They have a foundation here of integrity and honesty of policing. That’s a foundation on which I can build.”
With a total area of 347 square miles and almost half a million residents, Prince William County is the second most populated county in Virginia.
Despite its size, the county has seen far fewer homicides compared to Washington DC.
In 2020, Prince William County recorded 8 homicides while MPD records showed homicides reaching a 16-year-high after 198 people were killed last year.
Newsham said on Monday that he hoped his time in DC would help him keep the county even safer.
"My goal is to ensure that when violent crimes do occur, that you have a police department that you can rely on," he said. "It is a safe community. We don’t want predators to feel comfortable coming into Prince William County.”
Newsham pointed to guns as a primary issue for the tragic challenges facing the district and believed new chief Robert Contee would be committed to reducing homicides.
"It’s very sad to see what’s going on with the continuing of the murders in the District of Columbia," Newsham said. "A lot of these disputes are petty disputes. You have a young kid or a young man and they’re no longer with us and that’s a lost opportunity for that community."
Now officially in his new role, Newsham said a big goal will be making the local police force more diverse.
Data provided by county police showed 75% of the officers in Prince William County are white, almost double the percentage of white residents in the county.
Moving forward, Newsham hoped to hire more officers to better reflect the demographics of the community.
"You have young people from all walks of life and all races and all religions. I think they want to see a police department that reflects them," he said. "We want young people to see police officers that look like them so they can turn around and say, 'I can be a Prince William County police officer.'”
Newsham's hire has attracted critics.
This past weekend, demonstrators marched from the McCoart Building along the Prince William Parkway calling on the Board of Supervisors to fire Newsham, who they believe to be the wrong choice for their county.
"Our county has a history of this kind of behavior from our police department," said one man who attended the rally. "The supervisors argue that they want to change that and bring a brighter tomorrow to Prince William County. Peter Newsham's hire is only going to amplify the issues that this county has faced in the past."
Demonstrators called for the Board of Supervisors to listen to residents of color in the county and to take a more community policing approach.
On Monday, Newsham told WUSA 9 that he hoped to work with the community to address the concerns they have.
"I really want them to know that I am available. I’m here to listen about any concerns that you might have," Newsham said. "I'm going to listen to those concerns and if it’s something we can address in a positive way, let’s move forward together.”
Following his first day in the office, the new chief hoped he could help bring the community together to make Prince William County safer.
"I’m hopeful that when folks get to know me, they’ll be accepting of me," he said. "We’ll see how it goes in the coming days.”