WASHINGTON — The days are winding down for DC Police Chief Robert Contee.
He’s retiring after spending over three decades helping to keep the city safe, including the last two and a half as the lead crime fighter.
WUSA9 anchor Lesli Foster spent some time talking with the chief to share more of their conversation as Contee reflects on his career and what’s next.
Contee is headed to the FBI Headquarters to serve as an Assistant Director helping communities, big cities and small towns across the nation to tap into FBI resources.
We met Chief Contee on his last day at Police Headquarters. His official retirement date is June 3. The average tenure of a big city chief is two to five years. That was before the pandemic.
Now, as we’re emerging into something new – so is Contee.
“I don’t know what a happy hour is, I’ve never really had the ability to enjoy something as simple as that,” said Contee.
From the badge to the backyard barbeque, it’s the simple things that Contee is looking most forward to as he embarks on a new phase of life.
His son wants to take a trip with dad. His daughter is preparing to launch off to college. And, Contee is looking forward to spending more time with his wife and traveling outside the region.”
For most of his time as chief, Contee has had to respond to a series of devastating calls. Lately, many of them involve children whose lives have ended tragically.
“One, is one too many for me,” said Contee. “We have to try different things, and when things don’t work, we have to do something different. The one thing that I know is that we can’t give up on our children. We can’t do that. That’s not an option.”
Contee knows what his life would be like if someone had given up on him. He grew up in the Carver Terrace neighborhood in Northeast DC – surrounded by drugs and crime. But he found inspiration as a high schooler when he became a police cadet at age 17.
“I look into the eyes of these young people that have decided that made a decision at 17, 18 years of age, they want to give their life to public service,” said Contee. “I get excited about that.”
The chief says one of his biggest accomplishments has been inspiring people – like these young cadets. The majority come from Wards 7 and 8.
He covets the moments when he can simply connect with members of he community. We witnessed one such moment, when his elementary school SRO (school resource officer) Joe Burden showed up unannounced to share some mementos from that time in his younger life.
Contee had lofty goals when he took office back in 2021. He wanted to strengthen relationships with the community and MPD and hold not just offenders but the criminal justice system accountable for helping to create a safer city.
“Two years ago, the conversations were just fix the police and everything will be great. And I think that we’re in a very different space now when it comes to what I think the city will do over the course of the next several years,” said Contee.
As for the next leader of the Metropolitan Police Department – in addition to be a leader and crime fighter, Contee offers this advice his two ingredients for a successful police chief.
“You want a chief of police who’s empathetic and you want a police chief who has compassion.”
Contee started as chief just a few days before the Jan. 6 attacks. You might think that was the most difficult moment for him. But he says – the hardest days are the “every” days when the toughest calls come in.
He recalled last Thanksgiving when a 2-year-old found an illegal firearm that his father had in the home and shot himself. Contee had to comfort officers who were distraught over what they saw and the time when he was at a marriage retreat with his wife – and he got the call about the murder of 10-year-old Makiyah Wilson.
As he approaches his retirement date, it’s not lost on Contee that this weekend is Memorial Day weekend. For the first time in decades, he can actually celebrate the holiday with his family as it happens. Normally, he’d be attending a community event.
In this next chapter he can focus more on family and striking a balance with the demands of law enforcement.
Contee starts his new role as Assistant Director of the Office of Partner Engagement after leaving the Metropolitan Police Department. That office works to build relationships between the FBI, federal agencies and law enforcement agencies across the nation.
WATCH NEXT: Robert Contee retiring as DC's chief of police