WASHINGTON - D.C. leaders gathered Thursday to announce the city’s summer crime initiative and make a few remarks on the police chief, who recently announced he is retiring in June. However, the news conference turned a bit chaotic.
The news conference was originally planned to launch the "Focused Patrol and Community Engagement Policing Strategy," a plan to address crime this summer by focusing on community policing.
The concept of community policing is not new. However, this time, similar to how police used data to focus on police resources in a few high-crime areas for the city’s previous summer crime initiative, they’re now using data to select about four targeted areas in each district – with a plan to dedicate a few officers at a time to problem-solving in those areas.
Police would then evaluate the patrolling strategy, spending about 90 days in the select targeted areas.
"If it’s graffiti that’s out there, there’s nothing wrong with our officers sending in a 311 ticket to say, ‘Hey, this graffiti needs to be cleaned up.’ There’s nothing wrong with our officers reaching out to our partners at DPW saying, 'Hey, it’s a bunch of trash or a car that needs to be towed away,’" Chief Contee said. "We want to be more impactful doing things like that as opposed to being just stationary in an area, you know waiting for a crime to happen or just focusing on putting handcuffs on somebody."
Chief Contee told reporters their previous summer crime initiative and bike patrols helped bring down crime. During the news conference, he spoke of how overall violent crime was up 25% one year ago, compared to up 7% now.
Unfortunately, the news conference took a turn when at one point, FOX 5 reporter Stephanie Ramirez was silenced by Mayor Muriel Bowser from asking an on-topic, follow-up question. Other reporters were allowed to ask multiple questions. However, the mayor moved on from Ramirez when she asked an initial question regarding what the summer strategy would actually look like for residents.
She then asked her a follow-up question after another reporter spoke.
"I’m sorry, you weren’t in the line-up," Mayor Bowser responded. When I mentioned I had only asked one question, the mayor denied this and said, "That’s so rude," as I proceeded to ask a question.
The question was regarding tense relations between police and community members following the George Floyd protests and the summer of racial reckoning.
"We’re not going to – we’re going to have to – I’m not going to answer your question. Who’s next? No, I’m not. Who’s next?" the mayor interjected.
FOX 5’s Bob Barnard, also in the room, deferred some of his time to me, allowing me to ask her questions.
"Chief, I want to ask you about the officers who may not be willing to do this. We saw post-George Floyd, the summer of racial reckoning tension between police and the community – and that’s one of the reasons officers were not going out into the community. How are you addressing that – is it just about going out and all of a sudden building trust again," I asked.
"Well we’re not just starting that today," replied Police Chief Robert Contee, "I’m sure you follow our social media. We engage in the community all over the place. It’s a video of me playing the tambourine running around here. We engage community members all over the place. This is really carving out that time for our officers being intentional in that space."
"Our officers engage people, I mean I walk — I’m sure you do too, right? You, matter a fact, a couple of nights ago, we were over on U St. and Ms. Ali, Virginia Ali, happened to be in Ben’s Chili Bowl, so I got a chance to go in there and talk with her. She’s talking about, you know, the officers that were out there on the U St. Corridor. So the officers are out here engaging, and we’re just continuing to build on community engagement," Contee added. "Community engagement is not a new thing to the Metropolitan Police Department, it’s just not. It’s how we do it, being more strategic, being fore focused and building on really, a firm foundation that has really already started here."
Contee told FOX 5 he is not getting pushback from officers on this initiative – and is actually seeing officers engage on their own personal time.
Earlier, the Chief was asked why community policing wasn’t being done before. To this, the chief noted that his department responded to over 500,000 service calls last year and is still facing the same volume of calls with a smaller police staff than the department had one year ago.
After the news conference, tensions flared again when a security member blocked multiple people from exiting the Mayor’s Press Briefing Room.
While the news conference discussed the city’s plans to have officers engaging in more community policing, journalists and community members were blocked from exiting the room as the mayor, police chief and other MPD top brass exited the room.
There was also a small protest going on inside the Wilson Building hallway immediately outside the briefing room.
However, even after the city officials passed, the group being blocked was still not immediately let out.
A WUSA 9 reporter later said on camera he was initially blocked from entering the news conference room and had to argue his way in
FOX 5 asked the D.C. Police Union for their response to the super patrol strategy announced on Thursday.
Union Chair Gregg Pemberton did not directly answer those questions but responded in a separate statement: "The members of the DC Police Union wish Chief Contee the best in his new role with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Chief Contee has led an illustrious and decorated career serving the District of Columbia and its residents for over 33 years. His contributions to this city are innumerable …
"The Union looks forward to working with Mayor Bowser and her team on the search and selection for the next permanent Chief of Police. We believe that this process will be significantly more challenging than year’s past, due to the negative climate around law enforcement that has been promoted by certain DC Councilmembers."