Mayor Bowser finally speaks on D.C. police chief’s departure

On Monday, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser finally spoke on news of D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham’s departure. Her comments come six days after Prince William County, and not the Mayor’s office, announced Newsham would be starting a new role as the Prince William County Police Chief on February 1st.

Since that announcement, the mayor’s office has only released a short statement with little details. FOX 5 asked why only the statement? Why the silence?

“That doesn’t mean silence. We issued a statement and we haven’t had any other press opportunity since then,” said D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser on Monday.

READ MORE: DC Police Chief Peter Newsham to become Prince William County's new chief next year

Expressing their excitement in a press release, county leaders said they launched an “exhaustive 5-month recruitment effort” and had 50 applications from 16 states and the District. A firm helped narrow the search to 15 applicants, who had to complete three essays on topics relating to present-day policing practices, according to a county news release.

Mayor Bowser fielded several questions on Chief Newsham’s departure at her regular Monday “Coronavirus Update” news conference.

“We’ll have a longer discussion about where we’re going with leadership at MPD at a later date,” she said to the first question.

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FOX 5 asked the mayor whether she had a response to comments made by other D.C. leaders, including Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie, who mentioned wanting to see a new police chief who focuses more on community policing. In part of the statement, Councilmember Charles Allen released last week, he wrote: “The search for and selection of a new Chief is an opportunity to instill in leadership the qualities and priorities this moment demands: tackling the s systemic racism that exists in our city and within policing culture, promoting a public health approach to eliminating violence and using the law and Constitution to demonstrate empathy, humility, innovation and vision.”

The Mayor declined to respond to those comments.

“We’re going to go through a process. I’ve had the opportunity to appoint a chief in my tenure. Our conversations about the qualities for all our departments are robust. The police departments are special in some ways in that the members carry a badge and a gun and they have a response to – to make sure communities are safe and make sure everybody’s rights are protected. And so that’s the mindset that I went in during our last search and that’ what I’ll do moving forward,” she said afterword.

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Chief Newsham was, again, unavailable for an interview on Monday.

Two sources confirmed Chief Newsham's contract expired in January of 2020. He has been working for almost a year without one. When that happens, the previous contract extends. Councilmember Charles Allen’s office confirmed the mayor had not submitted anything to the council to renew the Chief’s contract. It was not immediately clear why.

Over the Summer with the Emergency Police Reform Bill, the Council passed legislation that requires leadership positions, including the Chief of Police, to be re-nominated every four years (and approved by the D.C. Council). This is separate from contracts and a process would have come up for Newsham in Spring 2021.

Multiple D.C. councilmembers have been outspoken in the past, that they did not think Newsham was the right person to move D.C. forward, especially after this summer’s George Floyd protests. Outgoing Councilmember David Grosso even called for the Chief’s firing.

This change comes as homicides have risen in recent months. As of Monday, D.C. is recording a nearly 20% increase: 183 murders so far this year. This is a number the city has not seen since police recorded 186 murders in 2008. Some are pointing to crime spikes in specific Wards vs city-wide crime data, like Ward 2 seeing 180 more burglaries from this time last year, according to the online crime card.

The councilmembers who have expressed what they would like to see in a new police chief, have also thanked Chief Newsham for his service with the Metropolitan Police Department. Newsham has been with MPD for 31-years.

Mayor Bowser was also asked about WAMU reporting that she only learned of Chief Newsham’s departure about an hour before Prince William County officials made the announcement. Mayor Bowser responded, chalking-up the announcement roll-out as a matter of differences in the way the two prefer to handle things.

“I have a way that I like to do things to roll people in and to roll people out. Prince William County, perhaps has its own way. And that’s what I have to say about it. But it in no way reflects, nor will it, how grateful we are for the Chief’s services…,” said the Mayor.

Bowser was asked if she wanted to see Chief Newsham stay through the inauguration. She replied that she doesn’t have a timeline yet.