- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Quickly recovering from surprise, D.C. lawmakers are already compiling a wish list of qualities for a candidate to replace Metropolitan Police Chief Peter Newsham, who is leaving the District to lead the Prince William County Police Department.

At least four D.C. Council members have released statements citing Chief Newsham’s departure as an “opportunity” to find a police leader who is equipped to fight racism and violent crime.

Council member Charles Allen, Ward 6 Democrat and chairman of the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee, said late Tuesday in a press release that the search for a new chief comes at “a critical moment for policing, public safety and justice.”

“[This] is an opportunity to instill in leadership the qualities and priorities this moment demands: tackling the systemic racism that exists in our city and within policing culture,” Mr. Allen said.

Council member Kenyan McDuffie, Ward 5 Democrat, echoed that sentiment in his statement, adding that the city needs a leader “who understands” why people protested the deaths of Black Americans who died this year in police operations.



The chief’s departure from the Metropolitan Police Department was announced late Tuesday in a statement by the Prince William County Police Department, where he is set to take over Feb. 1 for recently retired Chief Barry Barnard.

Chief Newsham came under scrutiny by Council members for what they called “questionable tactics” used by officers during protests against police brutality sparked by George Floyd’s death in Minnesota. During the demonstrations, which turned violent at times, officers used concussion grenades and pepper spray on protesters.

Moreover, the Council cut $15 million from the MPD budget this summer and mandated a review of the police chief every four years in order to maintain the position. Chief Newsham would have been subject to review next year.

Mayor Muriel Bowser, a Democrat, opposed the cuts and recently requested that the Council redistribute about $43 million in current budget funds to cover police overtime expenses incurred during the protests. She said the District should cover the costs until the Trump administration reimburses the city.

The lawmakers responded to the proposal with concern that the amount of overtime is $10 million more than MPD’s entire approved overtime budget.

Council members also voted nearly unanimously last week to pass emergency legislation aimed at holding the department accountable for overtime pay, and the measure is now awaiting Miss Bowser’s approval.

Council member Elissa Silverman, at-large independent, tweeted Tuesday that the District should find a leader with “a proven record of eradicating racial bias” and “working [with the] community for solutions to violent crime.”

While MPD data show violent crime overall decreased 5% so far this year compared to last, homicides increased by 20% — going from 150 to 180 — the highest number in more than a decade.

In Prince William County, six homicides have been reported this year, less than half of the 14 total reported all of last year.

Miss Bowser and Roger A. Mitchell Jr., interim deputy mayor for public safety and justice, did not immediately respond to email requests for comment on the process for selecting the new chief.

The mayor, however, did publish a statement thanking Chief Newsham for his service during “a time of great change and challenge for our city and our nation,” and said an interim chief will be chosen “soon.”

The chief’s decision to step down after 31 years with the Metropolitan Police Department came as a surprise to many, such as Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat.

“I am as surprised as everyone else at the news of Police Chief Newsham’s decision to leave MPD,” said Mr. Mendelson in a statement thanking him for his service. “Yet this presents an opportunity to try new approaches to law enforcement and new strategies to fight violent crime. We’re losing a good cop, but sometimes a fresh face can be good, too.”

The department hired Chief Newsham in 1989, and he served in numerous capacities before becoming the chief in 2017, replacing former chief Cathy Lanier.

MPD communications director Dustin Sternbeck said Wednesday in an email that Chief Newsham is “extremely grateful” to have spent more than half his life working at the department.

Following a nationwide recruitment effort, the chief is expected to join the Prince William County Police Department in February.

While D.C. lawmakers are envisioning the qualities for the ideal candidate to replace him, Ann Wheeler, chair-at-large of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, said in a statement that Chief Newsham “brings a wealth of experience and leadership to this position.”

Chief Newsham will transition from being in charge of the nation’s sixth-largest municipal police department, with more than 4,400 personnel tasked with serving more than 700,000 residents.

In his new role, he will lead a staff of more than 900 to serve and protect more than 463,000 residents in Prince William County.

“I am excited to join the team and look forward to making a difference in the community,” Chief Newsham said Tuesday in a statement.

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