Washington, D.C., Police Chief Peter Newsham’s planned departure forces Mayor Muriel Bowser to pick the right kind of leader for an agency facing a rise in homicides and calls by liberal lawmakers and activists demanding an overhaul of law enforcement, reports the Washington Post. Newsham is the latest in a growing group of experienced chiefs who have resigned or retired as localities reexamine the role of policing after demonstrations for social and racial justice. The new chief will confront demands to conform to a new political reality that emphasizes a public health approach to reducing violence and diverts funding from police as homicides and shootings escalate and residents living in battered neighborhoods demand more patrols to reduce crime.
Newsham regarded himself as open to reform, noting tweaks to policies and a willingness to fire officers who run afoul of the rules. He mandated body-worn cameras before many other departments and supported many changes being proposed. Newsham’s contract had expired, and he was working under a clause that allowed the mayor to extend his tenure. The D.C. Council required that the chief be reconfirmed in May, and Bowser and Newsham feared they could not win that vote. Dallas, Rochester, N.Y., and Seattle are among cities that have lost police chiefs amid controversy. Chuck Wexler of the Police Executive Research Forum, said it is not yet clear what kind of police chief will emerge from the debate. The restructurings, he said, “are works in progress.” He also said that “we cannot forget the basics,” noting rising crime. Among possible successors to Newsham are Commander Morgan Kane and Assistant Chief Robert Contee.