The District of Columbia’s Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) recently announced a change to its patrol strategy amid an overall rise in crime, and with summer fast approaching.
The department launched the initiative, known as the “Focused Patrol and Community Engagement Strategy,” on May 1 in preparation for a summer spike in crime. The plan involves concentrating patrol officers in areas with high crime while also taking a community-based approach to policing.
According to outgoing D.C. Police Chief Robert Contee, the crime-fighting strategy marks a “return to basics,” with more boots on the ground.
“This isn’t putting someone in the corner to deter a crime, or officers writing tickets and making arrests. This is about officers getting out of their vehicles and engaging with the community by being problem solvers, talking with community members to identify issues, and checking in with businesses and apartment complexes,” Contee stated in a press conference.
While previous summer crime initiatives involved deploying officers to key hotspots in the city, the new approach will distribute patrols to all eight wards and will focus on developing relationships with neighborhood residents.
According to Contee, police will patrol designated areas on foot or bike, “reporting quality of life issues to 311,” and will engage with neighborhood residents during their shifts to build trust with residents.
“This is intentional, community-focused policing in all quadrants of the city,” Contee added. “This is a new look of policing where we are constantly evolving, making tweaks.”
The move, which will likely be the last overseen by Contee, comes amid a 25% increase in overall crime and a 16% spike in homicides over the previous year, and was announced one day after Contee accepted a new job at the FBI as the assistant director of the Office of Partner Engagement. His last day in office at MPD will be June 3.
Residents in Ward 8, who are concerned about issues like gun violence, are optimistic about the police department’s community policing initiative.
“It was very positive, because it was more of a you know, we understand one another. Police officers have a lot to offer to the community,” resident Ursula King told WUSA9.
“With them walking and talking with people, they know that they’re out here, they know that they care and it establishes better communication,” King continued.
In response to concerns about low staffing raised by D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, Contee responded by saying that following the model of previous successes such as the department’s 2022 nightlife task force, along with assistance from federal agencies, should make the community policing initiative more effective.
“It can’t just be MPD all by ourselves. It can’t just be MPD. If we’re going to be successful, we have to be legitimate in the eyes of the community. We have to be able to serve the community. We have to have other partners with us,” Contee said.
“I am confident that this continued focus on impactful community engagement and focused law enforcement efforts along with assistance from the community will lead to a reduction in crime,” he added.
Meanwhile, Bowser said the city is doing all it can to address the police department staffing issue through recruitment and retention efforts. The city is also launching a nationwide search for Contee’s replacement.
Contee also had parting words about his transition. “It is my highest honor, my highest honor to be able to serve the residents of the District of Columbia in the capacity that I have for the last 33 years of my life, sacrifices to my family, sacrifices to my extended family, and just personal sacrifices,” Contee said.