At 31, Robert Contee is the youngest commander in the Metropolitan Police Department. After 11 years on the force, including stints as a sergeant and lieutenant, Contee heads up police efforts in one of the most unique parts of Washington.
“Second District is unique in the sense that the issues are a little different,” said Contee, who became the Second District commander in August. “We don’t have as much violent crime as they have in other parts of the city.”
The city is divided into seven districts, and Second District includes Foggy Bottom, Georgetown, Cleveland Park and other Northwest neighborhoods. One challenge Contee’s Second District faces is combating underage drinking at a time when City Council and the D.C. Superior Court have stripped MPD of its ability to arrest most minors with alcohol. Some MPD officers have complained about their inability to enforce underage drinking laws.
“We have to be very careful in enforcement,” Contee said. “It’s my responsibility that my officers understand what the rules of the game are now.”
Contee also suggested that alcohol consumption among young people will rise because of the changes to the law, but he said his office will still try to combat underage drinking.
“We’re going to try to work with bar owners and club owners to make sure they’re more vigilant about not serving alcohol to those underage (students),” he said. “We’re also going to have a visible presence around these locations.”
Contee has handled alcohol issues since his very first days on the force. As a high school senior, he took classes half of his day and spent the other half at the police academy. Because of his early start, he became an officer at age 20.
Another issue that Contee must focus on is addressing D.C. residents’ complaints about college students. Second District’s jurisdiction includes the campuses of Georgetown University, American University and University of the District of Columbia in addition to GW. Members of local residents’ groups, including the Foggy Bottom Association and Advisory Neighborhood Commission, have been vocal in their complaints about students who are too loud at night.
“If there’s a crime committed, we will enforce the law, but again, just by the nature of the area there has to be a balance … where students can come, go to school and do the things that kids do and respect the needs and wishes of the community,” he said.
Nevertheless, he said he would address neighbors’ complaints and investigate them, but also suggested that the University might be a more appropriate organization to handle alcohol violations.
In addition to facing the challenge of policing thousands of college students, Contee’s officers are responsible for handling security at the International Monetary Fund and World Bank buildings in Foggy Bottom.
“It’s definitely very labor intensive in terms of the expectations from the police department,” he said.
He said that before August’s terror alert from the Department of Homeland Security, officers typically worked eight-hour shifts. Now many come in before or after their scheduled hours to handle security associated with the targeted financial institutions. Contee said that because officers are working extended hours, he does not have to take many officers off regular neighborhood beats.