Credit: Darrow Montgomery

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Besieged by an almost 50 percent uptick in homicides over 2017 and shootings that in recent days have included the reported injury of a mother walking with her child in a stroller, Ward 8 residents are crying foul over the sudden and unexpected demotion of the police commander who managed Metropolitan Police Department operations in much of Southeast.

The commander, Regis Bryant of the Seventh Police District, was demoted earlier this week to an inspector, according to a D.C. government source familiar with the situation and documents obtained by FOX 5 reporters. The leadership shake-up came on the heels of a violent Memorial Day weekend during which four adults were killed in approximately a dozen shootings.

MPD Chief Peter Newsham announced the staffing change in an email to the 7D community late Wednesday evening, but did not specify his reasoning. “I have decided that a change in the leadership at the district level is necessary,” he wrote, adding that Andre Wright, the commander of MPD’s Youth and Family Services Division, would start as head of 7D on Sunday. Wright has previously served as captain, lieutenant, and sergeant in this police district, Newsham wrote.

But some Ward 8 residents and rank-and-file officers say MPD is scapegoating Bryant for the violence that has erupted. 7D officers have even created a Crying Jordan meme about the situation, a screenshot of which the D.C. government source shared with City Paper. Residents who know Bryant say he was responsive to the community’s needs and easy to work with. “This can’t be real,” one wrote on Twitter. “Commander Bryant was one of the best Ward 8 have had in years.”

Newsham appointed Bryant as 7D commander in December 2016. Bryant has worked on the force for more than 26 years and the department named him “commander of the year” last March. An awards package noted that Bryant had “transformed the district, including greatly improving morale, officer productivity, and an increased [sic] the recovery of illegal firearms,” with 413 guns recovered in 2017. “The work at the Seventh District is plentiful and sometimes very challenging,” it read. “However, under [Bryant], 7D has become a desired assignment for MPD officers.”

FOX 5 reported that Newsham met with Ward 8 community leaders in a “closed-door meeting” at MPD headquarters on Thursday. The community leaders reportedly requested that Bryant be reinstated as 7D commander and Newsham told them that Bryant’s demotion would be temporary only if they could show support from the community for such an action.

Late Thursday night, Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White issued a two-page statement calling on Mayor Muriel Bowser to reinstate Bryant as 7D commander. White said he was “shocked and saddened” to learn about the demotion and that he “was not given a courtesy advance notice of this decision.” The councilmember, whose 17-year-old cousin was injured in a triple shooting in Southeast earlier this week, said Ward 8 “is in crisis—a State of Emergency.”

The overall response from the Bowser Administration on this issue remains, too little, too late. The decision to demote Commander Bryant is just another example of the lack of a coherent and coordinated strategy from the Office of the Mayor to effectively address increased violence in Ward 8. Commander Bryant has been made a scapegoat by this demotion. But, I am not surprised by this action. His demotion follows a long pattern of behavior by an Administration that lacks answers for the increased crime being witnessed on our streets and chooses to engage in diversionary tactics, such as this.

The Ward 8 community is not happy to see the Mayor use the Commander as a scapegoat. No fewer than eleven residents have approached me in the past 24 hours to express their concern and outrage. My office has also received a number of calls from constituents expressing concern. The political and community leadership of Ward 8, along with its residents, should have been consulted before the decision to scapegoat a good and decent man was made.

White added that Bryant had won the trust of Ward 8 residents by attending many community meetings, speaking with residents on the street, and bolstering officer morale. The councilmember said that while he has “not always had a good relationship” with MPD—he sued the District in 2014 over alleged police brutality at a Thanksgiving turkey giveaway the year before—Bryant changed that. “He brought a degree of both respect and credibility to my community that had not been seen prior,” said White. According to him, Ward 8 does not have time for a new commander to win residents’ support.

City Paper has contacted the mayor’s office and MPD about White’s statement and will update this post if they provide a response. 

Bryant’s demotion follows a series of actions D.C. leaders have taken to address the spike in shootings. On Thursday, Bowser announced $800,000 in grants for three community organizations that work to prevent violence, and on Tuesday, she held a press conference with Newsham and others in her administration calling for the public’s help in solving the recent killings. The administration says it has deployed additional police and non-police resources to Ward 8.

Lawmakers are also attempting to stem the violence. On Tuesday, the D.C. Council approved $360,000 for D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine‘s office to launch a “violence interruption” program that will tap into community networks to prevent would-be offenders from committing crime. The Council is poised to authorize grant-making authority for Racine to give out the funding, and it is also considering an emergency bill meant to encourage private investment in anti-crime efforts.