Salah Czapary
Salah Czapary is running to unseat Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau. Credit: Rudney Novaes

Regenna Grier, a 35-year veteran of the Metropolitan Police Department, remembers crossing paths with a bright young recruit about six years ago. She was impressed with Salah Czapary back then, but she can’t understand why he’s running for Council now.

Grier served as one of Czapary’s instructors at the police academy and got to know him a bit, so she kept tabs on his career where she could. He rose through the ranks quickly—so quickly that Grier was a bit surprised. Czapary spent just over a year as a patrol officer, then jumped over to a civilian role in MPD headquarters and stayed there before quitting his job to run for office. 

Grier hadn’t given him much thought recently, however, until learning he was running to unseat Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau. She was surprised to see someone with a relatively short resume running for higher office already, giving her the distinct impression that his time in the department was simply “career building.” 

As a Maryland resident who has since retired from the department, she doesn’t have much skin in the game. But she’s chosen to speak out about her concerns about Czapary anyway, bringing them first to Nadeau, and then directly to Loose Lips.

“He’s using the citizens of the District of Columbia and his status with law enforcement,” Grier says. “It’s not about the people. It’s about him reaching a certain level of authority.”

Grier is just one person, of course, and Czapary has attracted support from within the department, too, if his campaign finance reports are any indication. Czapary declined to discuss Grier’s comments on the record, but he did connect LL to a pair of people who worked with him at MPD who vouched for his candidacy. Grier’s perspective is notable, nonetheless, because of her time in the department and just how central Czapary has made his MPD experience in justifying why he’s ready to join the Council.

Grier is far from an unbiased observer of Czapary, however. She still harbors some resentment toward him after she applied to join MPD’s reserve officer corps (which Czapary supervised when Grier applied back in May 2021) and was dissatisfied with his response. She ultimately included the incident as part of a class-action discrimination lawsuit she filed against the department with 10 other female officers, though Grier didn’t name Czapary in the suit specifically.

Essentially, Grier hoped to serve as a sergeant for the all-volunteer reserve unit (which regularly assists MPD on calls) once she reached the mandatory retirement age of 64. She especially hoped to serve on a unit that supported the families of officers killed in the line of duty, and wanted to diversify the reserve program’s ranks, considering no women held leadership roles.

But Czapary had bad news for Grier: The department wouldn’t be able to let her serve in the supervisory role she wanted because she wasn’t a supervisor when she retired. According to an email Czapary sent Grier at the time, he offered instead that she could join the unit as it performed patrol duties, or simply volunteer as a guest speaker or mentor for reserve officers at a later date.

But Grier had no interest in pounding the pavement again, considering she was in her mid-60s. She felt Czapary had no interest in letting her join, in general, viewing it as another example of the bias against women that her lawsuit describes pervading the department.

“He could not offer me an unpaid position as a supervisor to men and women who have no police experience,” Grier says. “I was really a little taken aback. Who would turn down free service?”

The full picture is a bit more complicated. Chanel Dickerson, who retired last month as an assistant chief in the department, tells LL that Czapary wouldn’t have had the authority to let Grier join the reserves as a sergeant, as she requested. Only Chief Robert Contee could make that call, she says.

Czapary himself suggested LL contact Dickerson to corroborate his claims, considering that she’s one of the other women suing MPD alongside Grier. Lest anyone think she’s biased, Dickerson is quick to note, too, that she is no great fan of Nadeau or anyone else on the Council, arguing that they haven’t been supportive enough of the officers making these discrimination claims (Nadeau declined to comment for this article). For what it’s worth, Dickerson says she has found Czapary to be “very knowledgeable and professional” in their limited interactions.

But Dickerson believes that Grier is correct in her assertion that there were no women in the entire reserve program, and she recalls at least one civilian in the program holding a sergeant’s rank without any policing experience.

She feels Grier deserved more of an explanation about why she couldn’t at least attempt to earn her sergeant’s stripes and join up. Even if Czapary didn’t make the final call, she says he could’ve described the chief’s role in the process and next steps for Grier to take to strengthen her case (like taking courses or participating in more training).

“I think the department should have to answer for why it denied her that opportunity,” Dickerson says. “I’m just not sure Salah was the person with the sole authority on this.”

Dickerson and Grier agree that it’s a real problem that the reserve corps lacks female representation. Czapary might not have been responsible on his own for letting Grier join up and change that, but it was certainly an issue within a unit he oversaw. Grier observes that Czapary had no trouble adding less experienced civilian men, such as William Pack, to the program. Pack would ultimately become Czapary’s campaign chair, but Czapary later asked him to resign after discovering his ties to the ultra-conservative Claremont Institute.

And it seems clear that diversity was a second-order concern for the unit when its ranks were thinning rapidly amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In fiscal year 2020, the program included 115 volunteers, according to figures submitted to the D.C. Council. By fiscal year 2022, it had dropped to 80 people.

Czapary, for his part, has acknowledged in past interviews that MPD wasn’t a perfect organization during his time there, and that he tried via his community engagement work to listen to feedback about it. He argued previously that the Council needs to do more as well to “push the department towards a better future.”

And for all her complaints about MPD, Grier still believes it’s “the greatest department in the nation.” But that doesn’t mean that she thinks someone like Czapary is the right fit for the Council.

She notes that he spent just about six years in the department in total, and moved over to a civilian role in the “strategic engagement” office after about a year in patrol. Other officers who knew Czapary and spoke to LL agreed it was a fast move. Grier suspects he benefited especially from the mentorship of Marvin “Ben” Haiman, the department’s chief of staff (who’s garnered headlines for his efforts to improve police recruiting, in addition to a 2012 incident where he alerted staff to an impending “file burn,” attracting the attention of internal affairs investigators).

The way Grier sees it, Czapary didn’t have enough time to develop deep experience working with the community to justify the promotion to the Council that he’s looking for, and the time he did spend in the department perpetuated its existing problems. 

There is no denying that Czapary has benefitted from his association with MPD in the minds of some segment of the electorate—the Washington Post, for instance, argued in its endorsement that his time with the department “gives him unique insights” when it comes to tackling violent crime in the city. At 31 years old, Czapary has never worked anywhere else as a professional.

So the question for Ward 1 voters is: What kind of cop was Czapary, really? Did he put in the work that would justify such a big promotion? The answer from Grier, at least, is a resounding ‘No.’