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Exclusive: DC police chief reflects on Van Ness sniper, preparations for mass shootings

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In an exclusive interview on the DMV Download podcast, D.C. Police Chief Robert Contee shared new information about the sniper-style shooting in the Van Ness area that injured four bystanders in April.

Contee said Tuesday that Van Ness shooter Raymond Spencer mirrored the tactics of another shooter when opening fire at and around the Edmund Burke School on April 22.

“It very much resembled the shooter from Las Vegas,” Contee said, referring to the country concert shooting in 2017 that killed 59 people and injured nearly 500 more.

Spencer killed himself as police closed in on his Van Ness apartment, where they discovered a sniper-style set up inside.

Contee shared some of the tougher calls made on the scene that he considered life-or-death decisions, including when to let first responders in to reach victims who were still arguably in the scope of the shooter. Contee said at that time that they had not determined where Spencer was shooting from.

“It could be an opportunity for the shooter to lure first responders into that area. And then when you’re dealing with the school … at what point is it safe to evacuate children out of the building? There are so many different dynamics and different decisions being made in very rapid succession,” he said.

He spoke about the decision to evacuate an injured retired police officer, whom he knows well, and the very real possibility the commander on the scene could have decided to leave his friend in place to potentially spare other lives.

Contee said he personally has not moved on from the shooting. He spoke candidly that the possibility of a mass shooting in the District “keeps him up at night,” and that every mass shooting, as well as the response by law enforcement, informs changes to the D.C. police’s future training — both successes and failures.

“Like technology is evolving, so are your tactics and your training. They have to evolve over time. People are watching really what’s happening, literally across the world, and we have to be prepared for that,” he said.

Contee joined the DMV Download podcast hosts in their studio for an exclusive conversation at WTOP on June 7, shortly after the Department of Homeland Security issued a bulletin that online forums are encouraging copycat shootings of the Uvalde school attack.

The D.C. police have a meeting planned with DCPS and charter school leaders to discuss how police respond to school shootings, Contee said. Referring to the reported hour-long delayed response in Uvalde, Contee said his officers won’t hesitate.

“If there is an active shooter, if there are active homicides in the building, we’re going in the building. Period.”