Montgomery leader picks Oregon chief for top police job

He would head agency accused of racial profiling

May 28, 1999|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

ROCKVILLE -- Taking aim at accusations of racial profiling by officers, Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan nominated a leading law enforcement civil rights expert to head the Police Department.

Charles Moose, 45, chief of police in Portland, Ore., said at a news conference yesterday that he is aware of the department's troubled past and will work quickly to restore the community's confidence.

"We don't have to have a lot of research and data to prove or disprove whether or not we have race-based policing. If people in our community have the perception that there is a problem, then we have to work on it and adjust," Moose said.

Moose is black, but Duncan said race did not enter into his decision.

"He is the best person for the job," Duncan said. "Any one of the six finalists would have made a good chief, but Chief Moose rose to the top."

The U.S. Justice Department is in the third year of an investigation into complaints by the local NAACP chapter that some Montgomery County officers target and harass minorities.

Attacks on the department were renewed after white officers shot and killed two unarmed black motorists in late March and early April.

The county has hired a police-community liaison and assigned more officers to the internal affairs office.

Last month, Duncan asked the department to investigate complaints of profiling and to draft a policy to detect and punish guilty officers.

Acting Chief Thomas Evans, one of the finalists, had begun taking steps to address the profiling allegations. But Evans, who is white, was seen by the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People as an entrenched member of the establishment.

"We didn't care if he was purple," said local NAACP President Linda Plummer of the new chief. "We wanted someone from outside the department, we wanted someone with impeccable credentials, and we wanted someone nationally known. We got all three."

Moose said no one should assume he will be a pushover.

"My coming here doesn't mean we're not going to upset another community member, and it doesn't mean that we are never going to be involved in the use of deadly force," he said.

Moose, who holds a doctorate in urban studies, also said he would act quickly on suggestions by rank-and-file officers and challenged them to "bring your brains to work."

The chief, who has spent his career in the Portland department, was named to head the 1,000-officer force in 1993. He teaches criminal justice courses at Portland State University and is a major in the Oregon Air National Guard.

When he was named chief, he moved his family to a neighborhood in Northeast Portland that had twice the crime rate of the rest of the city. He also insisted on having his home phone number listed.

"I've been trying to convince people not to retreat, to stay in the city, to use the parks, to take back the street," he told the New York Times in 1993. "Moving here seemed to be the best way to walk the talk."

Two years ago, he voluntarily opened his personnel file to the public. Amid the rave reviews and glowing recommendations were four violations of department rules of conduct. In each case, Moose lost his temper and yelled at people he thought were discriminating against him.

"I'm sad those responses occurred. I'm ashamed of my behavior in those situations. I'm clearly embarrassed," he said.

Moose is a member of the civil rights committee of the International Association of Chiefs of Police lectures on the topic.

A County Council interview of Moose is likely to be held June 8 and the confirmation vote June 15, said spokesman Patrick Lacefield.

If approved, Moose would begin the $125,000-a-year job in August.

Pub Date: 5/28/99

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