Montgomery Co. focuses on new chief of police

Moose says he won't shirk issues, talk about race, but wants to get acclimated

August 03, 1999|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

ROCKVILLE -- Call him chief, as officers coast to coast do.

Call him doctor, as the governor of Oregon does.

Call him professor, as hundreds of Portland State University students do.

But as of this week, Montgomery County government and civic leaders are calling Charles A. Moose the tonic for what ails their Police Department.

Moose, 45, is taking over an agency that has been stung by charges of racism and slowed by tentative leadership.

He becomes the most visible African-American in an administration criticized for not reaching out to the black community.

No appointment in Montgomery County government has been weighed as carefully because none has mattered more to County Executive Douglas M. Duncan's image -- and his potential run for the governorship -- than this one.

After screening 70 applicants, Duncan chose Moose, with his 11-page resume that includes a doctorate in urban studies and an award from the U.S. attorney general's office.

Moose arrived Sunday from Portland, Ore., where he was chief for six years. He was sworn in yesterday and will be tested almost immediately.

The U.S. Justice Department is wrapping up a three-year investigation of complaints that officers systematically mistreated minorities. County officials are working on an out-of-court settlement with the family of an unarmed black man who was shot to death in April by a white officer.

The local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has a list of complaints it says needs immediate attention.

The pressure to deliver, Moose says, goes with the territory.

"Most people look at the police department and say, `What have you done for me recently?' " he says.

Instead of snapping off pat answers, Moose plans to take a month or so to hit the streets as he did in 1975 as a rookie patrolman: meet residents, ride in cruisers, attend civic association meetings.

"Everyone is asking me what I'm going to do," says the chief. "I don't know that I know yet. I'm a little leery about venturing into a definitive answer and making promises I can't keep."

However, one idea he has floated is a test of complaints that some Montgomery officers target minorities for traffic stops: He wants to put white men and black men in identical cars and see how they are treated.

"When you're dealing with profiling, the question is, is it real or perceived," he says. "It might be one way to lay some groundwork. I'd like to do it with the assistance of a university or some third party."

Local NAACP President Linda Plummer says it is refreshing to hear a new approach, but with the pending federal report, it might not be necessary.

"The report will supply us with a blueprint. If we read that and take it to heart, we will solve our problems," she says.

Moose says he wants to use his swearing-in as "a fresh beginning."

"We can't fix what happened two years ago, but we can start in August and go forward. That's all I can ask for," he says.

While chief in Portland, he spearheaded the signing of a resolution by state police, police unions and 23 area law enforcement agencies denouncing race-based auto stops.

"If I can't give you a rational explanation of our behavior, then we have to change the way we do things," he says.

Moose insists he is not tired of talking about race relations, though that has dominated discussions since Duncan announced his appointment in May.

"Race has something to do with almost everything happening today," he says. "For too long, we've been too subtle in our discussions."

Moose also has been asked at great length about his well-documented temper. He has blown up at everyone from a sales clerk to his neighbors in Northeast Portland to a student at Portland State, where he was an adjunct professor.

He has attended anger management counseling and says the publicized incidents "have made me ashamed."

At his swearing-in, attended by police chiefs from around the state and Justice Department officials, Moose promised to "bear true allegiance to the state of Maryland."

But in an interview, Moose confided that he will deviate from his oath for one day this fall: Oct. 23.

"I know I'm a Maryland resident now and a Maryland chief," says the 1975 graduate of the University of North Carolina. "But when Maryland plays Carolina in football -- Go, Tar Heels."

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