A calming voice amid crisis

Charles Moose: Montgomery County's police chief has drawn praise for leading by example and caring about young people.

October 08, 2002|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,SUN STAFF

ROCKVILLE - When Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Moose broke down during a news briefing yesterday and said the shooting of a child had made things "personal," those who knew him well weren't surprised.

Moose, who is a father, has been especially sensitive to children's issues during his 27 years in law enforcement. In Portland, Ore., where he was police chief in the mid-1990s, Moose would pay for bicycles out of his own pocket for children whose bikes had been stolen. And every Christmas, he organized a gift drive for needy children, exhorting people in his office to donate.

The city of Portland even christened the Charles Moose Head Start Center for him because of his efforts.

"In Portland, he cared about the citizens, he cared about the neighborhoods and he especially cared about the young people," said the city's assistant police chief, Derrick Foxworth.

In Montgomery County yesterday, Moose cried when speaking to reporters about the shooting of a Prince George's County pupil.

"All of our victims have been innocent and defenseless, but now we're stepping over the line," Moose said. "Shooting a kid, it's getting to be really, really personal now."

Since Thursday, Moose has been the public face of the investigation into the six fatal shootings in Montgomery County and Washington and two more shootings in Fredericksburg, Va., and Bowie.

His steady voice, still betraying a hint of the drawl of his native North Carolina, has been a reassuring influence for a region on edge.

Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan said he has often been stopped on the street in the past few days by people full of praise for the chief. Duncan said he hired Moose, who came to Montgomery in August 1999 at a salary of $160,000, for his cool leadership skills.

"He's a leader, pure and simple," Duncan said. "He's managing the department and spearheading the investigation and serving as a real calming force on the public."

But the strain at times has shown. Moose had bags under his eyes yesterday, signs of the 19- and 20-hour days he has been keeping. He gets to work before dawn and doesn't leave until midnight.

But Moose has faithfully delivered at least four briefings every day since the shootings began, freeing up his investigators to work the case. It is likely to strengthen their considerable respect for him.

"He's worked the streets," said Montgomery Officer Derek Baliles. "He's known as a man who will get out there with the troops."

Moose sends hand-signed birthday cards to all 1,074 of his officers, plus the police civilian staff. He also quietly serves on the board of many community and charitable organizations, Baliles said.

"What I like about him is his personality," said Walter E. Bader, president of the Montgomery County Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge No. 35. "We can have a heated argument over one issue and then move off it, laugh, and move on to the next. I get along with him better than any police chief ever."

Moose, 49, lives quietly in Montgomery County with his wife.

He attended segregated schools in rural North Carolina until the sixth grade. He received a bachelor's degree in U.S. history from the University of North Carolina and a master's in public administration and a doctorate in urban studies from Portland State University.

He wanted to be a civil rights lawyer, a friend said, so he took the test for the Portland police bureau to get some background. He thought he'd stay a few years. It has turned into 27.

After joining the Portland police in 1975, he climbed through the ranks to become chief in 1993. He became known for his efforts in community policing, targeting prostitution and drug-dealing.

"Crime dropped in Portland in no small part because of his leadership and commitment," said Sam Adams, chief of staff to Portland's mayor, Vera Katz.

Moose was known to jump in wherever he was needed. As chief, he wrote citations. He directed traffic at crime scenes. He did ride-alongs with officers.

"Even as a chief, he was still an officer," said Portland Officer Henry Groepper. "He led by example."

Moose encountered difficulties in 1997 when he canceled an annual riverfront party for safety reasons. The year before, someone was shot, and ambulances had trouble getting through the crowd.

But the cancellation upset some, and 50 people marched on Moose's home, which was in one of the city's highest-crime areas. Moose feared for his family's safety and called in police. Some city leaders questioned Moose's use of force.

But no one has ever questioned Moose's passion and commitment to his work. When reporters asked yesterday whether he is frustrated with the pace of the investigation of these shootings, he said: not at all.

"Frustration sounds like defeat, like surrender," Moose said. "We are by no means defeated."

Sun staff writer Johnathon Briggs contributed to this article.

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