Moose, Charles 1953–
Charles Moose 1953–
Former police department chief
In October of 2002 Montgomery County, Maryland, Chief of Police Charles A. Moose was at the center of an international media frenzy when a series of sniper attacks rocked the region surrounding the District of Columbia. As the attacks dragged on for three weeks, taking the lives of ten victims, Moose became the public face of the multi-agency effort to track down the killers. Plagued by a series of missteps, the investigation ended only after the media broadcasted unauthorized information to the public to be on the lookout for a certain car, which turned out to be the snipers’ getaway vehicle. Moose faced additional criticism shortly thereafter when he announced plans to write a book on the crime spree and to sell the rights to his life story to a movie development company. Despite a ruling from the Montgomery County Ethics Commission that banned such activities, Moose decided to press on with the projects and left his position.
Charles Alexander Moose was born in New York City in 1953. His father, who was then finishing his degree at Columbia University, later worked as a high-school biology teacher and his mother worked as a registered nurse. The family relocated back to North Carolina when Moose was still a toddler and settled in the small town of Lexington, where he spent the remainder of his youth. Typical of the American South in the 1950s and 1960s, Moose had to attend racially segregated schools for much of his early education. It was not until the seventh grade that he became one of the first African Americans to integrate Lexington Middle School. After finishing high school, Moose enrolled at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he majored in history and was a member of the wrestling team. Moose completed his bachelor’s degree in history in 1975.
Although he had planned to enroll in law school and become an attorney, a pivotal moment during his senior year changed Moose’s plans. When a professor offered Moose’s class the opportunity to interview with a visiting police recruiter instead of taking a regular class exam, Moose figured he would meet with the recruiter even though he had not previously considered going into law enforcement. After he was offered a job as a patrolman with the Portland, Oregon Police Department, Moose figured that he could begin a career as an officer in preparation for pursuing his goal of becoming a lawyer. As it turned out, Moose stayed in law enforcement for the rest of his career.
When Moose moved to Portland to begin his new career in 1975, he also started a family with his first wife, Linder Moose. The couple’s first son was born that year and a second son followed in 1980. Moose’s first marriage ended in divorce shortly thereafter and he subsequently married for a second time, to Sandra Herman, becoming stepfather to her son, Lincoln Herman. In 1997 Moose’s youngest son was arrested in Portland and charged with dealing crack cocaine. Despite the personal pain caused by the arrest, Moose praised the arresting officers for carrying out their duties even after they learned they had arrested the chief’s son.
At a Glance…
Born Charles Alexander Moose in 1953 in New York, NY; married Linder Moose (divorced); married Sandra Herman; children: two sons (by Linder Moose), one stepson, Lincoln Herman. Education: University of North Carolina, BA, history, 1975; Portland State University, master of public administration, 1984, PhD, urban studies/criminology, 1993. Military Service: Oregon Air National Guard, major, 1987-98; District of Columbia Air National Guard, major, 1999-.
Career: Portland (Oregon) Police Department, patrol officer, 1975-1981, sergeant, 1981-84, lieutenant, 1984-91, deputy chief, 1992-93, chief, 1993-99; Portland State University, criminal science instructor, 1994-99; Montgomery County (Maryland) Police Department, chief, 1999-2003; Montgomery College, criminal science instructor, 2000-.
In his first years on the Portland Police Department’s force, Moose worked as a patrol officer and was often assigned to undercover work. One of his biggest investigations contributed to the arrest of a forty-member stolen-goods ring that operated in Portland, a feat that earned him and his fellow officers a segment on the 60 Minutes news program. Moose was promoted to the rank of sergeant in 1981 and lieutenant in 1984. In 1991 he became the captain of Portland’s North Precinct and the following year advanced to the position of deputy chief. In 1993, after eighteen years with the Portland Police Department, Moose was named its chief, making him the first African American to hold that title. By that time he had also earned a master’s degree in public administration from Portland State University as well as a doctorate in urban studies and criminology from that institution. For his dissertation Moose wrote The Theory and Practice of Community Policing: An Evaluation of the Iris Court Demonstration Project, a study based on his work with the Portland Police Department.
Moose’s tenure as Portland’s police chief was marked by both success and controversy. Soon after assuming control of the department, Moose and his wife moved into one of the city’s most crime-ridden, inner-city neighborhoods. The presence of the police chief in the neighborhood helped to reduce the incidence of crime there and aided in its restoration to a family-oriented place. Crime also plummeted throughout Portland as a whole during Moose’s time there. Moose claimed that his implementation of community policing, with officers stationed in neighborhoods throughout the city, was responsible for the reduction in crime, although some experts noted that the drop was part of a nationwide trend due to a strong economy and changing demographics.
Among Moose’s more controversial moments were a series of run-ins he had with members of the public. In each case Moose exploded when he thought that someone had slighted him because of his race. One well-publicized argument occurred in a store, where Moose thought he was being denied service by a clerk. In another confrontation Moose argued with a colleague who had told him he looked like a gang member because he came to work one day wearing jeans. As a result of his outbursts Moose was ordered to undergo anger-management counseling by his department’s review board.
In 1999 Moose emerged as a finalist for the job of chief of the Montgomery County, Maryland, Police Department. The announcement was surprising because Moose had not even applied for the job, but had instead been recruited for the position by the Montgomery County Council. The county’s police force was then under a federal investigation over alleged racial profiling tactics and other discriminatory law-enforcement practices. Moose, who had become a national spokesperson against racial profiling, was therefore an obvious choice as a reformer for the troubled department. Moose also impressed the county council with his pledge to bring his experience with community policing to the new post. “If you don’t have trust, no-one is talking to you, no-one is helping you, and you are not going to reduce crime,” the Washington Post quoted Moose at his June 1999 interview for the post, “The community has to trust me.”
As an affluent, suburban community of Washington, D.C., Montgomery County held a different set of challenges than Moose’s previous post as head of the Portland Police Department. One of his first acts was to reorganize the department, which had over 1,000 officers, to streamline its management and allow for better long-term planning, including new substations for growing areas of the county. Moose also oversaw completion of a review of alleged racial profiling among the county’s officers.
Analyzing the results of an in-depth study, Moose concluded that the department’s officers were not acting in a racially discriminatory manner. Although African-American drivers were stopped by the police for traffic violations in numbers that exceeded their percentage of the county’s population, the numbers corresponded to traffic tickets issued by automatic red-light cameras and speed detectors. In Moose’s view, this confirmed the conclusion that “There’s consistency,” as he told the Washington Post in November of 2001, adding, “We don’t have any evidence of racial profiling.”
On October 2, 2002, a gunshot tore across a parking lot of a grocery store in suburban Wheaton, Maryland, killing James Martin. As the police puzzled over the seemingly random shooting, they had no way of knowing that one of the most brutal killing sprees in American history had just begun. The snipers—who would eventually be identified as unemployed Army veteran John Allen Muhammad and his teenage companion, John Lee Malvo—had already killed one woman and injured another in a liquor store robbery in Montgomery, Alabama, the prior month. Before they were captured on October 24, 2002, the two killed a total of ten people in the metropolitan District of Columbia area in thirteen sniper attacks. The deadly spree quickly gained national media coverage once it became clear that the acts were being committed by the same person or group of people.
Because the initial attacks occurred in Montgomery County, Moose became the focus of the almost daily media briefings. Although his controlled demeanor helped to allay some of the panic over the attacks, many schools in Montgomery County shut down temporarily or canceled events after a thirteen-year-old boy was shot as he made his way to school on October 7. Moose also had a contentious relationship with the media; although he used his television appearances to communicate with the snipers, he appeared to resent some of the questions that reporters threw at him during the investigation. For many citizens of Montgomery County, however, Moose remained a reassuring presence during a time of immense stress. As Sandy Herman-Moose related in a Washington Post profile published on November 4, 2002, her advice to her husband during the investigation was to “Go out there, tell your public you love them and that you’re working hard to keep them safe.”
After Muhammad and Malvo were caught, Moose had to endure criticism of his handling of the sniper investigation. Not only had his department released descriptions of a suspect and vehicle that were entirely wrong, the sniper task force had hung up on the suspects several times when they had called its hotline. The department had not followed up on suspicions voiced by victims of the Alabama robbery and shooting that the sniper incidents seemed related—missing the chance to broadcast an accurate description of the suspects and their car—and the police in the region had failed to check up on Muhammad and Malvo despite having stopped their car ten times during the period of the attacks. It was only after the snipers bragged in a phone call to the police that they had committed the Alabama murder that the force finally was able to identify Muhammad and Malvo as suspects. “When the clues were out there and were ignored, when solid, old-fashioned, shoe-leather sleuthing didn’t happen, I have to ask: Why are we glorifying ineptitude?” asked Susan R. Rainer in a November 24, 2002, Washington Post column, adding “The truth is, the two were caught despite the chief’s and the task force’s efforts, not because of them.”
In January of 2003 Moose announced that he had sold the movie rights to his life story to a production company and had entered into a book deal to write about the D.C. sniper attacks with a ghostwriter. The deals immediately raised concerns that Moose was profiting from a tragedy, an allegation he denied. On March 20, 2003, the Montgomery County Ethics Commission formally barred Moose from proceeding with his projects after a contentious hearing determined that such activities would violate the prestige of his public office and potentially endanger the criminal prosecution of the sniper suspects by revealing details of the investigation. According to The Smoking Gun website, the Ethics Council’s opinion stated, “It is not in the best interests of the County to allow its employees to ‘trade on’ their government activities for private gain in such a direct and immediate fashion. Such conduct leads citizens to question whether public employees are discharging their duties in the public interest or in furtherance of some private interest.” Moose filed an appeal of the ruling and his agent announced that the chief was proceeding with his book and movie deal regardless of the Council’s ruling. However, Moose chose to leave the force to pursue his interests.
On September 15, 2003, Moose’s book, Three Weeks in October: The Manhunt for the Serial Sniper was released to much controversy. Many critics felt that the book played too much to making Moose look like a frustrated hero and too little into actually describing the difficulties the police faced in catching the two snipers. An even bigger concern came from Robert F. Horan, one of the prosecuting attorneys for the Malvo and Muhammad cases, who said to CBS News, “If it gets into the evidence - what they did, how they did it - then you get into an area where the argument can be made that anybody who read the book will be unfairly prejudiced.” Moose, however, felt that his story was one that needed to be told. As he wrote in Three Weeks, “No matter where I go with the rest of my life, and no matter what else I do, I will always be the police chief who led the super task force.”
(with Charles Fleming) Three Weeks in October: The Manhunt for the Serial Sniper, E. P. Dutton, 2003.
Moose, Charles, and Charles Fleming, Three Weeks in October: The Manhunt for the Serial Sniper, E. P. Dutton, 2003.
American Journalism Review, December 2002, p. 32.
Ebony, April 2003, p. 86.
New York Post, October 23, 2002, p. 5.
News-Record (Piedmont Triad, NC), October 31, 2002, p. Al.
People, November 4, 2002, p. 75.
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, September 15, 1997, p. B2.
Star-Ledger (Newark, NJ), October 24, 2002, p. 12; June 19, 2003, p. 32.
Washington Post, June 9, 1999, p. Bl; December 22, 1999, p. Bl; March 29, 2001, p. T3; November 2, 2001, p. Bl; October 25, 2002, p. Al; October 28, 2002, p. A10; November 4, 2002, p. Al; November 24, 2002, p. B3; December 26, 2002, p. T4; February 4, 2003, p. Bl; March 5, 2003, p. Bl; April 5, 2003, p. B2.
“Before the Montgomery County Ethics Commission,” The Smoking Gun, www.thesmokinggun.com/archive/mooseethicsl.html (April 7, 2003).
“Charles Alexander Moose, Ph.D,” Montgomery Country Department of Police, www.montgomerycountymd.gov/mc/services/police/chiefbio.htm (April 7, 2003).
“Three Weeks in October,” CBS News, www.cbsnews.com/stories/2003/09/12/print/main573010.shtml (September 23, 2003)
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