Twenty years ago, a young Oregon police officer who patrolled Portland's poorest neighborhoods won the attention of a community worker when he began bringing troubled teenagers to the local youth center.

When other officers "were into just straight law enforcement," Charles A. Moose worked to find alternatives that would keep teenagers out of trouble, counseling and tutoring them himself, Lolenzo Poe recalled this week.

"He used the community as a place to problem-solve," said Poe, who worked at the center and now heads Portland's nonprofit Coalition of Black Men.

Moose stepped into a new problem-solving role this week when Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) named him to lead the county's police department, subject to the approval of the County Council.

Moose, Portland's police chief and a national leader in community policing, will be called on to help Montgomery police mend ties with some in the county's minority community. In a county that enjoys relatively low crime rates, police have been unable to shake criticism that some officers harass and occasionally brutalize minorities, particularly African American men.

Community activists in Portland say Moose's ability to interact with different groups has become a hallmark of his tenure. Considered one of the city's most candid and sought-after public speakers, he has marched in gay pride parades, tutored children in his local elementary school, raised money for a group home for former youth gang members and still earned a reputation as a "cop's cop" among rank-and-file officers.

With candor that occasionally erupted into a hot temper -- Portland's newspaper headlined yesterday's editorial on Moose's departure with "Chief Never Was Milquetoast" -- Moose aggressively sought community input, some Portland activists said. While his no-nonsense style sometimes came across as abrasive or politically incorrect, they said, many people saw him as a refreshing "straight-shooter."

Several Montgomery County community leaders on a citizens review panel that interviewed Moose said they hoped his blunt style would cut through years of ill feelings and growing mistrust between Montgomery police and some minorities. Some also said they hoped Moose's reputation as a bold, outspoken leader would bolster morale in a department where some officers say they feel under constant scrutiny with little support from the top.

Paul Tierney, who is chairman of the county's Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee and who interviewed Moose, said he liked Moose's response when asked what he would do about complaints that some citizens are unfairly targeted by Montgomery police because of race.

"Other [candidates] said we need statistics, we need studies," Tierney said. "His answer was that he would take that as a problem that had to be dealt with immediately, that he would emphasize to police officers that it wasn't acceptable. He seemed like a man of action, someone who would do something about a perceived problem immediately, rather than do a long, drawn-out study."

Gaithersburg Police Chief Mary Ann Viverette, who interviewed Moose as a panel member, said Moose's doctorate in urban studies and criminology made him one of the better-educated candidates. She said she had worked with Moose on the civil rights committee of the International Association of Chiefs of Police and recalled his insistence that racial-profiling be taken seriously.

Moose's blunt style and his position as an outsider, Viverette said, could kick-start dialogue between Montgomery officers and the minority community.

"Obviously, relations with the NAACP have been strained for a while," Viverette said. "It seemed the NAACP was on one side and the police department was on the other, and there was a communication barrier. I thought maybe an outsider could open up the communication and reduce those barriers a bit."

Some noted that Duncan's choice of Moose seemed in sharp contrast to Carol A. Mehrling, who retired in February after four years as the county's police chief. Unlike Duncan, Mehrling shunned the media, and her soft-spoken and more reserved nature sometimes clashed with Duncan's aggressive style.

After a citizen task force last year accused some police officers of racial insensitivity, Mehrling never responded publicly. By contrast, Moose seemed at ease in front of the cameras at Thursday's news conference, fielding questions, including one from a reporter who asked Duncan whether he chose Moose simply because he is black.

"I judge people by the content of their character," Moose said. "I can only hope everyone in this room and everyone in this community feels the same way."

Next question?

In Portland, Moose represented a similar change in leadership style six years ago, when he was named chief after 18 years on the force.

"Before Moose, having access to the chief in Portland was unheard of," said Poe, the Coalition of Black Men director. "Now you actually see the chief around town. . . . I'd be surprised if you stopped anyone on the streets of Portland and asked who the chief was and they wouldn't say Charles Moose."

Moose added police department liaisons to different communities, including every racial group and gay men and lesbians. Each precinct has its own outreach officer to senior citizens. Moose also expanded the number of officers assigned to meeting regularly with neighborhood groups, said Greg Pluchos, president of the 1,000-member Portland police union.

The number of "mini-precincts" -- offices in neighborhoods where patrol officers could fill out paperwork while volunteers answer questions from the public -- also grew under Moose's watch, Pluchos said.

Moose almost always dresses in a police uniform, winning points with the rank and file.

"He seems to be aware of what street cops are up against," Pluchos said. "When we bring something to him about new equipment or training, he makes sure they get implemented."

About two years ago, Portland officers asked for a way to stop dangerous people without using deadly force, Pluchos said. Moose agreed to issue specially trained officers shotguns filled with small bean bags, something Montgomery police say they studied at one point but chose not to use.

Staff writer Craig Whitlock contributed to this report.