Montgomery County's new police chief, Charles A. Moose, said yesterday he will "not retreat" from problems in the department and will work to strengthen its ties with the public, particularly among minorities.
"I'll implement, I'll change, I'll do whatever [to fix what] the people of Montgomery County identify as problems," Moose said as he was sworn in as the county's 15th police chief. He is the second African American to hold the job.
Moose, who is being paid $125,000--$112,000 less than the county's new school superintendent--succeeds Carol A. Mehrling, who retired earlier this year.
He takes over in Montgomery after six years as police chief in Portland, Ore., where he was known for standing up for his officers and eliciting input from the community, even as both sometimes were subjected to his short fuse and hot temper.
But it was all smiles yesterday as 250 Montgomery police officers, local dignitaries and neighboring police chiefs watched at the University of Maryland's Shady Grove campus as Moose swore to uphold the law. He was dressed the same as other Montgomery officers--in a plain brown uniform over a bulletproof vest, a handgun on his right hip and silver handcuffs dangling from his gun belt. His official name tag read simply: C.A. Moose.
Despite Montgomery's local reputation as a liberal suburban stronghold, Moose and his wife, Sandy Herman Moose, said during the ceremony that after his selection was announced, they were approached in Portland by at least two dozen people, including strangers, who told them that the Ku Klux Klan was active in Montgomery and that it could be a "challenge" and a "difficult" place for an interracial couple to live.
"But we come here today with no hesitation," Moose said. "We come today with our eyes and our hearts wide open."
Over the past three years, the police department Moose now heads has come under public criticism concerning allegations that some officers target and brutalize minority citizens. Complaints from the local NAACP prompted the U.S. Justice Department to conduct a civil rights review of the police department; the findings are expected to be released soon.
Moose told the assembled officers and dignitaries that he will spend the next month meeting with community leaders to hear what they have to say about the department. He said he believes many minorities don't trust the police based on "historical experience and present-day practice." It hasn't been too long, he noted, since peaceful civil rights demonstrators were met with police dogs, and he said he doesn't overlook the "over-representation of people of color" in U.S. prisons.
"Does this create optimism or fear?" Moose, 45, asked. "I hope it creates optimism."
He said he expects that Montgomery police will "listen to the demands of people of color, and that they will participate in healing themselves."
Sandy Herman Moose, 46, said she plans to resume her career in human rights law, particularly in cases involving the poor.
Lt. James A. Fenner Jr., one of the department's two highest-ranking African American officers who attended the swearing-in ceremony, said he liked what he heard.
"He doesn't cut words," Fenner said. "I don't think he'll sit back and react. I think he'll be more proactive."
Moose's own remarks about his candor drew the most applause yesterday.
"Apparently I'm the only . . . person in the Portland Police Bureau to have a temper," he said, pausing for effect.
"Oh, well," he said with a smile. "We got things done."