Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) said yesterday that Police Chief Charles A. Moose is doing exactly what he was hired to do, regardless of how controversial that might be.
Duncan's sweeping endorsement came as the new police chief revealed that he has ordered major changes in the handling of complaints against officers, both those made by citizens and by other police officers. Duncan lauded the new procedure, which will centralize the complaint process in the Office of Internal Affairs, as "excellent."
It also came as some County Council members suggested that Moose spoke too bluntly in assessing problems in the department during a speech last week to graduates of the police academy. One council member recommended that Moose get a speech writer.
Duncan, who attended Thursday's ceremony at Northwest High School in Germantown, described Moose's speech as "blunt" and "unusual" for a police academy graduation, but said he understands Moose's intended message.
"He feels very strongly that if you have officers who've lied, how can you trust them in the future? That makes a lot of sense to me.
"The message he gave was we don't tolerate officers who are untruthful," Duncan said.
In last week's speech, Moose said he was deeply troubled that eight officers against whom charges of untruthfulness have been sustained since 1994 continue to "carry a badge and a gun, and drive about the county arresting people and going to court and testifying."
Moose said he could not disclose information about the incidents in which the officers were found to have lied because of the confidentiality of personnel records. Police department rules state simply that "employees will not make untruthful statements, either verbal or written, pertaining to official duties."
The shift to a centralized complaint-handling process, effective Nov. 1, comes less than a month after the County Council's Office of Legislative Oversight issued a 240-page report that sharply criticized the current process as ambiguous, out of date and misunderstood by officers and citizens.
The move to a new system, designed to ensure that complaints are handled in a consistent manner and give the chief a better idea of how his officers are performing, was hailed yesterday by activists who for years have pushed for a simpler internal affairs system.
Linda M. Plummer, president of the Montgomery County chapter of the NAACP and one of the department's most vocal critics, said she was not surprised by the move, the most wide-ranging that Moose has initiated since he took office Aug. 2.
"It lets the complainants know exactly who is adjudicating what," said Stephen Block, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney in the District who helped shape the report to the County Council.
Under the new system, complaints filed against police officers will be handled initially by the Office of Internal Affairs, which will determine whether allegations are minor enough to be handled by officials in district stations.
Currently, sergeants and lieutenants in one of the five district stations have the authority to determine whether complaints are severe enough to be forwarded to internal affairs.
Ronald Clarkson, the county's police community relations facilitator, said many complainants will find "comfort in knowing that [their] complaints are seen outside of the district stations."
But Michael L. Subin (D-At Large), a member of the council committee that blasted Moose's speech, said yesterday that Moose should have chosen his words more carefully and suggested the outspoken chief hire a speech writer. "I don't think that would be a bad idea. We all should have our speeches reviewed before we get up there.
"I think the chief's philosophies are exactly what they should be. He's going to have to use a better message to deliver those philosophies. Sometimes the perceptions of what he's saying don't match up to what he intends them to mean."
CAPTION: Montgomery County Police Chief Charles A. Moose is praised for his plan to ease the complaint process.