As the public point man in the investigation into the deadly sniper attacks, Montgomery County Police Chief Charles A. Moose has been the sympathetic top cop reassuring the public, the combative official accusing the media of compromising the probe and the emotional father figure urging residents to spend more time with their children.
Moose, by all accounts an intensely private man, displayed his personality very publicly every day on national television. But he revealed little about himself or his personal feelings.
He has declined repeated requests to be interviewed. But with two suspects in custody and the sniper attacks apparently over, Moose, 49, has become more expansive, speaking with more self-reflection than he has shown over the past four weeks.
In an interview with CNN broadcast yesterday, Moose referred more than once to "lessons learned" from the investigation. Most of those were not very specific, but they displayed a man allowing himself a few moments of introspection after a trying month.
"What I would say is that we're following up in the sense that if there are lessons learned there for law enforcement as we continue in the 21st century, we'll make note of that," he said, answering a question about the 10 times the Chevrolet Caprice driven by suspects John Allen Muhammad and John Lee Malvo raised suspicion among area police officers.
At one point, Moose also playfully chided interviewer Wolf Blitzer for the network's failure to promptly tell police about calls CNN may have received from people claiming to be the snipers.
But Moose, who has gone from unknown suburban police chief to one of the most recognized people in the world, was at his most revealing when he was asked about the impact the sniper shootings have had on his life.
"I will always remember that we didn't ask for this to land in Montgomery County," Moose said. "There's going to be other problems somewhere else. There's going to be another police chief somewhere else. It'll move on. It's not about me.
"I'll always wish that we could've found these people sooner so we could've had fewer victims, impacted fewer families. But it really, it's not about me."
Nevertheless, the chief has won rave reviews from local residents for his bluntness and down-to-earth manner. He has even inspired www.chiefmoose.com, a tongue-in-cheek Web site that is home to the "Chief Moose Fan Club." Last Friday, someone hung a white sheet from an overpass on the outer loop of the Capital Beltway in Montgomery County spray-painted with large black letters saying "Thanks Moose."
Moose commands a 1,074-officer police force in a county with 850,000 residents. Although Montgomery has had its share of high-profile cases, there were just 19 homicides in the last year, far fewer than in the District and many other area jurisdictions.
Unlike his counterparts in Prince George's County and the District, Moose was not in the habit of holding news conferences. Known for his temper and dislike of media coverage, Moose has also been known to hang up on reporters who question him, asking them, "How many homicide investigations have you done?"
Moose was hired by Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) in 1999 with a mission to defuse tension among members of minorities groups and the police. He was a well-regarded candidate who surfaced late in the county's search and never formally applied for the job. He came to Montgomery from Portland, Ore., after putting in bids to run departments in Jackson, Miss., and the District. The D.C. job went to Charles H. Ramsey.
Moose grew up in Lexington, a small town in rural North Carolina. He attended segregated schools through sixth grade and graduated with a bachelor's degree in U.S. history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He received a master's degree in public administration and a doctorate in urban studies from Portland State University.
He was Portland's police chief from 1993 to July 1999, after starting as a patrol officer in Portland in 1975.