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Sniper Probe Spotlights Chief's Style

As the face of authority in a national drama, Charles A. Moose of Montgomery County, Md., has shown a range of emotions in his dealings with the media.

October 14, 2002|Jonathan Peterson | Times Staff Writer

ROCKVILLE, Md. — He has become a household name, a daily presence on national television, the earnest, sometimes testy voice of the hunt for a killer.

In the effort to solve the sniper slayings that have sent waves of fear around the nation's capital, Charles A. Moose is the top cop -- chief of police in Montgomery County, Md., the quintessential suburban area where peace was shattered almost two weeks ago with a spree of five lethal shootings in less than 16 hours.

"There's a lot of pressure on him," said Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan. "There's a lot of people pulling on him.... He is showing emotion when the situation requires it. He is showing reassurance when the situation requires it. I'm proud of what he's doing."

In his polite, nonmacho style, the 49-year-old Moose is the voice of law enforcement in an unfolding national drama. Day after day, he faces the cameras, almost mechanically avoiding questions about the course of the investigation for fear that such details might help the killer. Over and over, he asks the public to call in tips on hotlines that already have generated thousands of calls.

And he urges the media to show restraint in their reporting of a chilling crime story that now overshadows most other domestic news: "I know that is very tough for everyone," Moose told reporters who flocked to police headquarters Sunday morning for a briefing. "But that is our request."

Moose, who dresses in a tidy police uniform rather than the suit and tie favored by some chiefs, is not anybody's stereotype.

He holds a doctorate in urban studies and, while serving in the police department, taught college courses in Portland, Ore. -- the city where he began his law enforcement career, rising to become chief before being hired by Montgomery County in 1999.

A week ago, when the sniper shot a 13-year-old boy who was walking into a middle school, Moose could not hide his emotions.

"Shooting a kid -- it's getting really, really personal now," the chief said, a tear streaming down his cheek.

Soon after, his wife, Sandy, told the Raleigh, N.C., News & Observer that the moment had revealed her husband's more private, sensitive side, not often seen in public: "That's the real Charles. That's the guy behind all the toughness."

Later in the week, when word leaked to local media that the sniper had left a Tarot card and a taunting note near the school, the tougher side of the chief -- who has acknowledged some problems with his temper in the past -- exploded into public view. "I have not received any message that the citizens of Montgomery County want Channel 9 or the Washington Post or any other media outlet to solve this case," he said, livid. "If they do, then let me know.... To date, the people in my community have asked the police department to work the case. So I beg of the media: Let us do our job."

While he was at it, Moose tossed some barbs at former law enforcement officers and others outside of Washington who were going on television with various theories about the sniper investigation.

"We've got retired police chiefs out there looking for other jobs, taking advantage of this situation to get their face on television," he complained. "How sad. How insulting."

Moose is just one official in a growing web of local and federal law enforcement agencies involved in the investigation, including the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the Secret Service and police from the District of Columbia and the neighboring counties in Maryland and Virginia where the sniper also has struck. But in a sense, Montgomery County remains ground zero, the scene of five killings on the evening of Oct. 2 and morning of Oct. 3 that introduced a frightening new killer to the world -- one who shot 10 people in 10 days, leaving eight dead and two wounded.

Often, such huge police mobilizations with multiple agencies are marred by tensions and rivalries. But publicly at least, officials award Moose high grades for handling the organizational headaches that go with the current dragnet.

"It's very important to speak with one voice," said Gary M. Bald, special agent in charge of the FBI regional office in Baltimore. "He speaks for us."

Moose, who grew up in the small town of Lexington, N.C., went straight from the University of North Carolina -- where he graduated with a history degree -- to the police department in Portland, where he spent 24 years. Even as he earned a master's in public administration and a doctorate in urban studies from Portland State University, he climbed the Portland Police Bureau's ranks to become the city's first African American chief. His six years in charge there were occasionally stormy -- but they also were a time of accomplishment, when the crime rate fell, community policing efforts improved, personnel standards rose and technologies were adopted.

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