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Biography: A message from Moose

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If Montgomery County Maryland officials were genuinely concerned that former police chief Charles Moose‘s book Three Months in October: The Manhunt for the Serial Sniper represented a conflict of interest, they may lament having convinced him to resign. It doesn’t. If any law enforcement personnel believe the narrative might jeopardize the prosecution of the snipers, they too can release their breaths. The book doesn’t do that, either. It isn’t the kind of production that threatens either civilians or cops.

What Moose’s effort is is an autobiography that includes some information about the search for the Washington, D.C., area snipers this time last year. There is some new and some clarifying material about the investigation in the book.

  • The Chevrolet Caprice people often confuse with the alleged shooters’ car was altogether different. It turned up burned out and abandoned early in the investigation.
  • There were scores of suspects investigated and cleared during the probe, despite the assumption the task force was largely without suspects during most of the period.
  • Richmond, Va., area law enforcement personnel arrested two illegal aliens at a Ponderosa Steak House where one of the shootings occurred after the task force told them the men had not called the hotline, the criterion for apprehension.
  • A major piece of evidence linking Lee Boyd Malvo and John Muhammad to the case, identification of Malvo’s fingerprint, would not have occurred if Police Chief Charles Moose had not enlisted the help of federal authorities in the investigation.
  • Washington Post reporters attacked Moose for writing his book while writing a competitor that tells more about the sniper investigation than his does.
  • Other assumptions people made about Moose’s agenda then and now may be inaccurate, as well. He describes the investigation as a shared responsibility, with three agencies taking the lead. He credits Agent Gary Bald of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Agent Michael Bouchard of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms with having played as much of a role in the investigation as he did. Bald was able to expedite much of the investigating because the FBI is a much faster moving entity than local law enforcement. For example, the tree trunk in Tacoma, Washington, Muhammad had fired shots into was whisked to a national lab in hours under the FBI’s auspices. The ATF both located the negligent gun seller who allowed the suspects to get access to the Bushmaster assault weapon and confirmed the match between the gun and recovered bullets and cartridges beyond a reasonable doubt within hours of recovery of the gun.

    Moose’s major contribution to the probe was being the face of it and communicating with the suspects. I don’t believe the latter role can be overestimated. But for Moose’s ability to establish a rapport with the two, they would not have continued to send messages to the investigators. Indeed, they could have ended their spree and disappeared into the underbelly of America. The first message was the tarot card found near the school where a teenager was shot. When its existence was leaked, Moose was able to reassure the suspects by insisting the media, not the police, were responsible. That led to subsequent messages, letters left at two other sites of shootings. The suspects also increased their phone communications after Moose’s responses, making important mistakes in the process, such as the slip about a shooting in Montgomery, Alabama. Those errors in their communication with the task force were ultimately their undoing.

    Charles Moose’ other, and perhaps, more significant, reason for writing a book is to tell his own story of success and, sometimes, failure. That story is interesting because it chronicles both a society and an individual. Moose grew up in a part of North Carolina I know well. In many ways, his memories parallel those of my older brother and sister. Key to those memories are race. Moose remembers the segregated neighborhoods of the times, the signs telling people of color they could not eat in restaurants and an active Ku Klux Klan. Since I am younger than he is, I have no memory of segregation de jure. However, I do recall a cross-burning. The KKK burned a cross on the lawn of the dentist who lived down the street from us when I was in elementary school. The tensions left over from a few years previous were also still very much present when this native North Carolinian became cognizant of the world around her.

    Moose went on to predominantly white settings such as the University of North Carolina and Portland, Oregon, where he was a policeman for more than 20 years. However, the race problem didn’t go away just because he moved from one part of the country to another. Incidents when he complained about discriminatory treatment would leave the only blemishes on his reputation as a police officer. In that odd way white people too often have of blaming people of color for daring to criticize any of them, Moose became the problem, not the persons who had treated him in racist ways.

    Moose was chief of police in Portland when I moved here. He had held the office since the summer of 1993. His greatest achievement has been to end the high rate of aggravated assaults and murders caused by gangs in the city. Seattle and Portland, and, to a lesser extent, Salem and Vancouver, had developed severe problems with the Bloods and the Crips when many families from southern California immigrated to the Pacific Northwest during the 1980s and 1990s. Through a combination of community policing and a special gang squad, Moose’s department was able to eliminate the bloody footprints of the gangs, reducing Portland homicides by two-thirds. Only during the last year has the gang problem begun to recur, with some of those previously incarcerated now released and Hispanic gangs becoming larger and more active.

    No one works all the time. Charles Moose has been less successful in his personal life than in his public role. Despite growing up middle-class, he has suffered his share of family tragedy. His mother died in her early 40s and his father would succumb to Alzheimer’s before he turned 60. His older brother, David, suffered some kind of psychiatric trauma that left him dysfunctional, and homeless much of the time, from his 20s until his own early death. Moose’s sister, Dorothy, seems the most stable member of the family, though her homosexuality must have been quite a surprise to a straight arrow like him. His own first marriage became continuing grounds for acrimony. The initial Mrs. Moose, Linder, has never forgiven him for eventually wedding Sandy, the woman he carried on an affair with while they were married. Only as he neared adulthood did David, Moose’s son, form a solid relationship with his father. Though the former chief says he is pleased with his current domestic situation, he regrets having missed most of his only child’s childhood.

    I haven’t said anything about Charles Fleming, Moose’s co-author. That is because there is hardly anything to say. I expected him to contribute the abilities of an experienced writer to the project. But, despite his name being on the jacket, there is no evidence Fleming contributed anything to the book. The writing is that of a nonprofessional — unpolished, repetitious and lacking in expressiveness. Moose could have written this book with no help. . . and I suspect he did.

    My opinion of Moose did change while reading Three Weeks in October. I realized that, despite having successfully completed two advanced degrees, he is no intellectual. Instead, he is a person who is able to combine an academic understanding of his subject area, law enforcement, with the nuts and bolts know-how to get things done. A consummate pragmatist. Consider one of Moose’s achievements in Portland — cleaning up a housing development that was festering with crime. He used funds he acquired by applying for a community development block grant. One of the things he did with the money was to set up a small community policing office in the development. However, his fellow cops refused to come by and he didn’t have the power to force them. His response was to install a color television set in the community policing office. Policemen began to come by to watch football on the television set. There were soon enough officers on hand whenever they were needed in the neighborhood. An intellectual might have ended up frustrated when his plans were marred by a lack of cooperation from other cops. A street smart officer might not have gone through the mind numbing bureacratics of applying for the grant in the first place. But, the combination of willingness to jump through bureaucratic hoops and the moxie needed to get bodies into that community policing office worked wonders together.

    Portland’s next police chief had a much bumpier ride than Moose. Some of the citizenry came to regret Moose’s departure for the East Coast and asked him to reconsider the position. Obviously, even if the man decides to return to law enforcement, he can’t be everywhere. However, I believe the strengths that have made him a better than average police chief can be cloned. Moose’s blend of academic theory and real world practice are a combination that should be sought in leaders in law enforcement.

    Though Three Weeks in October is not an extraordinary book, I believe it is a fine introduction to both the realities of police work and the realities of what it means to be a proud, capable person of African descent in America.

    Note 1: I purposely did not read any reviews of Charles Moose’s book until after I wrote my review two days ago. Since, I have browsed the responses at Amazon. The outpouring of hatred toward Moose shocked even me, not exactly a stranger to bigotry. I have seen similar material at white supremacist sites, but thought people would behave better at a general audience venue.

    Note 2: My blog is Mac-a-ro-nies.

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    About The Diva

    • MD, I reviewed this book too, not realizing you had posted yours last night. I liked the book overall, though I thought that the title was somewhat misleading.

      I just scanned the comments at Amazon and I’m not sure what you’re referring to as bigotry, or how the comments might compare to those found at a racist site. I note already that one of them is dated today, and it is the only possibly-racist one I see, so I’ll excerpt them here before they are all pushed down by new comments.

      +—- Should be titled: A black officers rise to power., October 8, 2003
      Reviewer: Mindy Haines from Millersville, MD United States

      I lived in this area through these events. My husband works at a car dealership one mile from the middle school shooting. We were afraid to go anywhere. I’d prefer to let my gas tank run dry than to try to pump gas. I feared my husband would go to work and not come home. I sent my daughter to school and prayed from the time she left the house until I knew she was safe inside the building. This was real. This was terror! I respected Charles Moose for the way he ran the investigation and for the way he handled the media and presented himself. He did a fantastic job. I still have a lot of gratitude and respect for him. As a result, I was anxious to read his book. I am utterly disappointed. I was not looking for a book about Charles A. Moose. I was looking for details about the sniper shootings. Perhaps I was hoping for a better understanding of what happened during those three weeks. I have not found that in Mr. Moose’s book. I do not think it is well written at all. I feel that Mr. Moose spends far to much time discussing himself and his history as a black officer rising to a powerful position (every other chapter). That is not what the book should have been about. I applaud Mr. Moose’s success, but this was not the place for him to pat himself on the back.

      This doesn’t sound like criticism of Charles Moose at all, but disappointment that a book entitled Three Weeks In October spends so little time actually detailing those three weeks. The commenter otherwise says that she respected Charles Moose, that he did a fantastic job, and that she still has a lot of gratitude and respect for him. She applauds his success, but two things contribute to her one-star rating: That it is poorly written – something you mention in your own review, and that I charitably left out of mine – and that it doesn’t spend enough time on the aforementioned three weeks. Both I think are valid concerns. She did use the word “black,” but of course that is a huge part of Charles Moose’s story about himself.

      +—- Wanting to be a hero, October 6, 2003
      Reviewer: A reader from Silver Spring, MD United States

      I live literally 5 minutes away from the scence of the second shooting, and my grandmother’s apartment was about 5 yards from the scence of another shooting. This is my home. So I figured that this book could prove interesting. Bah, humbug. Moose makes everytihng out to seem as if he was hero, ignoring the fact that there was no white box van, and the witnesses who described the actual car were ignored. What’s worse is that publication of the book could screw up the sniper trials (at least in Maryland), and he violated every ethics law on the books. He wasn’t that great of a police chief before the shootings, and he was even worse during and afer them. Buy the book if you want to hear about a man who wasn’t even liked by his own officers.

      This guy definitely doesn’t like Charles Moose, but I don’t see any indication that his dislike is based on anything other than his fear and his general disgust at how the case was handled. There is room for dispute there, and certainly it doesn’t seem like the book is likely to cause problems for the trials, but there doesn’t seem to be a racist component.

      +—- Disappointing and Off the Subject, October 6, 2003
      Reviewer: A reader from Olney, Maryland United States

      As a resident of the target area, I had hoped to learn what was going on “behind the scenes” as we watched the news reports. Instead the chief’s book seemed to center on his personal life, his disappointments, and his problems with his perceptions of racial bias in this country. I’m sorry he resigned his job as Chief of Police. He was well liked in the police department. I think he was a much better policeman than an author.

      Another person who seems to genuinely like and respect Charles Moose both as a person and as the Chief of Police, but think the book fails to deliver on its promises. It is hard to disagree with that. While I thought that the story of Moose’s life was interesting and pretty good, it wasn’t at all what I expected, either.

      +—- No Hero, October 3, 2003
      Reviewer: MCP Officer from Montgomery County, Maryland

      Former Montgomery County police chief Moose may have been the face of the investigation but certainly wasn’t the brains. Quick to cash in on tragedy and ten deaths, he showed who he really is. I am a Montgomery County Police officer with over 20 years of proud service to my community. My brother and sister officers patrolled the streets during the dangerous days while Moose, a four year MCP officer, hid in front of the cameras assuring residents that they and their children were safe, ignoring credible police information about the Chevy Caprice. We seek no reward and are still here serving the community while Mr. Moose goes around the country peddling his dull, whiny news book.
      Let us not forget that it was Mr. Moose and his media savy boss who assured the community that their children were safe. That was a few days before the snipers shot a kid in Bowie. Some comfort. The value of the book is that it shows how anyone with an “opportunity” as Moose said, the media, blood, death, and tragedy can go from obscurity to fame without substance in the minds of those poor little who need to watch fewer soap operas and get a life.

      Another angry review, this one no fan of Moose, but again lacking any hints of anything resulting from the color of Charles Moose’ skin.

      In fact, most of these reviews seem to be based on what I mention in my own review of the book: fear. People were in terror, and they want to blame someone. Who better than Chief Moose? These reviews aren’t from people scattered along the west coast looking down their noses at Chief Moose, they’re from people who lived in the area during the shootings and were terrified. They were told their kids were safe and then heard a kid was shot. They were told to be on the watch for a white van, and then the killers weren’t driving a white van.

      And most of all, they picked up a book entitled Three Weeks in October: The Manhunt for the Serial Sniper and got quite a lot about Charles Moose and very little about those three weeks, the manhunt, or the serial snipers.

    • I believe the attacks are coming because of Moose’s race. A person does not have to use the n-word or something similar to be acting out of racial animus. I think many of the people criticizing the book are acting out of racial animus, based on reading those comments at Amazon and others. (For example, check out comments at the Baltimore Sun’s site.) Furthermore, I doubt the commenters even READ the book. If you had been living in the skin I have for my whole life, I don’t believe you would have any doubt about what I am saying.

      I haven’t read your review yet. Will do so and let you know what I think.

    • So long as we’re clear that your statement that “The outpouring of hatred toward Moose shocked even me, not exactly a stranger to bigotry. I have seen similar material at white supremacist sites, but thought people would behave better at a general audience venue.” is based on your beliefs but have no basis in anything actually found at Amazon. 😉

      It seemed to me as if most of them read the book, as most of them were expressing disappointment that it didn’t deliver what it promised, which was an in-depth look at the three-week investigation from the man at the center of it all. But then, I just took them at their word, while you seem to be reading a lot into the comments and finding stuff that isn’t even actually there.

      You could certainly be right, but you certainly must see why it’s hard to link up the printed words with your beliefs, right?

    • Eric Olsen

      MD, I like your review – you do a good job of separating your respect and admiration for the man – who strikes me as worthy of respect and admiration – from your criticism of the book. Isn’t that what some of these Amazon critics are doing also?

    • So, a few comments Phillip cherry picked from Amazon mean there is no racial animus involved in criticism of Charles Moose? Of course not. Here are some of the comments he did not cite:

      Profiting from Tragedy … Disgraceful, October 3, 2003

      Reviewer: A reader from VA United States

      Moose’s incompetence prolonged the investigation and ultimately cost lives. Although the sniper’s were identified early in the ordeal by a witness, Moose (brought to Montgomery County to combat racial profiling) insisted on using the racial profile of the snipers as white men in a white truck. Out of the hundreds of law enforcement officers involved Moose is the only one that chose to profit personally for this tragedy.

      DEPUTY DAWG, October 2, 2003

      Reviewer: A reader from Green Bay, WI

      This guy spent most of those three weeks searching for “right wing gun nuts” and “white supremists.” That’s all you need to know about Charles Moose.

      A Self Congratulatory & Lacrimatious Whine For Attention,, September 30, 2003

      Reviewer: A reader from Germantown, Maryland

      Reading this book reminded me what it was like raising my hyperactive, hypersensitive nephew- he whined from the day he left the womb and hasn’t stopped feeling sorry for himself since. Charles A. Moose’s lukewarm regurgitation of the events through which all of us in the DC Metro region suffered, is not only a missed opportunity to redeem himself for his foibles during those tense three weeks, but in addition it serves to insult fellow law enforcement officers, the press, victim’s families and the public at large. It doesn’t take much research to realize that this is a person with a permanent chip on his shoulder and perhaps someone to be ignored at all costs. A better representation of what these three weeks entailed for people in that region of the country, will probably come from one of the several OTHER books about to be released on this subject. The quality of writing wasn’t worthy of this Montgomery College student’s time.

      I heard Moose was planning to move to Germantown- I hope that’s not true! If he comes to my home town, I’ll leave!

      Don’t Blame Me!, September 29, 2003

      Reviewer: Andreana Overton from Silver Spring, MD

      Beyond the pathetic writings, it sickens me to think that Moo$e is being paid for a book that not only HURTS the investigation of the DC Snipers (tough to find an impartial jury now), but also allows him to gain credit for catching the bad guys. See, there was a reason the FBI was called in; Moo$e had no idea on how to run a major investigation. White guys in a white box van, huh? Funny the DC Snipers couldn’t be further from that description. If anything, Moo$e needs to apologize to all the hard working people that were taken out of those white box vans at gun point, handcuffed and searched without more than an apology. But then again, Moo$e likes ignoring good information… like putting out a look out for a blue Chevy Caprice with two black guys in it.

      This is merely a sampling. The majority of ‘reviews’ of the book at Amazon are similar — some semi-literate and none too bright white person sneering about Moose’s supposed lack of ability. I am not saying ALL the reviews are that way. There are reasonable comments from people, probably white, who actually read and understood the book. But, the overall tone is the one of hatred I referred to above. If anyone doubts that, I would encourage him or her to read all the comments at Amazon, instead of merely the ones Phillip selected.

      As always, race is a major fault line in perception of reality in America. For too many white Americans, whatever any capable person of color achieves must be derided for them to maintain their false sense of their own significance. Charles Moose and his two fellow co-chairmen of the task force handled the investigation as well as could be expected, but such people fail to see that because doing so would mean giving credit to someone they don’t want to acknowledge has talent. Meanwhile, the major 911 suspects are no closer to being apprehended than they were when the tragedy occurred, but the same segment criticizing Moose would not dream of critizing Bush because as an upper-class white man, Bush is ‘supposed to be’ a leader. That is the very essence of racism.

    • Joe

      The major 911 suspects were on the planes.

    • Actually, MD, I did not cherry-pick comments, but picked every single comment from the book page. I didn’t click the link to follow through to old comments, true.

      Even so, I’m offended by your characterization of the majority of commenters as “some semi-literate and none too bright white person.” That is racially divisive and offensive, and I think that you owe people an apology for your assumption. None of the commenters are clearly white, nor are any of them clearly picking on Moose because he is black. If you are looking for something to blame on racial animus, you will always find it, even where it doesn’t exist.

      I read these comments and see, for the most part, people who lived through those attacks and were terrified. None of them seem to attack Moose because he has dark skin, and for all you or I know, they could have dark skin themselves.

      The September 30 review is harsh, but I note that the poster did read the book. And while the review ends with an ignorant pledge to move rather than share a town with Moose (!), and that might be racially motivated, it might instead be a dark-skinned college student who feared for her life and is digusted at Moose’ “whininess.”

      Again I find that while you might be right, in that all of these people might be angry at Moose because he has darker skin that they do, the more reasonable and well-documented conclusion is that they were terrified in a way that I hope neither you nor I ever are, and many of them blame Moose, with some factual basis.

      To compare this to the ongoing hunt for known suspects bin Laden and Hussein is ridiculous – the point made by many readers is that everybody was looking for the wrong people and the wrong vehicle entirely, and the suspects were apprehended only after the correct biographical information was released over Moose’s objections. I call it an honest mistake, but then I didn’t live in fear for my life for three weeks straight, so I think it’s easier for me to be passively objective.

    • Well, Phillip, we are going to have to agree to disagree about the racial aspect of this. The only way I can see that you would open your eyes in that regard is if you had more exposure to racism. It is unlikely that is going to happen.

      In regard to the book’s title, I don’t believe Moose named it. And, as a novice writer, he probably did not realize he could insist on a more accurate title. (Fleming should have spoken up in this regard.) Something that cited both his life in law enforcement and the case that engaged national interest would have been more appropriate.

      This is an issue one goes through over and over again in journalism. Most people don’t realize reporters don’t write headlines, copy editors do. Having been both, I can assure people mistakes in titles or headlines are rarely intentional. They usually occur because of a disconnect in division of labor.

    • MD, I do hear where you’re coming from.

      You believe that I don’t recognize racism because I haven’t experienced it as you have.

      I believe that like the person with only a hammer starts to see everything as a nail, you are possibly too quick to recognize racism where it doesn’t exist because of how much you have experienced it.

      If I’m wrong, I can always have my eyes opened by spending more time with my friends with darker skin colors (some of whom, for what it’s worth, agree with you).

      If you’re wrong, it unfortunately becomes a feedback loop, with imagined offenses reinforcing the pattern and increasing your recognition of more imagined offenses.

      If I’m wrong, hate-filled racists who are careful to avoid any mention of racism will go through life unconfronted on their hidden racist attitudes.

      If you’re wrong, people expressing honest opinions about a person without consideration of the color of his skin will suddenly find themselves viciously smeared with false accusations of racism, raising the specter of never finding peace, no matter what.

      For some reason, I find the first of those two possibilities more palatable than the second. You might disagree. I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree.

      On the title, I do recognize that most things are out of the hands of the first-time author. I don’t blame Charles Moose for writing what he did. I merely point out that thanks to the title many readers were very disappointed at the book they read. Expectation were improperly set by someone – most like the publisher – and that was bound to result in some upset readers.