Interview: Charles A. Moose

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Montgomery County Police Chief Charles A. Moose fields questions on the sniper shootings

Montgomery Police Chief Charles Moose is a study in caution, modesty and earnestness. After Friday's 5 p.m. press conference, he granted TIME the only closed-door, office interview he has sat for since the shootings began. He would not talk specifics, or for that matter even generalities, about the investigation, and spoke about himself with both reluctanceout of respect for the legions toiling under himand a stern, powerful reticence.

Portraits of Colin Powell and Jackie Robinson flank the entrance in his outer office. Dozens of elephant sculptures rest atop the room's bookcases and cabinets. A Quran and Bible sit on the shelf behind his desk. The Chief is a major in the District of Columbia Air National Guard and holds a PhD in Urban Studies and Criminology from Portland State University. The responsibility he holdsand feelsfor protecting the community comes across in the gravity of his conversation.

Q: What were the first few hours like after the first attack?

I heard about Shopper's Food Warehouse immediately because we had a victim. There was a brief conversation about something at Michael's [Arts & Crafts], but no one had been injured. We really weren't focused on the relationship. We were focused on the murder.

Q: How about the next morning, Oct. 3?

I was preparing to go to a funeral when the shooting occurred. No one really knew what happened, but after they got there, we had another body. The second one was initially reported as a possible suicide, but then when we got there, that wasn't the case.

Q: You have been under enormous media pressure. How is your relationship with the media?

I think it's probably about as good as can be expected. The evidence piece [the report that Prince George's County police found a tarot card] is not all the press's fault. Obviously, somebody in law enforcement has some fault there. You remain hopeful that competition [between agencies] will be set aside, because somehow this should be put in a different category.

I understand people want to report about it, and people want to know about it, but you also hope that nobody ever has to live with the fact that maybe something they did kept this person or these people out there any longer than they have been. Different [people] will articulate that they did it for all of the right reasons, but I just always disagree. It's okay for adults to agree to disagree. The short of it is, I think if you look at our overall dealings and relationship to date with the media, I'd like to think that the Montgomery County Police Department has really made a tremendous effort. You work every day to try to make your world perfect. It's not perfect, the relationship, but it's about as good as can be expected.

Q: What past events have prepared you and the force for this week?

You draw on all of your experiences and the knowledge you have of other events. You try to package all of that. Everything from the preparatory work for Y2K, to the response after Sept. 11, to demonstrations, to crime scenes. All of that has certainly come into play.

We've had good relations with local, state and federal agencies, so when we called for help, we were calling people who we knew, people we have worked with. So the response was without hesitation.

Q: What else is on your mind?

The one thing that's on my mind is the spouses and children of all of the people who have been working on this. There are a lot of people who are not sleeping, who are not exercising. Many federal agents were put on airplanes to come in and work here until further notice. I just really respect what they've all been doing. It's been pretty incredible.

Q: What should the rest of the country know about Montgomery County?

It's a diverse community, and well educated. People have a level of involvement that may not strike you on the surface, but it always turns out they have been paying attention. People have a good idea about how government works, and very low tolerance for mismanagement.

Q: How are you doing?

We want to do well — so you derive a lot of energy from that. I've been trying to be cognizant of getting enough sleep. I am sleeping soundly for the hours that I am in bed.

Q: Are you sleeping at the office?

I definitely make it home every night. I have enough experience to know that at some point, when you don't rest, you can be detrimental to the whole situation. Between my law enforcement training and military training, I've learned it becomes a detriment.

Q: Have you been able to maintain the daily rituals that make life normal, like talking to family and friends?

It's always a 10-12 hour day. The days are never short. Yes, at the start, the days were longer. Now, with more resources and people on board, we have more focus on where we are going, so you can also make adjustments to your habits.

Q: Has this changed the relationship between the department and community?

When you stop people and give them tickets, when you tell them when and where to cross the street, when you go to events are in charge of how people behave, sometimes it's hard to feel like it's all about how much they love and support you. It's kind of a conflict-oriented business. This past week there have been a lot of demonstrations from the community about how much support they have. And it is much appreciated.

Q: How do you blow off steam?

I'll let you know when it happens.