Portland’s first Black police chief, Charles Moose, has died at age 68

By Jonathan Levinson (OPB)
Nov. 26, 2021 10:17 p.m.

Portland’s first Black police chief, Charles Moose — an early supporter of community policing who went on to be the police chief in Montgomery County, Maryland, and lead the 2002 investigation into the Beltway sniper — has died. He was 68.

Charles Moose served as Portland police chief from 1993 to 1999, when he left for Montgomery County, where he led that police department until 2003.


“I feel connected to Chief Moose as he was the first African-American Chief, a champion of community policing and led the Bureau during challenging times,” current Portland police chief Chuck Lovell said in a statement Friday morning. “Chief Moose was a large presence and had a servant’s heart.”

Former Portland police chief Charles Moose was the first Black person to hold the ranks of sergeant, lieutenant, captain and chief.

Former Portland police chief Charles Moose was the first Black person to hold the ranks of sergeant, lieutenant, captain and chief.

Courtesy of the Portland Police Bureau

In a Facebook post, Sandy Moose said her husband died at home, watching football in his recliner.

Moose joined the almost entirely white Portland police bureau in 1975 and steadily rose through the ranks, making captain in 1992. He was appointed chief in 1993 and became not only the first Black person to lead the bureau but, at age 39, the youngest chief in its history, too. By the time he made chief he had already shattered barriers. He was also the first Black person to reach the rank of sergeant, lieutenant and captain in the bureau.

“All the officers of color, we were just an isolated crew,” former Portland police officer David Barrios said. “Charles was kind of a rallying point for us and we had a lot of respect for him.”

Moose obtained a Ph.D. in urban studies and wrote his dissertation on community policing, a practice he helped implement in Portland and for which he gained national attention.

“Community policing says that police and the citizens work together to solve problems,” Moose said in a 1993 talk at the Portland City Club. “It doesn’t need to be any more complex than that.”

Moose’s conception of community policing involved the then-novel idea of going beyond the criminal justice system to connect people with social services for health, education and employment assistance.

“He got his Ph.D. and wrote about it, and then put it to practice in a way that hasn’t been done since,” Barrios said. “It’s certainly not a program, it’s an attitude and it was run that way with Charles.”

Barrios said Moose trusted officers to work directly with community members, social services and religious leaders to solve problems, instead of always seeking direction from their supervisors.

Moose’s commitment to community policing made national headlines when he and his wife bought a home in Northeast Portland, an aberration at a time when fewer and fewer officers were choosing to live in Portland. The New York Times called Moose a “24-hour role model.”

“I knew the statistics when we moved in, and I knew the area,” Moose told the Times. “But people tend to drive up their own fear. One of my goals is to show other officers that we could live here and nothing would happen to Sandy and I.”

Moose’s tenure wasn’t all smooth sailing. He had a notoriously bad temper and was disciplined multiple times throughout his career for turning that anger on members of the public and city employees.

“I’m ashamed of my behavior in these situations,” Moose said in 1997, after his record was made public. “I think it’s an ongoing problem for me because I continue to be a Black person in a predominantly white community.”

Moose said that, in each instance, he felt he was being discriminated against, and he criticized the bureau for the way it handled the complaints.


“They’ve never considered that I was a victim in those situations,’’ Moose said. “I know the feeling that you don’t feel supported.’’

Moose was simultaneously lauded for his patience and outreach to gang members and criticized for his harsh tactics against anarchist protesters in Portland.

Less than a month after deploying riot police against anarchist protesters, arresting 31 and leading to at least one lawsuit against the city, Moose and other officers attended what The Oregonian described as a “volatile” gathering, after the funeral of a purported gang leader at Woodlawn Park. Officers diffused the tension, played basketball with attendees and bought food for them.

A 1998 Northeast Portland birthday party turned protest called attention to many of the same dynamics that dog city leaders and the police bureau today, and shook Moose’s commitment to community policing and his adopted neighborhood.

The day after a massive police response prevented neighborhood recording artist Daniel Binns from throwing his annual birthday party, a large group marched first to North Precinct and later to Moose’s Northeast Portland home, where the crowd of roughly 200 turned their ire toward the chief.

Police wound up using less-lethal munitions against the crowd. The chief defended their use, saying “the tool has helped us solve problems while saving lives.”

Binns’ party was known to typically attract over 1,000 people, according to police, and there had been shootings in previous years. The police said the event was unpermitted and unsafe for the community.

One protester, speaking to The Oregonian at the time, said the demonstration was less about Binns’ party and more about the pattern of police harassment toward the Black community. Another pointed out that there had been a stabbing at a predominantly white carnival around the same time, and those events didn’t receive the same police response.

City Council demanded answers from police leadership, who responded by digging in, defending their tactics, and lambasting City Council for having misplaced priorities.

Moose told City Council it was insulting to spend so much time on an illegal party when drug dealing, prostitution, and a weekend shooting in Delta Park should be bigger priorities.

“The public display that has been given to Mr. Binns, and the endorsement of the protest at my house gave me the clear decision that the decision by Sandy and myself to live in the neighborhood is a joke and a major mistake.”

He said his commitment to the community had been taken away.

Moose later apologized for seemingly turning his back on his Northeast Portland community, but news reports from around the time Moose left Portland a year later suggest his handling of the protest and the subsequent backlash tarnished his legacy in the neighborhood.

In Montgomery County, a Washington, D.C., suburb, Moose was in the national spotlight as he led the multi-agency task force searching for Beltway snipers John Allen Muhammad, 41, and Lee Boyd Malvo, 17. The two shot 13 people, killing 10 over three weeks in 2002.

“For 23 days, Chief Moose provided a calming presence in the midst of the terror and fear that consumed our County and the Washington Region,” Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich said in a statement.

Moose attempted to return to his old job atop the Portland Police Bureau in 2017, but didn’t qualify among the finalists for the job, which eventually went to then-Oakland Deputy Chief Danielle Outlaw.

Moose retired from Montgomery County after news that planned to write a book about the Beltway sniper investigation raised ethics concerns.

“We are extremely saddened by the news announcing the passing of former Chief Charles Moose,” Montgomery Chief Marcus Jones stated via Facebook. “He was a great leader.”

Remembering his friend and former chief, Barrios said Portland was always in Moose’s heart.


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