Top cop in DC sniper case says communication was vital

15 Jan 2003 | Master Sgt. Scott Elliott

Communication and persistence were keys to solving the District of Columbia-area sniper case in October, the investigation's top lawman said.

Montgomery (Md.) County Police Chief Charles Moose told members of the Air Force Security Forces Executive Council on Jan. 14 that, in today's environment, working with the press is a necessity. Moose is also a major in command of the D.C. Air National Guard's 113th Security Forces Squadron.

Having previously served as a public affairs officer with the Oregon ANG, Moose was well armed to deal with media.

"I knew we had to talk to (the press) even when I had nothing to say. I didn't want them to think we were 'unavailable,'" he said. "A concept I took to the sniper case was 'maximum disclosure with minimum delay.'"

One of the biggest challenges, the chief said, was balancing the need to maintain investigation security with the need to calm the public during the Oct. 3 to 22 shooting spree.

The chief admitted that while the media's ability to gather information with long-range microphones and lenses did create angst for the investigators, it also sped up the timeline for the suspects' eventual capture.

"When you talk with the media, you can also find out what they know," he said. "They are an additional source of (information)."

Ten people were killed and three wounded in the Washington area before John Allen Muhammad, 41, and John Lee Malvo, 17, were arrested at a Maryland rest area Oct. 24. The arrest followed a plea by Moose through the media asking people to be on the lookout for the suspect's car.

"The key thing (Moose talked about) is the value of open, honest and meaningful communication with the public and your workforce," said Chief Master Sgt. Levi Scott, the security forces career field manager.

While communication was one of Moose's most valuable tools in bringing closure to the sniper case, he said there is no substitute for good old-fashioned police work.

"Persistence was the most important law enforcement asset," Moose said. "We had so many leads you wouldn't believe. But as each (suspect) fell off the board, we'd pursue the next with just as much diligence."

Persistence is more than just a professional tactic for Moose, but a personal trait as well.

"Having a strong character helped him get through this challenge," said Maj. Kevin Colyott, chief of the current operations branch at the Air Force Security Forces Center at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. "It's good to have someone in our career field to be proud of."

31st Marine Expeditionary Unit