Ferguson's New Police Chief Has a Warning for Cops

The day he was sworn in as Ferguson's new chief, Delrish Moss said that his pursuit of a high-ranking position in a police department had a personal motivation: He wanted to fire bad cops like the ones who abused him.
by | May 10, 2016 AT 12:50 PM

By Stephen Deere

The day he was sworn in as Ferguson's new chief, Delrish Moss said that his pursuit of a high-ranking position in a police department had a personal motivation: He wanted to fire bad cops like the ones who abused him.

Moss took the oath of office at the Ferguson Community Center on Monday in front of a crowd of about 150 people, including city residents, police from other departments in the region, as well as a handful of officers from Moss' previous employer, the Miami Police Department.

Then, in his first remarks to Ferguson officers as their new boss, Moss delivered a stern warning.

"If you work hard, if you stay honest and committed, if you maintain respect for the community and do your job well, we will get along just fine," he said. "If you fall short of that, and it's through a mistake of the head, we will work to correct that. But if you do it with malice, if you do the job in a way that disrespects the badge that you hold, I will see to it that you are either removed from police service, or further prosecuted."

Moss' speech lasted less than five minutes, but it was met with a standing ovation.

As Ferguson's chief, Moss confronts significant challenges: budget problems, officers who may resist change and the hundreds of provisions in a U.S. Department of Justice agreement to which the department must adhere.

"I don't think I come in here offering some magic pill or magic solution curing all the problems of Ferguson," Moss said.

He was driven to become an officer after negative run-ins with officers in his youth, Moss said, including once when an officer shoved him against a wall. Another time an officer used a racial slur when referring to Moss.

Moss said he decided the best way to change things was from within.

In Ferguson, Moss will have limited resources with which to work.

City Manager De'Carlon Seewood said the department -- budgeted for 67 people  -- is down 11 employees, and the city has decided to not fill those positions. The decision was made after a property tax increase failed at the polls in April and the city discovered that municipal court revenue is estimated to be nearly $500,000 less than expected for this fiscal year.

Other cuts are likely, Seewood said, but those haven't been decided.

Moss on Monday night got his first taste of the protests that have kept police busy in Ferguson for the past 20 months. He came out to chat with about 50 people who gathered in front of the police station, which also houses the municipal court. Some of them came to welcome him and presented him with a gift basket that included an "I Love Ferguson" T-shirt.

But others were there to protest city police and court policies and to demand that officials fire Stephanie Karr, who has served as prosecutor and city attorney.

Two of those gathered were taken into custody after an altercation over a megaphone.

After gathering at the police station, a group of about 20 chanted as they marched to Karr's home and called for her dismissal. The city has already announced plans to replace her as prosecutor.

Moss is a former homicide detective who most recently served as spokesman for the Miami Police Department. He was one of four finalists to replace Thomas Jackson, who resigned after a Justice Department report strongly criticized the city's police and municipal court practices. That report was triggered by the controversial shooting of Michael Brown by a Ferguson officer, setting off riots, in 2014.

As a young officer in Miami, Moss earned the nickname "Ten Speed," said Lt. Nicole Davis, "because if you ran from him, he was going to catch you. He was fast."

Davis was one of a handful of Miami police officers who flew to Ferguson for the swearing in.

"I have that much respect for him," Davis said. "No matter where he goes, I will be there to support him."

Moss has been the Miami Police Department's public voice for controversies ranging from use-of-force issues to whether officers miffed at a Super Bowl performance by Beyonce might refuse to work security at a subsequent concert.

Seewood said Moss' public relations experience is part of what got him the job and will be useful in his new role.

"I think one of the things Ferguson has missed out on is telling our story," Seewood said.

Moss has been president of the Miami Police Athletic League, which reaches out to youths, and on the board of the Urban League of Greater Miami and an organization called A Safe Haven for Newborns. He also is a member of the NAACP, National Association of Black Journalists and Tender Essence Inc., which deals with issues such as teen pregnancy, substance abuse and violence.

Andre Anderson, of the Glendale, Ariz., police, became interim police chief in July, and left early, in December. Lt. Col. Al Eickhoff, who has served stints as interim Ferguson chief, was among the applicants but was not chosen as a finalist.

On Tuesday as Moss finished introducing himself to the city, he addressed all the officers in the room, arguing that what transpired in Ferguson speaks to how negative attitudes about law enforcement are becoming more prevalent -- especially in cities that have experienced unrest, such as Baltimore, Chicago and Miami.

"The police profession has been assailed because people have decided that there's no longer nobility in police work," he said. "It's our task to bring nobility back to this work and to make sure that we honor our badges, and we serve our communities with respect."

(Valerie Schremp Hahn of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.)

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