Ferguson’s new police chief was ready to wrap up a long career with retirement and life as a “beach bum.” Instead, he felt called to help turn around a department that has come under intense scrutiny since the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in 2014.
Delrish Moss, 51, was sworn in Monday as Ferguson’s first permanent black police chief, just weeks after a federal judge approved the St. Louis County town’s agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice that seeks to resolve racial bias in the criminal justice system.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Moss spent his entire 32-year career in Miami, where he grew up.
“My plan was to retire in September and actually spend a lot of time just hanging out on the beach, be a beach bum, because I’ve had responsibility all my life,” Moss said in an interview with The Associated Press. “But there was something about Ferguson that sort of harkened back to the days in Miami when I was a kid living in a riot-torn neighborhood and when I was a young police officer dealing with civil unrest.
“There was something that called to me and said, ‘You have to get up. You can’t sit on the couch. You’ve got to get out there and offer your perspective,” Moss said.
Moss was selected as the new chief in March from among 54 applicants. In Miami, he rose through the ranks working in different departments, including homicide. He was named public information officer 20 years ago, and was promoted to the position of major in 2011.
The death of the unarmed Brown, 18, on Aug. 9, 2014, at the hands of officer Darren Wilson thrust the town into the spotlight and was a catalyst for the Black Lives Matter movement.
The grand jury and the U.S. Department of Justice cleared Wilson of wrongdoing, and he resigned in November 2014. But the shooting prompted months of protests. The unrest shed light on the strained relationship between Black residents in Ferguson and the mostly-white police force. About two-thirds of Ferguson’s 20,000 residents are Black.
In March 2015, the Justice Department released a report critical of Ferguson police for racial bias and profiling, and a municipal court that generated profits off of court fines and legal fees. Within days of the report, Ferguson’s city manager, municipal judge and Police Chief Tom Jackson resigned.
City Manager De’Carlon Seewood told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch said the new chief will have his full backing.
“It takes time, but if you have someone at the top making those changes, it will flow down,” he said, responding to critics doubtful a change in chiefs will solve issues in the city. “The chief has my support to make whatever changes that are necessary.”
Some residents said they were anxious to see what Moss brings.
“I don’t think the race matters,” said David Evans, a 74-year-old black Ferguson resident who attended the swearing-in ceremony. “It’s about doing the right thing. Being fair and equal is what it’s all about.”
Moss, speaking at the ceremony, made it clear to officers in his department: Those who step out of line will be dealt harshly.
“The police profession has been assailed because people have decided there’s no longer nobility in police work,” Moss said. He said it is the job of police to earn the respect of the community.
With Associated Press