Obituary: William H. "Mugsy" Moore / Pittsburgh's first black police chief

Died Aug. 6, 2007

Share with others:


Print Email Read Later

William H. "Mugsy" Moore, Pittsburgh's first African-American police chief who rose through the ranks by being outspoken, brash and a champion for minorities and women in the police force, died Monday. He was 81.

Known to fellow officers in the Hill District station as "the Boss," Mr. Moore embodied an old-school ethos of policing that combined compassion and kick-in-the-pants discipline.

"He was a policeman's policeman," said Wilkinsburg Police Chief Ophelia Coleman, who worked with Mr. Moore in the bureau. "He could get his officers to do almost everything."

Mr. Moore was born in Birmingham, Ala. His family relocated to the Hill District when the neighborhood was a mixture of Irish, Italians, Jews, Mexicans and blacks. He was nicknamed "Mugsy" after a character in "The Dead End Kids," a series of movies about a hardened group of New York boys.

Mr. Moore cut an imposing figure. At 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, he would squeeze into his white Chevrolet and cruise up and down Centre Avenue, generating waves from the righteous and hard stares from the criminals.

He knew the Hill District's pimps, pushers and thieves along with the neighborhood's ambassadors, ministers, doctors and attorneys.

"It's as if he had his fingers on the pulse of the community," said Chief Coleman.

Mr. Moore spent more than 35 years on the city police force, working his way up from directing traffic on the North Side to heading the Hill District station as commander in one of the city's toughest neighborhoods.

Mayor Richard Caliguiri appointed him the city's police chief in 1986. Mr. Moore recognized the moment as an achievement for blacks in the city.

When Mr. Moore joined the force in the 1950s, African-American police officers were barred from driving radio cars and walking beats Downtown. He was a longtime activist for the NAACP and continually referred to himself as a black police officer.

"I was black before I was a police officer," Mr. Moore told the Post-Gazette in 1986. "I think it's important for me to identify myself as black. Black youngsters should recognize that I'm a part of their heritage, their culture."

Chief Coleman said Mr. Moore long recognized the right of women on the police force to be in leadership positions and understood that they faced institutional hurdles.

After being appointed chief, Mr. Moore made several promotions that focused on placing women and minorities in commanding positions.

"I never dreamed I would move beyond captain," said Therese Rocco, who was appointed commander under Mr. Moore in one of his first official moves. She was the first woman in the bureau's history to hold that rank.

"He supported me when no one else did," Ms. Rocco said. "It was a stepping stone for me and I eventually became assistant chief. I owe a lot to Mugsy. He was a great man."

Mr. Moore resigned 13 months after accepting the position of chief, following a minor controversy over the demotions of several police officers and his belief that he was a "token."

He became disillusioned with the position and said the chief's job had not only been politicized but rendered "totally ineffectual and void of authority."

"I was receiving all of these accolades and plaudits from people in the community who considered me to be a role model," Mr. Moore told The Pittsburgh Press in 1987. "But I knew in my own heart that it wasn't true -- that I was sitting there [the chief's seat] playing no meaningful role."

In February 1989, following his brief retirement, Mr. Moore took a job as a tipstaff for Common Pleas Judge Walter Little. In 1991, Mr. Moore was hired as police chief in Braddock, a position he held until 1998.

Doris Hilliard, Mr. Moore's friend of 40 years and his secretary when he was chief, said he never lost his thirst for police work.

"Policing was in his bones," she said. "He was a wonderful person and extremely compassionate."

Mr. Moore is survived by his son, Victor, of Belcamp, Md.; his daughter, Jo Harding of Penn Hills; two sisters, Eulacile King and Aleese Sherwood, both of Wilkinsburg; a brother, Melvin, also of Wilkinsburg; and several grandchildren.

Friends will be received from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday at Rapp Funeral Home, 10940 Frankstown Road, Penn Hills. A service will be held at the funeral home on Saturday at 10 a.m.


Moustafa Ayad can be reached at mayad@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1731.


You have 2 remaining free articles this month

Try unlimited digital access

If you are an existing subscriber,
link your account for free access. Start here

You’ve reached the limit of free articles this month.

To continue unlimited reading

If you are an existing subscriber,
link your account for free access. Start here