Bronze Officer Still Serving His Beat

The bronze policeman was installed to help keep drivers and pedestrians alert.
The bronze policeman was installed to help keep drivers and pedestrians alert. (By Charles E. Shoemaker -- The Gazette)
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By Andrew Ujifusa
Gazette Staff Writer
Thursday, October 9, 2008

Even though he has been vandalized with crayons and almost kidnapped, one law enforcement officer in Friendship Heights never goes off duty.

Just more than eight years ago, Friendship Heights installed a bronze facsimile of a policeman on the northwest corner of Hills Plaza and South Park Avenue.

The community commissioned New Jersey sculptor J. Seward Johnson to craft the officer, who leans toward the intersection at a jaunty angle with his arm outstretched to remind drivers to stop at crosswalks and pedestrians to stay alert.

The statue, which is secured to the sidewalk and hasn't been moved since it was installed in 2000, is dedicated to Col. James S. McAuliffe Sr., a Friendship Heights resident for 55 years who was Montgomery County police chief and died in 1996.

The reliable officer doesn't get overtime pay, health benefits or a nightstick, but the smile has never left his face.

He's popular with residents and visitors, who sometimes drape a scarf around his neck in cold weather.

"We thought of it as kind of a marriage of public art and public safety," said Julian Mansfield, Friendship Heights village manager.

The location was chosen because it was the most heavily used intersection in Friendship Heights in terms of combined foot and vehicle traffic, Mansfield said.

The Sunrise Brighton Gardens assisted-living facility is nearby on Friendship Boulevard.

Another statue by Johnson -- a young girl working on a drawing tablet -- is in Hubert Humphrey Park, near the community center, and also has proven to be a big hit with residents.

Although no studies have been done to determine the officer statue's effect on traffic and pedestrians, Betty Ardizzone, facilities manager for Friendship Heights for the past 10 years, said his influence is undeniable.

"It startles people when they are driving to the stop area that there's an image of an official person there," Ardizzone said. "You don't recognize right away that it's not a real person."

The statue has some company in the area.

Chevy Chase Village Police Chief Roy Gordon said that "Officer Austin," the village's own mannequin, which is stationed in a patrol car to slow down speeders and deter criminals, is surprisingly effective in achieving its relatively modest goals.

Officer Austin provides his services for $350, compared with the $70,000 cost of the bronze statue in Friendship Heights.

"People do talk about it. People see it," Gordon said. "I think it's a good thing."

Ardizzone said Friendship Heights' ever-ready statue was the victim of one theft attempt. But perhaps because it weighs 450 pounds with zero percent body fat, the thief eventually gave up, only loosening the officer from his moorings.

"He's almost . . . indestructible," she said.

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