The D.C. Police Department and the American Automobile Association (AAA) hope to revive the national popularity of one of Washington's old traditions - the School Safety Patrol Parade.
This year's parade, scheduled for May 7, will include an air cadets unit from Ottawa, Canada, and at least 12 musical and marching units from the Maryland and Virginia suburbs. As of this week, parade orgainzers had signed up a total of 29 musical groups and a score of special units.
Washington's annual safety patrol parade began in 1982, a decade after the automobile association began sponsoring the student patrols. By the 1960s, the half-mile march down Constitution Avenue lasted six hours and attracted more than 100,000 spectators. Among the marchers were safety patrol members from around the country.
The annual event was hard hit by the riots in Washington in 1968 Sgt. Chuck Collins, spokesman for the D.C. police department, said, "Everybody cancelled. The riots were fresh in everybody's mind."
Since then, participation in the parade has been limited chiefly to school patrols and marching units from the city.
This year, however, with the crime rate in the city declining and a peaceful bicentennial celebration on the record, parade sponsors hope to broaden participation. Among those invited to attend are safety patrols and bands from Maryland and Virginia.
At this point, it seems there will be little if any participation by the 1,300 patrol members in Arlington County or the 6,200 patrol patrol members in Fairfax County.
School officials say Fairfax County will not send any patrol members because the county lacks the funds. "We didn't even have our own parade this year," said county schools superintendent S. John Davis.
Sgt. William Jeunnette, in charge of youth resources for Arlington County, said he wants to send one or two patrols plus a band but he doubts that he can.
"I have a letter on my desk from the (police) chief (Roy McClaren) saying he will lead the contigent. I don't know if there will be an Arlington contingent," Jeunette said.
Glen Lashley, a local AAA safety official who helped with the parades for more than 30 years, recalled that in years past, when the parade dispersed at the Ellipse, the children were often addressed by the President, vice president or other top government officials who gave gold medals to patrol members credited with savin lives.
This year's parade is scheduled to include members of the Washington Redskins football team, the Washington Capitals hockey team, the Washington Diplomats soccer team, and characters from Kings Dominion amusement park. Most of the 4,000 to 6,000 patrol members who are expected to march will come form the District.
District Police Chief Maurice Cullinane, whose outpost was the corner of West Virginia Avenue and Morris Street NE when he was a patrol boy for Holy Name School, said, "Marching in the parade when I was a boy gave all of the patrols a real sense of pride and accomplishment. I really hope that we can return the parade to the national level of prominence it deserves."
For many youngsters, the parade represented their only chance to visit the capital and culminated months of washing cars, selling papers and doing other jobs to raise money for the journey. Often the charter buses bringing the patrols to Washington were followed by caravans of cars crammed with family members and well-wishers.
"There's no feeling in the world like it when you're about 12 years old and march down Constitution Avenue with your chest stuck out and the crowd cheering. You really feel proud," said D.C. police sergeant Collins, a former patrol boy.
Patrol members deserve thanks for the morning sleep they give up and the afternoon playtime they sacrifice to help insure the safety of fellow students, he added. Since the safety patrol was formed, the number of traffic deaths per 100,000 people has been almost halved while the traffic death rate has practically doubled in older age groups, according to the AAA.
"We find we have fewer accidents on corners where they are safety patrols. They do an awful lot in terms of traffic safety. But we don't hear about them anymore," Collins said.