Back in the 1950s a newspaper writer called what is now D.C.'s third police district "the most wicked precinct in the country."

"The distrubances of 1968" - official Washington's euphemism for the rioting, burning and looting that took place that year - were centered in the third district, around 14th and U Streets NW.

These days prostitutes, drug pushers and other usavory types continue to carry on business along 14th Street.

But their business isn't as good as it used to be, according to D.C.s top policeman, Chief Maurice J. Cullinane. The chief recalled the third district's history last week when he presented an award to the 497 police men and women who patrol the area and have made a respectable start in cleaning it up.

"To reduce crime in an inner city district is more symbolic" of the city's success in cutting drown its crime then a drop in criminal activity in a quiter neighborhood would be, said the chief. Cullinane presented a blue and gold pennant to the commanding officer of the third district, Insp. Charles E. Rinaldi.

The district won the police department's crime reduction award for the second quarter in a row, and received a certificate of award from Oliver J. Neslage, chairman of the district's citizens advisory group. Figures kept in the district, and checked by a team from police headquarters, showed a 7 per cent drop in crime in the district for the first three months of this year compared with the same period in 1976.

The awards give the men and women of the district the right to wear on their uniforms a blue ribbon bearing two silver stars, much a like a slodier wears his combat medals.

It also gives Rinaldi the right to wear three stars on his uniform, making him the only police officer in the District who can do so. Before taking over the third district about six months ago, Rinaldi commanded the sixth district when it won a crime reduction award.

"We say that the third district is the smallest in geographical area but it's the biggest" in other respects, said Rinaldi. "We have everything from abject proverty to exteme wealth. There are 31 embassies and several major hotels. There are some old-line families who've lived in the same place for 35 years, such as those on the 1400 block of T Street," said Rinaldi, who was "born and raised around Park Road" in the third district.

When he took over the district, said Rinaldi, the area including the 1800 and 1900 blocks of 14th Street was "chronically cluttered with narcotics addicts and others up to no good. O went on a campaign to clean it up. We're doing everything we can to rid the area of prositution and the street robbery and larceny from autos that go along with prositution."

Rinaldi said his tactics have included the "re-establishment of several footbeats." Around five or six officers per "tour" - an 8-hour shift - patrol on foot and cops pay particularly close attention to areas around Thomas Circle, 18th Street and Columbia Road, the Mayflower and Hilton Hotels, busy neighborhoods for prostitution and drug sales. "We try to create and aura of omnipresence," said Rinaldi.

The inspector said the district has undvercover agents - men and women - on the streets. Uniformed officers make their presence felt by tactics that include strict enforcement of traffic regulations and anti-littering and abatement of nuisance laws.

When a cop stops a driver for a traffic violation it gives him or her a chance to look over the car and driver for anything suspicious, said Rinaldi, and "a lot of traffic tickets on parked cars indicates the presence of police" to would-be thieves in a neighborhood.

Rinaldi, who next month will turn 49 and add up his 23d year as a D.C. policemen, has served in and out of uniform. He spent 14 years as a D.C. policeman, has served in and out of uniform. He spent 14 years as a detective, detective sergeant and leutenant, Rinaldi said he plans to keep working "as long as I enjoy it."

A first-generation Italian-American whose parents immigrated to Washington from Sicily, Rinaldi now lives in Montgomery County "at my wife's choice. She's from there and a woman makes the home. I'm out of it more of my waking hours tha I'm in it.

He served in the Korean war as a military policeman, activated with his National Guard unit at the University of Maryland.

"While I was in Korea my father died. I had read some books on investigation and thought I'd like to be a policeman. I was an older student, and when I first came back I was going to join up right away," said Rinaldi. His mother and brother talked him out of it, and Rinaldi went back to college. At George Washington University he switched to police courses and about a semestere short of graduation, "I quit to become a policeman.

"It shocked my mother. I told her at Luigi's restaurant, and I distinctly remember that she dropped her coffee cup."

Rinaldi's wife, who came to last week's ceremony, said she "didn't know they made so much noise" about the crime reduction award because the inspector "never talks about it at home." The oldest of his three children, Victoria, 19, an aspiring ballerina, also was there. "I'm afraid we're going to lose her to New York, because there's not enough for her here. She's almost professional," Rinaldi said.

The Rinaldi's other children are Elizabeth, 11, and Charles, 13.