The D.C. Police Department's Traffice Division, a proud, colorful and elite branch of the department for almost 100 years, was quietly merged with the Special Operations division Sunday.
Police officials said the two units were consolidated into what is now called the Traffic and Special Operations Division because the functions of the units were similar and because employees in either unit could be used interchangeably.
Like the traffic division, most of functions of the Special Operations Division have been traffic related, officials said. In the past, the division was responsibile for traffic control for special events including inaugurations, and sporting events.
In announcing the consolidation, Chief of Police Maurice J. Cullinane said that the department was not de-emphazing traffic law enforcement.
In fact, the chief said, the consolidation will mean that more policemen could be used in traffic enforcement in the city. What the consolidation does do, according to some veteran police officers, is to eliminate a deputy chief's position and places a captian in charge of the traffic squad.
"It's really just a paper transfer as far as the men are concerned," one policman said of the consolidation. "It has not changed the daily operation."
Since the early 1970s, the number of employees in the traffic division steadily decreased due to transfers of some of the division's responsibilities to other units and the near-demise of the motorcycle squad, once the pride of the division.
Today, there are only about 14 motorcycle policemen in the entire police department, and they were transferred to the Special Operations Division for mostly ceremonial duty before the consolidation.
The tradition of the traffic division goes back to the days when the city had no highways, and traffic policemen - on horseback - used to chase speeding horseback riders.
Later, the traffic division got bicycles for policemen to chase speeders. Still later, they used motorcycles, two-door coupes, motor scooters and today, the police squad car.
"It used to be a symbol of status to be in the traffic division," said Sgt. Raymond Diegel, of the Traffic and Special Operations Division.
"The job meant extra money, men had the freedom to roam the city, and you had to look good and be sharp," he said.