A long-standing Falls Church practice of using on-duty police to deliver official papers to council members drew criticism at last week's city council meeting.

Alarmed because some officers were making deliveries shortly after a purse snatching, in which the assailant was still at large, Dan Carr, of the Merrill House Citizens' Association in Falls Church, urged the council to review the policy. The council said it would take the matter under advisement.

"Police are full-time employees and are supposed to be on the street protecting us," Carr, a former chairman of the city's Law Enforcement Advisory Commission, told the council. "One of the men who could have been looking for this person was delivering packages to council members."

Every other week, City Manager Harry Wells said, he prepared background material for council meetings and his on-duty officers take the information to council members' homes. Wells said that the practice has been in effect since the 24-square-mile jurisdication became a city in 1948.

"Officers are instructed that they are to answer any calls first and make deliveries at any time during their tour of duty," said Wells.

Police Chief John Drass said that officers were at the scene of the purse snatching immediately after it was reported and searched for a suspect before resuming normal patrol duties.

"Twenty minutes after the incident occurred, it is virtually impossible to find a suspect (in the immediate area). Once it was over, we resumed normal patrol (and deliveries)," Drass said. He estimated that deliveries to the council take about 30 minutes of police time every other week.

"The police function is the prevention of crime," Drass said. "I don't think delivering packages is the prevention of crime, but how long does it take to drive up to a house on patrol and deliver a package? Technically, it could be a police function because (an officer) is delivering the packages, he really isn't detracting from his patrol."

Council member John Scanlan responded to the criticism by saying the deliveries "permit us to carry out our official business."

"I would find it a burden (to pick up the material). I work at the State Department and I don't get home until after seven or eight o'clock in the evening. I guess if they said 'pick it up at city hall,' I would. . . . It would mean my wife would have to make an additional stop during the day," said Scanlan.

Carr, however, reiterated his view that the policy should be reconsidered.

"My point is that the city should devote all of their limited resources in Falls Church to looking for the person who committed the crime," he said. "Council members could very well stop by (city hall) and pick up these package themselves. It only takes about five minutes."