At least 60 veteran District of Columbia police officers and 13 fire officials, including some of the most experienced and highest-ranking officials of both departments, are expected to seek retirement this summer in what is believed to be the largest such exodus in the city's history.
As of yesterday, 13 fire departmet officials with the rank of battalion chief or higher had filed letters stating that they would retire by Sept. 1. Seven high-ranking police department officials have also filed retirement papers. The strong possibility that 63 veteran police officers would retire surfaced in a survey made by policy department division heads conducted recently on orders of Police Chief Burtell M. Jefferson.
The retirement papers can be withdrawn at any time up to Aug. 31, according to spokesmen from both departments.
Insp. Issac Fulwood, the police department's budget officer, said such a mass retirement would ease the task of cutting the size of the police department's active force by 204 officers, as proposed by Mayor Marion Barry in a budget-cutting move. If all 63 retire, the number of required layoffs would drop to 141.
Battalion Fire Chief Kenneth Elmore, president of the fire department's Chief Officers Association, said the retirements of the 13 officials -- 12 of who are white -- are "the result of the problems between the city government and the department. They have made it clear to us [white officers] that promotions won't be coming our way, that a white man has no future in the department . . . We're tired of the hassles, so we're leaving."
Officials in both departments said yesterday that such a large number of retirements at one time could cause a significant leadership gap in forces in which morale already is sagging because of budget cuts and, in the case of the fire department particularly, promotion policies.
The police department is slated to have 3,880 officers on its payroll at the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30, a figure that would drop to 3,476 under Barry-proposed amendments to the budget for the 1981 fiscal year. A basic 1981 budget is pending before Congress, while the amendments proposed by Barry are awaiting action by the City Council before being forwarded to Capitol Hill.
Members of both departments who retire by Aug. 31 after at least 20 years of service will have a 6 percent cost-of-living raise added to their pensions, in addition to whatever current inflation escalator is established in September.
The council also is considering a separate "early out" retirement program that would permit police officers to reitre six months short of a 20-year service period.
Most of the 63 potential police retirees are white, a fact that -- according to interviews with several officers -- reflects their seniority as a result of past recruitment practices and a pervasive feeling that there is little chance for them to receive significant promotions under the black-controlled Barry administration.
The racial stress is not believed to be as strong in the police department as in the fire department, however. A battalion fire chief was suspended last week and given a pending transfer to an administrative job after protesting what he called reverse discrimination in promotions.
Among police officials who have filed papers seeking retirement by Aug. 31 are Deputy Chiefs Herbert Horwitz, Charles Corcoran and William Trussell; Inspectors Heywood Long, Bryant Hopkins, William P. Tilley and Charles Light, and Capt. Clayton Clark.
Others, including Deputy Chief Loyd W. Smith, have said they would leave the force if they could find other good-paying retirement jobs -- a quest more difficult than usual this year because of the recession.
Included among fire officials who have filed retirement papers are 12 of the city's 24 firefighting battalion chiefs and one of the six deputy chiefs.
Among them is Deputy Chief Carmelo DelBalzo, the department's fire marshal. His job as overseer of fire codes and inspections, said a department spokesman, "is one of the most crucial and politically sensitive jobs in the department."
Also retiring are all three battalion chiefs from the 5th Battalion, which covers the upper northwest section of the city, and all three battalion chiefs from the 6th Battalion, which is responsible for the central downtown portion of the city.
In addition, Assistant Chief John P. Devine, who is one of the department's two assistant chiefs and who is in charge of all firefighting and ambulance services in the city, said last night that he is "strongly considering" retirement after 26 years on the force.
Deputy Chief Alfonzo Torre, who heads the firefighting division under Devine and is one of the six deputy chiefs, has said that he will "more than likely put in my retirement papers at the end of the week."
Battalion Chief Elmore, who is retiring himself, said he knows of at least "four or five other battalion chiefs (in addition to the 13) who will put in their papers by the end of the month."
"There's a tremendous amount of talent, a lot of good minds going out the door come Sept. 1," said Deputy Chief Torre. "For 25 years I've never brought the job home with me, but now I do, and it's not pleasant.
"What you have to understand," said Elmore, "is that a lot of these men are going out before their time. Take me; I'm only 43. I've got a lot of good years left. Right now I'm going to go out with about 60 percent of my salary as a pension. If I stayed around a few more years, I could get 80 percent.
"But it's just that I've had enough of the hassles and the harassment. The mayor has made it clear that he doesn't want us in the department, so we're going."
Whether the police department would fill all the top positions opened up by the retirements is uncertain. At a hearing last week, City Council member John Ray (D-At-Large) criticized the departmental increase a few years ago in the number of high-ranking officers, ballooned by promoting all seven district commanders from the rank of inspector to deputy chief.
Working against efforts to trim the size of the active force has been the department's recent recall to limited duty -- principally desk jobs -- of about 20 officers who had been on extended paid leave because of illnesses or injuries.
The recalls followed recent criticism by members of the House D.C. Appropriations subcommittee of liberal use of extended sick leave privileges. The subcommittee has spearheaded a related crackdown on alleged abuses of the department's disability retirement program and, Fulwood said, may focus renewed attention on them.