An 85-member D.C. police task force will begin work Sunday on a new program to seek out and arrest so-called "career criminals," starting with a list of about 25 persons who police say are responsible for committing about 400 crimes a month.

Undercover officers will be assigned to follow the persons on that list and photograph them in the act of committing crimes, Police Chief Maurice Turner said in a press conference yesterday.

Police Capt. Edward Spurlock, who will direct the task force, said the types of persons his officers will follow commit crimes with "such a high frequency" that "we should witness within a day or two the committing of a crime."

Mayor Marion Barry, who first announced formation of the task force along with several other crime-fighting moves last month, joined Turner at the news conference. "We're not going to let a small number of persons create a large number of crimes and hold us hostage," he said yesterday.

Barry denied that the planned tactics of following individuals and waiting for them to commit crimes would infringe on anyone's civil rights or amount to police harassment.

He said the task force is made up of "some of the most experienced officers" on the force, adding: "They know the legal ramifications of what they can do and can't do."

Turner defined "career criminals" as persons with histories of multiple arrests, and said the task force will focus its efforts on those who have been arrested and charged with at least six separate crimes.

He said individual police districts have in the past made special efforts to focus on persons with a high rate of repeat offenses, but this is the first time such an program has been undertaken on a citywide basis.

The task force will be broken up into seven-person squads that will be scattered throughout the city and will primarily work undercover, according to police officials.

"We have to be just as innovative as the thieves," said Turner, who declined for tactical reasons to release other details on how the squad would be deployed.

Barry and Turner said they have talked with officials from the office of U.S. Attorney Stanley Harris about invoking preventive detention against anyone arrested by the new task force. Turner said Harris' office has agreed to give "top priority" to cases developed by the group.

Under the 1970 Bail Reform Act, persons charged with violent crimes generally are released from jail until their trials if they can show they have "established community ties." However, suspects can be held in so-called preventive detention if prosecutors show they are a danger to the community or are likely to flee before trial.