D.C. police officials proposed a sweeping plan to Mayor Marion Barry last week that would have police officers respond in person to far fewer calls and handle many complaints by telephone instead.
The plan also calls for analyzing crime patterns city-wide instead of by police districts, targeting areas where specific crimes such as rape or burglary occur frequently, and having uniformed policemen instead of detectives investigate some crimes, according to Lt. David Baker of the department's planning and development division.
The plan would revise police academy training procedures for patrolmen to teach them how to investigate crimes and would redesign some beats to increase the police presence in high-crime areas.
Police are already testing parts of the proposal in two police districts and are seeking Barry's approval to begin the plan city-wide early next year, although no deadline has been set. But Barry, aware of the potentially angry public reaction to limiting police response at a time when increasing crime is a major issue, has yet to endorse the plan.
The proposal would mean, for example, that a resident who discovered his car had been broken into several hours earlier and who called police would likely have a report of the incident taken by phone. Probably no officer would respond.
On the other hand, by having officers respond only to serious crimes, police officials expect patrolmen and detectives to have more time to investigate crimes and to patrol the streets as a deterrent to crime, police officials said.
"Calling the police will be tantamount to calling the plumber," said James Fyfe, a senior fellow at the Police Foundation who has studied parts of the plan that are in place in other cities and who supports the concept. "The policeman will say, 'I'll be there as soon as I can.' "
Deputy Chief Issac Fulwood, commander of the 6th District, where uniformed officers are already investigating some crimes, said he considers the experiment a success. But Fulwood said officers in his district still respond to all calls, while the plan proposed to Barry will have many calls handled by a unit of clerks taking crime reports over the telephone.
"The $64,000 question is what is the cut-off mark," said Fulwood. "What calls don't you send officers out on? The policeman on the street wants to know and the community wants to know. There's no way the program is going to work if the public doesn't accept it."
Police Chief Maurice T. Turner Jr. said the plan was discussed in a closed meeting Barry held with all police officials with the rank of inspector and above. He said the mayor also instructed police to get rid of the crowds of drug addicts loitering on some street corners and to work more closely with federal agents to identify heroin dealers.
The proposal given to Barry draws on new crime procedures implemented in Atlanta, Rochester, N.Y., Birmingham, Los Angeles and Montgomery County, said Baker of the department's planning division. He said the individual parts of the plan have had "mixed results."
If Barry adopts the proposal, it would be the first time all the various elements are combined. Baker said the parts of the plan have to be in place together to have optimum effect, with a key element being the proper management of calls.
"We're open 24 hours a day," said Lt. Joseph Gaines of the department's communications division. "People call us when they get locked out of their house, if they lose money. We've got to identify other agencies to refer calls to and handle some calls by phone so uniformed policemen won't have to interrupt their patrols."