The recent transfer of a popular D.C. police captain to a new district has prompted an unprecedented protest from residents of the Tenleytown area, according to police officials.

About 50 letters were sent to Metropolitan Police Chief Maurice T. Turner protesting the transfer of Capt. Michael Canfield, who had been involved in a crackdown on clientele patronizing several nude dancing establishments and sex-oriented businesses in the second police district.

A number of Tenleytown-area residents wrote that they have long complained about those businesses and the type of clientele they attract, and praised Canfield for his efforts to make it more difficult for the establishments to prosper.

Police officials declined comment on the reason for Canfield's transfer from the second to the fourth police district last week. Canfield, a 14-year police veteran, said, "It is the chief's prerogative to distribute his managers his own way. I serve at his pleasure." Canfield declined further comment.

The Friendship-Tenleytown Citizens Association wrote Turner that it is "very distressed" by Canfield's transfer. "We worry deeply about the message your police leadership (is) sending to captains such as Canfield who are doing exactly what the neighbors believes is effective to control their number one problem."

Lt. Daniel Keller, an aide to Turner, said he can't recall the chief receiving such a large number of letters in support of an officer.

According to the letters, Canfield won Tenleytown residents' hearts when he told them at community meetings that he would respond to their complaints about sex-oriented establishments. Top police brass also received complaints about the establishments and ordered a crackdown, a police source said.

Several months ago, officers under Canfield's command started ticketing illegally parked cars in the area, many of them left by patrons of bars featuring nude dancing. The officers also patrolled the streets in the early morning hours in search of drunk drivers.

Police said that in the first two weeks of March they ticketed more than 400 cars in a four-square-block area around Wisconsin Avenue and Fessenden Street NW and arrested 36 persons on charges ranging from drunk driving to disorderly conduct.

"Capt. Canfield was fantastic," said Diane Sheahan, a member of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3E. "He'd be out there on the corner with his men at night directing the operation."

"People are really upset by his transfer," Sheahan said. "Who are we going to call now in the middle of the night?"

Canfield, 35, has a reputation as something of a controversial officer, primarily because of his aggressive and sometimes unusual approach to police work, according to department sources.

In his previous assignment in the city's drug-riddled 3rd district, Canfield caused a commotion in some parts of the department and the community when he helped lead blitzkrieg arrests of drug dealers around drug-infested Seventh and S streets. When officers turned hoses on crowds of drug dealers to disperse them, Turner ordered a halt to the crackdown. Canfield was transferred to the second district last October.