To supplement the police officer's standard arsenal -- Glock 9mm sidearm, baton, handcuffs, and sharp instincts -- the District's police department yesterday unveiled a new weapon.
It is handmade in about an hour by five retired women: Jossie Wright, Nettie Herbin, Helen Whittaker and the twins, Dorothy and Doris Bell. They meet once a month, toil all day, and have so far produced 115 of them, destined for select investigative units.
This is how Assistant Chief Melvin C. High, the department's second-ranking officer and commander of all patrol units, explained it at a news conference:
"The bears," said High, "will be housed in those units and be readily accessible. Of course, if there is a need to take these bears out into the street, we will have the capacity for it.
"Certainly, this will be a valuable tool to help close many cases," he said.
Teddy bears. Handmade, stuffed teddy bears in orange and yellow and red and beige and blue (two shades).
Their mission, in the words of police, is to ease the trauma suffered by children who are either victims of crime or witnesses.
That is no small detail in a city with the highest per capita homicide rate in the nation. Several officers who attended the news conference, most assigned to the youth division, said something as simple as a stuffed bear will produce results.
"I've dealt with kids a long time here, and they need something like that," said Faith B. Chappel, an officer assigned to the youth division. "Somehow, they have to warm up before you can get something out of them, and this is a nice way."
The District Council of the Telephone Pioneers of America, a community group whose members have been telephone company employees for at least 15 years, first proposed the Hug-A-Bear program in April.
It was accepted at the urging of chapter president V. Emily Lewis, who said she had heard from other pioneers about the program's success elsewhere.
It has been adopted by police departments in Arlington, Vienna and Montgomery County, and several other jurisdictions are considering it. The idea itself originated with a Pioneers chapter in Illinois.
The plan, which initially restricted the bears to use in police stations, was amended during the news conference. Margaret Williams, president of the regional Alexander Graham Bell Chapter of the Pioneers, convinced High that the bears should ride in police cars so officers can soothe children involved in traffic accidents.
"We'll make sure that that happens," High said.