It seemed like a phalanx of police invaded Sharon Pratt Dixon's hotel suite the night of her victory in the D.C. mayoral primary. Grim-faced, officious officers arrived at her Park Hyatt Hotel door minutes after news of her comfortable lead was announced on television. And then they went to work.

They jacked reporters up against the wall, jammed people aside in their zeal to "secure" the room, and for a while, kept "most of my family, flesh and blood, along with everybody else I knew most of my life" away from her, Dixon said -- all in the name of protection.

Many campaign workers took the police presence in stride. It was an abrupt change from the homey, relaxed style of the Dixon campaign, but it was also an indication that they had finally hit the big time. They had won.

Dixon, however, was mildly alarmed. One of her first actions after her win in the general election was to work with the police to structure a personal security detail that is half the size of the 37-member force guarding outgoing Mayor Marion Barry.

The week after her victory, Dixon determined that she didn't need a motorcade. She returned a lead car and its officers to the police department and now travels with a single escort vehicle. She also asked that a lieutenant, whose job was to oversee her mobile detail from his desk, be reassigned.

The next week, she decided not to have police officers accompany her to West Palm Beach, Fla., for a post-election vacation. The following week, she overruled police policy and decided it was safe for her to use a public bathroom by herself.

"I took my daughter out to celebrate her birthday, and they had this security there, and I decided to use the restroom," Dixon said. "They had a group that advanced me to the restroom to sort of check it out and clear it out . . . . I was grateful I didn't wait until the last minute. But since that time, unless they think it's really necessary, I'm not accompanied to the restroom."

Dixon's philosophy of protection and use of police is in contrast to that of Barry, who seemed to revel in the pageantry of public office.

Barry assigned a car and a driver to his wife, Effi. His security detail accompanied him on Caribbean vacations, baby-sat for his son, Christopher, and at least once escorted the boy to a birthday party.

Hazel Diane "Rasheeda" Moore, Barry's former lover, testified during his drug and perjury trial last summer that a guard baby-sat for her children while she and the mayor used drugs.

In 1988, two of Barry's security officers registered at a New York City hotel -- at a cost to the city of more than $2,000 -- to throw the media off while the mayor secretly checked into a spa about 60 miles away.

David Abramson, a former media consultant to Barry, said the size and behavior of Barry's security detail toward the end of his tenure says a lot in favor of a two-term limit for mayors..

During a third term, chief executives "return to the days of Louis XIV and Divine Right seeps in," Abramson said. "You are surrounded more and more by people who see their mission as supporting the chief and protecting the chief . . . . They become a vehicle for serving the mayor rather than protecting his well-being."

Dixon said her aim is "to have no more {guards} than I absolutely have to have . . . . I don't want to do a Jimmy Carter and just ignore what is appropriate, but . . . I don't want it to violate my ability to connect with people, my ability to move about freely, nor do I wish to waste taxpayers' dollars."

Walter E. Washington, the first elected mayor of Washington, got by with a security team of three or four police officers, former police officials said.

One associate said Barry may have decided to increase the detail when he took office because of his experience in 1977. Then a member of the D.C. Council, Barry was shot in the chest during the takeover of the District Building by a group of Hanafi Muslims, who held 149 people hostage for 39 hours.

Plans are in the works to build a sophisticated fence and security system around Dixon's home in upper Northwest, and to erect a guardhouse for the police who will be stationed there around the clock. The costs associated with those protective measures, which also were taken for Barry, have convinced Dixon that the city ought to consider an official residence for mayors.

"I think this is a very penny-wise and pound-foolish way of doing business because what happens is you make capital improvements to an individual's residence, and then you have to duplicate that when a new mayor comes into office," she said.

Acquiring the equivalent of New York's Gracie Mansion for D.C. mayors is "not on my list of priorities," Dixon said. "There is no way you can broach it in this environment . . . . But once we get beyond this troubled financial period, it is at least something that ought to be considered."

After she takes office on Jan. 2, Dixon plans to travel in a Lincoln Town Car similar to the one used by Barry. For now, however, she rides shotgun in a Mercury Grand Marquis that is chauffered by a staff member. Another car carries a police detail that often consists of women officers who unobtrusively blend in with Dixon's entourage of staff members.

Sgt. Nora Coaxum, a 17-year member of the force, was detailed to Dixon last week. Instead of a uniform, Coaxum, 41, was dressed in a fashionable black and white houndstooth suit, silk blouse and pearl earrings. She packed a gun nonetheless, and said her high heels would not slow her down in a chase. "I can kick them off," she said.