DC. POLICE Chief Charles Ramsey is encountering a fair amount of grousing in the ranks for his decision to create a late evening patrol shift. The change was put in place after an internal study showed too few officers were on duty late at night when they were most needed. But redeploying officers to hours when criminals are at their busiest is not going down well in the 3,500-member force. Violent crime notwithstanding, apparently an increasing number of officers prefer serving on shifts that allow them to have their evenings and weekends free.

A police chief should be free to match limited resources with workload demands. If, as the police study discovered, more officers work Tuesdays and Wednesdays than over the weekend, when crime usually picks up, it makes sense to adjust work schedules accordingly. That is the purpose of the new evening patrols. The chief says the current mismatch of resources and workload stems from a culture of inefficiency that has gradually engulfed the department over the years. Beat officers working shifts based on their home lives rather than the department's needs are a case in point, he says.

Chief Ramsey is right to put policing and public safety needs first. Policing is a 24-hour business. "If criminals . . . would sign a memorandum of understanding with me that they would commit crimes only on days, and not on weekends," said the chief, "then I could have my officers work only on days, and not on weekends. But I don't think that's likely to happen." Of course he's right.

That said, it does not follow that in creating a "power shift" to run from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m., Chief Ramsey should ignore differing policing needs of each patrol district. It should be possible to change overall shifts while allowing senior commanders limited flexibility in making actual staffing assignments. The overriding objective, however, should be to ensure that police officers are assigned to work during times when calls to service and workload are heaviest. The shift change obviously will disrupt the lives of some officers. But if the change ends up shattering plans of the criminal element, then the redeployment can be scored a success.