MOST DISTRICT residents understand that a certain amount of inconvenience comes with the territory when the president of the United States is a neighbor. But there is a point where presidential protection can get out of hand. Judging from last Saturday's Post, the line may have been crossed by the Secret Service and the Metropolitan Police Department.

When the president decides to travel to church or drop by a fund-raiser at a local hotel or enjoy a basketball game at the MCI Center, anywhere from one to three blocks of parked cars are swept from the streets. By order of the U.S. Secret Service, the D.C. police tow vehicles by the hundreds each year. The security concern is understandable: car bombs. But the methods could certainly be examined.

Although police policy calls for posting "emergency no parking" signs three days before a presidential visit, police often don't do so until a few hours before. That's because on occasion the Secret Service fails to give the police sufficient notice. That kind of delay may work for the Secret Service--the shorter the notice, the smaller the opportunity for a potential assassin. But the lack of warning wreaks havoc on residents and motorists who weren't told they were in a no-parking zone.

Scores of them have stepped outside to discover empty spaces. Often when they manage to locate their cars, they find traffic tickets on the windshields as a result of their vehicles having been towed. Reuniting with their cars isn't easy either. Instead of towing cars to a central lot, police simply strew towed vehicles across the surrounding neighborhood. Worse, sometimes the towed car is plopped down in another no-parking zone, where another ticket can get placed on the windshield. Busted lights, broken locks and dented fenders often result from rough handling by police tow truck operators.

D.C. police, in defense of their department's towing practice, told The Post: "We are at the whim of the president's movements." Sorry, but protecting the president is no license to walk all over people and their property. Where the Secret Service can give proper notice of the president's movements to the police, it should be required to do so. And when the police are forced to tow a car, they should leave a notice of where it is. In cases where the car was towed without proper notice, resulting in tickets or damage, tickets should be quashed and the federal government or the police made to pay.