WHAT HAVE we come to in the nation's capital when the chief of police resorts to emergency crime-fighting measures and the only significant reaction comes from the police union chairman, who complains that the initiative could spoil the holiday plans of his officers? D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey's announcement that he was invoking his powers to restrict days off and increase police patrols in neighborhoods and retail areas hit hard by crime was greeted with a deafening silence in the offices of Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) and the D.C. Council. There was not a peep out of the District's civic community -- merchants, neighborhood and religious leaders -- to the news that prompted the chief to invoke his emergency powers: 364 robberies and 24 homicides in the preceding 32 days. With the District on pace to match or exceed last year's 198 homicides, the only official to give voice to and act on that dangerous development is the city's top cop. What, indeed, has the city come to?

Could it be that there is less of an outcry because the killings tend to be confined to those quadrants of the city where commercial and tourist activity is scarce? To be sure, an overwhelming number of the murders aren't occurring downtown or in the wealthier parts of the District. And it's probably true there are entire neighborhoods that are untouched by this latest spike in crime. But we strongly disagree with Sgt. Gregory I. Greene, chairman of the D.C. police labor committee for the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 1, who said of the chief's emergency measures: "The only ones suffering from this are the officers. It's Christmas." We think the families and friends of the homicide victims and those residents living in the vicinity of the slayings are also experiencing more than their share of misery and distress.

The greatest threat to the District -- besides the shootings, robberies and assaults -- is the possibility of the city's civic leadership becoming inured to crime and violence; that they will grow accustomed to accounts of weekend murders and begin to accept death on D.C. streets as undesirable but inevitable. Let it come to that, and general lawlessness and a meltdown in community values will not be far behind.

Chief Ramsey should be commended for the action he has taken. "We have to keep the streets safe," he told The Post's Del Quentin Wilber. Citing the four people who were killed in apparently unrelated incidents within six hours of one another, the chief said, "These are the kinds of things that spread fear and panic in the community." Chief Ramsey sees the emergency. When will the official inhabitants of city hall and the District's civic community open their eyes?