They are called "The Detail", these two dozen D.C. police officers wrapped in striped, Day-Glo vests who buzz along Embassy Row on motor scooters 24 hours a day.
They are headquartered at 3100 Massachusetts Ave. NW, just one block west of the Iranian Embassy, in what amounts to the police department's newest precinct station -- a mobile set-up complete with scooter repair shop, riot equipment storage, shortwave communications, a television set, a coffee machine and "half a bathroom," as one officer put it.
For 14 days now, their mission has been to protect the Iranian Embassy or, in the extreme, prevent a takeover of the embassy by angry Americans.
"We are pretty lucky," Officer Michael Decenzo said yesterday as burnt orange and red-colored leaves twinkled down upon him. Standing amid an iridescent forest behind the Iranian Embassy, Decenzo cut the engine on his bike. "It's slow going -- what I call a real fine day," he said.
From the backyards of doctors, dentists and diplomats, where ivy-covered stone walls enclose not only mansions but private roads as well, the sounds of scooters crushing leaves could be hears as officers took leisurely rides along the horse trails of nearby Rock Creek Park.
"Just routine checks," smiled Officer G. K. Scott. "So far, so good."
Many of the men assigned to The Detail, in reality the department's Civil Disturbance Unit, say their real test is expected to come on Tuesday when anti-Iran forces plan to demonstrate in front of the Iranian Embassy.
A federal judge on Friday night blocked an attempt by the Carter admisistration to ban all Iranian-related public demonstrations in Washington during the tense hostage situation in Tehran. The federal government has appealed that ruling. [Story, A11]
"Our main job is still to keep our own people from seizing the [Iranian] embassy," Scott said. "We're not supposed to let any group get within 500 feet of the place. Hold 'em back at the 500-foot line. That's the plan."
For about two blocks east and west of the Iranian Embasy, scooter units of three and four officers are now camped out at intersections leading from Massachusetts Avenue to roads behind the mosque-like embassy. Patrol cars also make frequent rounds throughout the area.
The presence of so many police officers staked out in the woods off Embassy Row for so long has caused something of stir among residents living in the area, although most say they are accustomed to better than average police protection.
"We feel pretty secure," said Alfredo Halequa, a sculptor who, along with his wife, Raquel, a dentist, strolled casually along Normanstone Terrace behind the Iranian Embassy yesterday. "I think the police are doing a fine job."
In the two weeks since Iranian students took more than 60 Americans hostage in Tehran, anti-Iranian feelings here have run high. Carter administration officials and D.C. Mayor Marion Barry have expressed concern that feelings of patriotism, which may not have been so apparent since World War Ii, may escalate into some absurb stunt.
Already, several anti-Iranian demonstrators have been arrested by D.C. police for disorderly conduct, including throwing eggs. Last week, some American counterdemonstrators were forcibly removed from the street after attempting to block the path of marching Iranians.
While local police continued to guard the outside of the Iranian Embassy yesterday, Iranian officials themselves continued to take internal security precautions. Visitors were few and at times were questioned by officers of the uniformed division of the Secret Service who stood watch in the embassy driveway with Doberman pinschers leashed to their arms.
Iranian officials said they had beefed up security following several crank calls and three bomb threats in recent days. But while thousands of Iranian students continued their daily demonstrations in Tehran, Americans and Iranians were quiet here.
"I hope it stays like this," Scott said, as he stood guard near the bridge at Massachusetts Avenue and Whitehaven Drive. "I'm pretty optimistic."
Down the street, another group of policemen sat in a squad car, listening to a radio and playing a game of blackjack.
"The weather is fine," said one of the men. "Not like when the farmers were here and it was snowing. Plus we're getting overtime, so who can complain."
"I can complain," his partner chuckled as he studied the three cards in his hand. "The farmers weren't about violence, and that's all this Iranian thing seems to be about."