A special 150-member detail of police recruits, whose mission is to maintain order during the holiday season, began patrolling business corridors throughout the District yesterday.
Police Chief Isaac Fulwood Jr. announced the new detail yesterday with Michelle Bussard, the executive director of the D.C. Downtown Partnership. The group -- made up of developers, department store executives, other retailers and city officials -- promotes the interests of the burgeoning retail area east of the White House.
Wanda R. Austin, the marketing director for the business partnership, said the media's focus on the District's crime problem created a problem for merchants, who felt there were insufficient police patrols in the downtown area. Fulwood, who serves on the partnership's board, was aware of the problem, she said.
The Christmas season is a crucial time for retailers everywhere, and this one will be particularly important, given the keen competition in the industry.
Downtown merchants in recent years have feared that reports about crime in the city -- such as today's about the District's breaking last year's homicide record -- scare potential shoppers from the city.
D.C. police do not keep separate statistics for crime downtown or in other major shopping areas, but say that those areas are not particularly dangerous, and are not the scene of much drug dealing or violent crime.
Fulwood and Bussard introduced members of the new detail at a news conference yesterday in front of the closed Garfinckel's store downtown, the flagship of the local retailing chain that declared bankruptcy earlier this year.
With dozens of recruits standing in front of the store's display windows, which were decorated by members of the partnership, Fulwood said the detail will help control vehicular and pedestrian traffic in the District's business corridors. The officers also will hand out crime-prevention tips to shoppers.
The 150 officers, all of whom are still in the police academy, will supplement uniformed officers already assigned to neighborhoods and business areas, said Lt. Reginald Smith, a department spokesman.
The announcement is another in a series of measures developed by Fulwood to aid District businesses, part of what Fulwood calls a "community empowerment" policing plan that creates a partnership between officers and the neighborhoods they patrol.
Last month, the department unveiled another program that uses businesses to distribute crime-prevention tips.
Police officials, who said patrols are always supplemented during the holiday season, emphasized that the new detail will operate in all areas of the District. The D.C. Chamber of Commerce, which represents about 800 businesses, also welcomed the new officers and said the police detail will contribute to an already improved business climate.
"It's a resurgence that really makes us feel good," said Gregory Davis, the executive vice president for the chamber, "so the police chief's announcement today is just icing on the cake."