In 1957, although they did not know it at the moment, a 25-year-old Washington cop and a 2-year-old toddler were about to become famous. During a Chinese festival, officer Maurice Cullinane stooped down to coax tiny Allen Weaver back onto the curb to avoid the sputtering fireworks. The picture, widely reprinted, earned photographer Bill Beall a Pulitzer Prize.

Last month, Cullinane's attention to the little details of police work paid off again. Known as "Wonder Boy" for his rapid rise within the department, the 20-year veteran was named the city's chief of police. It was a popular appointment. Despite local pressures for a black chief—70 percent of the city's residents and more than one third of its police force are black—"Cully" was the easy favorite in a recent rank-and-file vote to replace retiring chief Jerry Wilson. Although the vote was not binding on Mayor Walter Washington, it was a measure of confidence that Cullinane welcomed. (As for little Allen, he is now 19, and his family has moved to California.)

Cully is a third-generation Irish cop. "I've never wanted to be anything else," he says. "It's a family tradition." His father walked a Washington beat for 34 years, and his grandfather and several granduncles also wore the shield. Long a believer in the value of the foot patrolman, Cullinane's first act as chief was to order his legion of motorscooter cops to start hoofing it half the time. "People in the community," says Cully, "don't feel the police understand their problems if they're driving around all the time."