The Third District police, also known as "The Snake Pit," also known as "The Fightin' Third," also known, according to one policeman, by "a variety of names you couldn't print anyway,' threw itself quite a party Saturday night at the Mayflower attended by (according to police estimates) about 300 guests.

It went by the onerous name of "he First Annual Third District Spring and Summer Retirees Dinner-Dance" ("But you can shorten it," offered Lt. Rodney Ivy, whose idea this partially was) and it had the added distinction of being one of those social occasions where more than half the celebrants packed a rod - a worrisome sight, especially when they did The Bump.

"I'm not going," muttered one member of 3-D, a few nights before the Big Event, "People who're gonna be there - they're gonna be talking about everyone who's not there. And if you are there, they're still gonna talk about you behind your back. Phoney.

"I'm recently separated," he went on, "and if I went there, some remarks would be made about whomever I brought with me. You can talk about me like a dog, and I don't care. But my girl . . ." he shook his head sadly, "that's just the way I was brought up."

And there was another thing the policeman didn't want to see - the cliquing. "A group of young people, a group of sergeants. It's a group of this and a group of that. Policemen can be snobs.

Assistant Chief Burtell Jefferson, present at the dance for some brief time, listened to that last complaint in silence. Then he nodded. "There is a tendency to generate according to age. Sergeants with sergeants. But this is something I try to break up. Several affairs I've been to, I try to sit with officers. I mean that's a system that's very antiquated. There was a time when a lot of officials thought they couldn't afford to socialize with officers. I think that's a lot of bunk."

And, in fact, it looked like there was a considerable amount of mixing among members of 3-D Saturday night - especially among sergeants and officers. On the other hand, people like Chief Maurice Cullinane tended to be seated near people like Deputy Chief Bernard ("It-Gets-People's-Attention") Crooke and 3-D's very own Inspector Charles Rinaldi. All about them whirled the cops - cops in threepiece suits with flared trousers, cops in white pantsuits, in Hawaiian shirts open to mid-chest, cops in long gowns with plunging necklines and streaming hair, which they have to wear above their ears when on duty. Cops who complimeted each other on seeing themselves in Newsweek at the time of the Hanafi takeover, cops who danced very very close at the end of the evening, when the lights were dimmed.

"When I retire," sighed Cullinane, who gave out plaques to 12 retirees, "It's going to be because I went to so many retirement parties. But the reason I come to them - naturally you can go to too damn many - but it's the kind of party you need for the morale of the department. So I encourage them to have it."

Morale was - as morale so often is - unevenly distributed among the guests that night. On the one hand 3-D members tend to think of themselves as the elite of the police force ("We got the toughest crime district," many of them maintain; and for their pains, they're getting the Crime Reduction award this quarter for the second time in a row).

"I just came from Anacostia," said Sergeant John Crone, "where there was always a definite dividing between blacks and whites - you can notice it in roll call in a lot of districts. Whenever they're not concentrating on something besides themselves. And it's very boring in Anacostia; it's dead. That's why I came over here . . . in the Third District, center city, everybody is brothers, we're very dependent on each other and we go to functions together."

He pointed across his table; "Look at Frank Weinsheimer (white) and R.C. White (black). They're scout-car partners so they eat dinner together. Because they keep each other from getting killed."

But beside Crone was his lady friend, Jeannie Antosh, who had just resigned from the Third District a few weeks ago. Mainly because she has a 9-year-old daughter she'd like to spend more time with. Which left her very free to complain about her old employers. "Within the police department you put up with more picky things than you do with the citizens."

"For some reason," she continued, as Crone slid half-jokingly under the table, "for some reason officers supposedly aren't people to officials. You become an official and you're God. For instance, there is a promotional (system) I feel is very unfair.Your officials rate you on your efficiency reports. The thing is, if someone is down on you - just one person is down on you, that's all it takes."

John Crone looked up, grinning. "Just because I go with her," he said, "doesn't mean I agree with her."

"And that's another thing," continued his friend. "They tell you before you talk to the press, you're supposed to talk to the supervisor." She looked triumphant.

Dinner was roast beef and veal and rice and salad and cookies and cheese. But it was an open bar - and open all night, too, which is why, by the time the dancing began (music by the Kodels who were fond of "Country Road," "Proud Mary" and "Misty"), things had loosened up considerably with Lt. Ivy, in particular, dancing like a frantic spider.

Cops began to show you where they kept their guns (attached to an ankle in one instance; stuffed in a purse in another, which is not exactly kosher. Even lady cops have had their purses snatched). "That's why," signed one policewoman, "I try never to date in the District where I have to wear my gun-off-duty.I try to date in Virginia or Maryland. Because when you're dancing with a guy and he feels your gun, he panics."

Cops began to say anonymous things like, "The police, so help me, are the worst gossips in the world. I mean we know everything about each other's personal lives, and if you come here with someone that anyone knows, everyone will talk about it. Bu that's because we're brothers, you know? And mebers of a family always have to know things about each other. I mean 3-D has its own softball league - every other district has a team, but we have a league."

And cops began talking about the "bad moments," which are not necessarily the same as the "terrifying moments," which have, after all, their own special dignity.

"Like," said one sergeant, "like one time I had to take sick leave. I mean I had been called to a burglary-in-progress and I got bit by a dog. The burglar turned out to have been the dog who smashed a pane of glass so I guess you could say I got the burglar. I mean I shot him, and the bullet went right through him, but that dog is alive to this day."

The sergeant looked woeful at the thought. "You can't print my name - you just can't," he pleaded, "it would just be too humiliating. And the most humiliating thing about it is that dog was a poodle."

He paused, then thought better of what he'd just said. "But I mean a big poodle, 40 pounds, you know? With teeth - this big." The sergeant spread his thumb and forefinger a respectable distance to prove his point.