Brooding, sensitive Latino Jimmy Smits will replace brooding, sensitive Irishman David Caruso as the central character of ABC's hot cop show "NYPD Blue."

Sources at ABC confirmed yesterday that Smits, a former player on "L.A. Law," will replace Caruso afterthe fourth episode in the upcoming season. The season premiere is scheduled for Oct. 11.

Caruso, a little-known actor who made a one-season splash as Detective John Kelly, has decided to follow the treacherous path of other television phenoms into the world of feature films.

Smits will assume a "newly created role and not a replacement role," according to an ABC spokeswsaid the part was still being refined. He'll begin shooting in mid-September and will appear in the fifth episode of the season, which will air sometime in mid-November.

Smits was an early contender to replace Caruso when the actor announced earlier in the month that he planned to leave the program. Reports indicate Caruso wanted a raise from $80,000 to $100,000 an episode, a salary usually reserved for established stars on long-running series.

Series creator Steven Bochco refused to comment on the departure of his Emmy-nominated star. "To me that's yesterday's news," he said in a telephone interview. "Looking back doesn't serve in anyone's best interests. I attained a real affection for David and I wish him the best and I hope he gets everything he's striving for."

Whether Caruso's decision to leave will be the latest in a series of bad career moves by actors leaving television -- notably Shelley Long and "Cheers," McLean Stevenson and "M*A*S*H," Farrah Fawcett-Majors and "Charlie's Angels" or Smits's former "L.A. Law" costar Harry Hamlin -- remains to be seen. Of course, there are the likes of Robin Williams and Tom Hanks, who also bolted the television business at an early age.

Caruso recently pulled in $1 million for the lead role in the upcoming Fox film "Kiss of Death" and is said to be in heavy demand by movie studios looking for new talent.

The actor will be leaving a series that was the highest-rated drama on any network and was nominated for 26 Emmys, an all-time record for a series in a single awards year.

Caruso himself is nominated for best lead actor in a drama series along with costar Dennis Franz. He recently announced that he does not intend to go to next month's Emmy Awards due to the controversy surrounding his status with the show.

Bochco said that Smits's arrival is a perfect antidote for Caruso's exit. "I've known Jimmy for a long time and have the highest regard for him," Bochco said. "I'm delighted that after having to go through this change, on the other side there's Jimmy Smits."

Smits is best known for his role as attorney Victor Sifuentes on "L.A. Law," a series Bochco co-created in 1986. A six-time Emmy nominee, Smits won the supporting actor's Emmy in 1990.

Bochco admits he doesn't have "a clue" as to how the new character will be written for Smits. "We don't even have a name for him," Bochco said. "We know he's a cop and we know his gender."