"I still drink," the detective said matter-of-factly. "Whenever I'm with friends we take a bottle wherever we go, but as long as I don't get into trouble the police say I don't have a drinking problem. But if I get into a fight in a bar tomorrow night, even if I'd only had one drink, they'd say I had a drinking problem."

The detective has been with the D.C. police department for 11 years. Twice he has been in trouble. Twice he has been accused of having a drinking problem.

He was first brought before the police trial board in 1972 after police were called at 3 a.m. to break up a fight between him and his estranged wife.

Two years later he was involved in a fight in another man's apartment. Again the police were called. The first time the detective was convicted and fined $500 by trial board. The second time, the fine was $1,200.

Only about 10 to 15 officers of the 4,100-member D.C. police force are brought before the trial board on drinking related problems each year. However, as the detective and many others point out, it takes a special set of circumstances to get a man to the trial board.

Because the department is aware of the fact that drinking on the force is in no way limited to officers who appear before the trial board, a new counseling project, "The Employes Assistance Program," will be launched some time in the next month.

The counseling program, which will be administered by Father R. Joseph Dooley, a police chaplain for 14 years, and the Rev. William Bishop, was first authorized in 1974. It was not until November, however, that Dooley and Bishop were placed on the payroll and told to get the program in gear.

While the adminstrative branch of the department, headed by assistant chief Tilmon B. O'Bryant, has tried to emphasize the fact that the new program is designed to counsel police officers with all problems they may have, it is clear that drinking is the major concern.

Father Dooley said there are no reliable statistics on how widespread drinking is in the department and that there won't be any reliable data available until the program has been operating for awhile.

Members of the force give many reasons why police officers drink. They range from the everyday problems of all people face to problems related specifically to police work: the rotating shifts, the stress of the street, the dangers sometimes involved, the availability of free drinks from bars, the strict discipline of the department.

"We expect that a majority of the men treated will have problems related to drinking," said former chief Maurice J. Cullinane who approved the new program. "This is a program we've needed in Washington for a long time. I wish we could take credit for doing something that's new or revolutionary but can't. It's been done in other cities and it's needed here."

Cullinane said he based his statement on national statistics that show that 60 percent of those treated in similar programs have been treated for drinking problems.

Many, including the detective, say there are more reasons to believe many D.C. police officers will be treated for drinking problems than just national statistics.

"What is a drinking problem?" the detective asked rhetorically. "I knew a guy in SOD (special operations division) who died from a liver problem caused by drinking, but he never got in any trouble so the police say he didn't have a drinking problem. By me, he had a drinking problem."

In a number of interviews, virtually every lower echelon officer said he believes that drinking in the department is widespread and is, in fact, a problem top officials are extremely concerned with.

"I can tell you a story," one veteran officer said. "I can tell you a bunch of them. A couple of years ago I had a partner who used to request that we work together all the time.

"The reason he always wanted me was because he knew I didn't drink. We'd go out on the beat and stop in the bars to make checks. In every bar the bartender would pour two drinks the minute we walked in the door, one for me and one for him.

"Only he drank both of them. By the end of the night he'd be so ripped he couldn't see. One night he was so bad I threw him in the cellblock to dry out."

The availability of liquor at no charge to police officers is a major problem for the department. Cullinane acknowledged that, "there's no question that officers are constantly exposed to this sort of thing."

police officers in training are warned about the temptations of the street. "One of the first things you're told is that there are two things which can get you in trouble as a cop and they're both free: booze and broads," one sergeant said. "It's part of your training."

"The scout car officers have it toughest," robbery lieutenant James Waybright said. "They're constantly dealing with negatives. Their officials are always telling them what they can't do, what's wrong to do. Then they go out on the street and the only time anyone talks to them is when they need them."

Waybright remembers when he decided against turning a man in for a possible drinking violation and ended up regretting it.

"I had a man who was in an accident," he recalled. "The night inspector told me he thought the accident probably happened because the man was drunk.

"I decided to let it go because I really wasn't sure if he was drunk. His speech had been slurred somewhat but I thought it might have been because he was hurt.

"About a year or so later he was in another accident because he was drunk. This time he was killed."

Other officials also remember letting a man go once and then seeing him get in serious trouble because of drinking later.

"Let's face it," one official said. "No cop is going to turn in another cop unless he has to. You try to give a man the benefit of the doubt at least once."

Yet, the department insists that it will depend on officials recognizing that an officer has a problem and telling him to report to the program. All the program's records will be separate and confidential, but an officer's supervisor will be able to find out if one of his subordinates is in the program.

Many of the officers interviewed, none of whom had heard anything about the impending program, were skeptical about it.

'I don't know a guy on this job who doesn't take a drink," the detective said, "and I don't think you'll find but a handful who haven't had too many at times. Come around here Christmas and there's liquor all over the building. If they wanted to they could probably say the whole force was violating the rules."

Violating the rules is not that difficult. The D.C. police code states that an officer must be able to perform up to 100 percent capacity at all times.

In other words, a D.C. police officer should never be drunk. "If they enforced that rule the whole force would end up in front of the trial board," the detective said with a laugh.

Many in the lower echelon maintain the seriousness of that problem.

"Why are they rusing to get this thing going now," one officer asked. "They say it was supposed to be set up back in '74. What took them so long? Why doesn't anyone know about it yet?"

Technically, an officer with a problem is supposed to be able to seek help from the police clinic. There are two psychiatrists on the police department payroll and Cullinane said that men with "serious" problems would still be sent to them.

No officer interviewed had kind words for the clinic: "If you go up there just for a physical you have to wait in line for three hours," one said. "And if you went to see a shrink . . . Just let one person find out and bam!"

That same fear may prevent officers from using the counseling service, but Dooley said he thinks that, "when a man is told his job is involved, he will cooperate.

"This isn't going to be a witch hunt or anything," he added. "We're not going out looking for police officers with problems. We just feel there is a need for this. Policemen have problems like anyone else."

Unlike everyone else, policemen carry guns and are required to do so even when off duty when they live in D.C.