About two-dozen District of Columbia police officers, acting on orders from their superiors, spent nearly an hour of their duty time yesterday raking trash and leaves from around their station at 1901 E St. SE.

That action, defended by the official who ordered it, came under sharp criticism from police union leaders.

"They're policemen, not gardeners or janitors and they shouldn'y be doing it," said Larry Simons, president of the International Brotherhook of Police Officers local. "The chief is working on the budget trying to keep men in uniform and we've got policemen down there raking leaves. They should be working on crime prevention. Leaves never hurt anybody."

All the men involved in the cleanup yesterday are assigned to the department's Special Operations Division. They have special training in crowd control, and when not used during demonstrations, riots or barricade situations, are usually deployed in high crime areas, according to a police spokesman.

Capt. George McConnell, who ordered the cleanup, said it was done to remove trash that had accumulated through winter. "I have the responsibility for building and grounds and appearance and so do the men," McConnell said. "If it hurts someone to pick up a piece of paper, then this society is in bad shape."

Said Simmons, "Now that they've got policemen to panel their offices they (ranking officers) think that we're their little domain, that they can use policemen any way they want."

The Washington Post recently reported that high-ranking police officials were spending thousands of dollars in overtime pay to have their offices repainted, paneled with wood and scrubbed clean by uniformed police and civilian employes.

City Council member David A. Clarke (D-Ward 1), whose committee has jurisdiction over the police budget, said he was not as concerned about yesterday's incident as the use of overtime pay. "In the one case you had overtime used for capital improvements of officials' offices, he said. "In this case it's simple maintenance to keep the grounds clean. Everyone uses the grounds.

McConnell said he believed his men were responsible for most of the trash. One of the officers who worked the detailed said the trash belows into the yard from the nearby D.C. General Hospital, the D.C. jail, a mental health clinic and a cemetery.

An officer who observed the work crew said, "Nobody's hollering, but nobody's smiling either."

Said McConnell, "I didn't know this was such a big story."