For more than four years, federal prosecutors and police in Washington have wondered how vigorously to enforce city laws banning pornography in D.C. movie houses, and whether residents here are interested in the prosecution of theater owners who show films that graphically depict sexual acts.

They may have gotten an answer last week when a D.C. Superior Court jury, after deliberating more than 10 hours, acquitted the owner of the Stanton Art theater of a misdemeanor obscenity charge stemming from the showing more than a year ago of a film called "The Analyst".

Apparently it was not an easy decision for the jurors.

During their deliberations, they could be heard yelling at each other from outside the courtroom.

They requested, and were granted, a second viewing of the film. And for many hours, according to those who participated in the deliberations, there were at times several persons holding out for a conviction.

Nonetheless, in a note given to prosecutor Robert Bredhoff explaining the verdict, Roberta Etta, the forewoman of the jury, spelled out the jurors' final decision.

"We tried not to use our individual feelings and/or biases about the film, but basically, how the adult population in Washington, D.C., would view the film," she wrote. "Thus, we felt that the adult community is intelligent enough to make their own determination."

What that means for future enforcement of city laws against pornography is still not entirely clear. But there are strong indications that what once was a reluctance among prosecutors to spend time and energy taking pornography to court may turn into a refusal to deal with such cases.

Historically, police and federal prosecutors have been divided on the pornography issue. Until recently, cases involving the showing were handled by prosecutors in U.S. District Court, and many did not want to deal with such misdemeanor charges when there were conspiracy, drug, corruption and other major cases waiting to be tried.

Police had hoped, correctly, that prosecutors in the misdemeanor unit at D.C. Superior court would be more enthusiastic about taking on the cases. Indeed, within a six-month period starting last year, prosecutors there authorized police to seize six films from city theaters, more films than had been confiscated in the previous four years combined.

"The Analyst," which includes graphic depictions of sodomy, was one of the films confiscated. Ronald Freeman, owner of the Stanton Art, was charged with violating the law that bans an "indecent presentation" of an "obscene, indecent and filthy motion picture."

Prosecutors believed that Freeman's case, the first stemming from the recent seizures to be tried, would give them a "community standard" on which to base future prosecutions. The Supreme Court has ruled that such community standards must be used in determining what is obscene.

The last attempt to determine the "community standard" was in 1978 when a federal court jury here acquitted the owners and operators of the D.C. Playhouse theater of charges stemming from their showing of three films, which the jury found were not obscene.

Up to now, police and prosecutors had been confiscating films based on rough guidelines they developed that would prohibit depictions of bestiality, violence, defecation, urination and child pornography.

According to law enforcement sources, prosecutors in Superior Court believed that on Washington jurors would bring a conservative, church-bound outlook into the courtroom. They were surprised, sources said, to find that while the jurors were offended by what they saw, they refused to take the position that the films should be banned outright.

"By doing so, they have spoken for the community to the effect that the community is going to accept this type of material," said Joe Haggerty, the police morals detective whose job is to monitor movies being shown in the city's tenderloin theaters.

The problem for Haggerty, as he sees it, is that the laws are still on the books, jury decision or not.

"It will be harder to convince the U.S. attorney's office that there's a need to present these films for prosection," said Haggerty. "It will definitely be harder without community support."

A meeting between police and prosecutors has been scheduled for next month to decide where they will go from here. Some prosecutors wonder if their time wouldn't be better spent doing something else.

Joseph E. diGenova, principal assistant U.S. attorney, acknowledges that the verdict "creates a problem for the police department." He said if juries will not find the films obscene, then "there is a question of whether you should devote your resources to another type of case."

According to law enforcement sources, prosecutors are more interested in helping police crack down in those areas more likely to spawn street crimes.

As for Haggerty: "I feel an obligation to make the community aware of the material that's being shown and giving them the opportunity to reject it or not."