Jack Kitaeff remembers the first time he dealt with a policeman. He was 3. He was standing at the top of an escalator in New York City, too scared to get on, while his mother and father moved farther and farther down the steep moving stairs.

"I was scared," he said. "But all of a sudden, I felt these big strong hands pick me up and put me on. When I turned around, there was a 10-foot-tall cop with a big smile on his face saying, 'There you go, little fellow.' I was relieved."

As the first psychologist for the Arlington police department, Kitaeff, 32, now deals with police officers on a more regular basis. And since he started working with them, he has built on the respect he gained for them at an early age.

Kitaeff thinks it is a special kind of person who goes into police work. "My theory is men and women who become police officers often have strong maternal needs," he said. "In this society, it's always been hard for a man to express the side of him that wants to take care of people and do good.

"I believe most police officers believe they're out there doing a good thing. They don't do it for the money."

Kitaeff is employed by the department on a part-time basis to help in a variety of areas including screening job applicants, evaluating officers in high-stress positions, developing stress management programs and counseling any police officer who believes that he or she might have a problem.

Arlington Police Chief William K. Stover said the position of police psychologist was created in August to make the Arlington police department a stronger one.

He said it is one of the steps the department took this year that helped make it the second police force in the nation and the first in Virginia accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies.

The 351-member Arlington force won the honor last month following a year-long review of department policies and practices, which were measured against the ideals established by the newly created commission. That panel is composed of members of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, the National Sheriffs Association and the Police Executive Research Forum.

Of the 782 standards set by the commission as the ideal criteria for a police force, Arlington met all 552 mandatory requirements and 209 of the 230 nonmandatory ones.

"I am extemely proud," Stover said, praising the "high caliber of the men and women in our police department" and the support the force has had from the community and the county government.

As a psychologist in private practice, Kitaeff says he is happy to be one more source of support to the force.

Kitaeff is a big man with short dark hair and a mustache. He often sports a trench coat and an Inspector Clouseau-type hat, smokes occasionally and could easily be mistaken for a detective.

His office in Alexandria, where he sees about 15 private patients, is typical of a therapist's office -- small and comfortable. On the walls are several colorful, framed prints, assorted academic degrees and a large photo of President Kennedy hours before he was shot. The room contains a red velour love seat, two large matching arm chairs, a desk, a bookcase with books including "The Criminal Personality -- Volume 1," a box of Kleenex and a police radio. The latter is used when Kitaeff rides with officers on duty, something he does on his own time to get a better feel for the stress officers experience.

Stress, Kitaeff says, is a big part of a police officer's job. A unique kind of stress.

"In the job, there is a lot of monotony and repetitiveness, but there's the undercurrent at all times that something can happen at any second," he said. Kitaeff says officers always have to be ready to deal with "unannounced and unpredictable emergencies that they will have to take complete reponsibilty for."

Kitaeff concedes that it takes a special kind of person to deal with that kind of stress, and part of his job is to make sure that the right people get hired. So far, he has screened a handful of applicants through interviewing and testing. "There's a need to have someone psychologically fit to take the job," he said. "There are people who apply who are just inappropriate."

Kitaeff says that things he looks for include good judgment, tolerance for frustration, and the ability to think clearly. He tries to spot people who seem overly aggressive, anxious or impulsive and those with authority problems.

Since August, Kitaeff has performed about 40 evaluations of officers in high-stress postions such as emergency response, vice and hostage negotiations. Part of these evaluations include trying to spot job burnout.

Although he says it has not happened since he was hired, Kitaeff is scheduled to see immediately any officer who is involved in a shooting, whether that officer shoots someone or is shot at. Kitaeff thinks the department policy is a good one. Shootings, he says, are likely to evoke fear, guilt, remorse or depression.

"These are heavy emotions," he said. "If someone's involved in a shooting, they need to get their feelings out." He says his counseling will be devoted to "getting the person back on the street as quickly as possible, but at the same time, with no rush."

Kitaeff said of his job: "Everyone is friendly. I feel part of a family in an organization that is good and getting better."