The board responsible for handling complaints by citizens against D.C. police officers acknowledged that its system is a failure, and issued a list of 1,450 mostly unresolved cases to illustrate the problem.

The 23-page list of complaints, sent last night to D.C. Police Chief Maurice T. Turner Jr., represents the first step in what board members and officials said will be a series of steps aimed at overhauling the Civilian Complaint Review Board, a seven-member commission that serves as a court of inquiry for officers accused of brutality, harassment or using bad language.

Publicity surrounding the case of Officer Wayne Walker -- a two-year member of the police force who continued to patrol the streets despite at least six complaints of excessive force filed against him in 14 months -- has focused attention on the workings of the generally obscure board.

Walker, who has denied the allegations, has been assigned to administrative tasks while an internal police panel investigates a separate brutality charge made against him last month.

"The numbers don't work. The present system cannot handle the volume of complaints," said board Chairman Jane L. Dolkart. "The truth is, on average, if you've filed a case you can probably expect to wait well over a year and perhaps several years."

A Washington Post review of files and documents at the board shows that the Walker case is not an isolated example, but that there is no system in place to warn police officials of suspected repeat offenders.

The Post review reveals that there is no system to pick out the most serious cases and deal with them rapidly. Delays in resolving cases -- some of which take years -- can tarnish the reputation of officers accused wrongly by angry citizens seeking revenge.

The Post study also shows: More than 300 D.C. police officers have been the subject of two or more citizen complaints since mid-1982.

Almost two-thirds -- or 934 -- of the complaints filed since the board's creation in June 1982 await any action at all. An average of about 350 cases are filed a year, about one-third of which are dismissed as frivolous. The board meets only once a week and hears less than two complete cases at each meeting, generally ruling on about 70 cases each year.

Serious cases, such as allegations of police brutality, are treated the same as less serious cases, such as allegations of officers using off-color language. D.C. law requires that both types of cases be thoroughly investigated and receive a hearing by the full board.

While serious complaints await action by the board -- often for years -- the careers of officers later found responsible for brutality progress unchecked. For example, one officer was promoted to sergeant in the middle of a 4 1/2-year period in which 24 allegations -- including 12 of excessive force -- were lodged against him. The board recommended in October that the officer be terminated. The case is pending before a police trial board.

What emerges is a picture of a board with a small staff and outmoded equipment that is unable to cope with an avalanche of allegations ranging from the absurd to the terrifying.

No one appears pleased with the process: police and union officials criticize it as slow, clumsy and biased against officers. Citizens say that by the time their cases come to a hearing, they are apathetic or have forgotten key details of the incident. And the board itself is so fed up that next week it is expected to propose a major overhaul of the system.

"It's not pretty," said Alfreda D. Porter, who was appointed executive director of the board about a week before the Walker case surfaced last month. "There should have been something that signaled, 'Hey, we are in trouble.' What is very sad is that a Walker has to come to light before anything gets done.

"The police officer doesn't need to have his name dragged through the mud and have this thing hanging over him for three or four years. Neither does the citizen need to have this making them uptight for three or four years."

The 23-page list sent to Turner represents thousands of citizens' allegations of wrongdoing by District police officers since the panel was formed in June 1982. The bulk of the complaints are allegations of use of excessive force, according to officials and a review of documents. But even such complaints vary broadly.

"Excessive force is the mainstay. It's pretty much the bread and butter," said Porter. "But how excessive is excessive? It can go from the officer holding someone's arm a little more forcefully than the officer should to allegations of kicking out teeth as in the Wayne Walker {cases}."

Officials at the board estimate that about one-third of the estimated 350 new complaints filed by citizens each year are thrown out as "frivolous on their face." But they acknowledged that the validity of a case is unclear until a hearing is held.

Next week, the board and its staff will propose a complete overhaul of the system, Porter said.

The proposal, which would require amending the legislation that created the board, includes adding 18 new staff members and doubling the number of case investigators and hearing boards; creating a two-track system that more quickly separates serious cases from so-called frivolous ones, and sending the backlog of 934 cases to professional hearing examiners.

"We are talking {a backlog of} years," Porter said. "The only solution is to set up hearing examiners. There's just no other way."

The proposal, which Porter said will be presented to Mayor Marion Barry Tuesday, calls for expanding the number of boards from the current single board with seven members to two boards with five members each.

One chairman -- appointed by the mayor -- would oversee both boards, she said. Porter said that each of the two smaller boards would spend one full day a week tackling the "frontlog" of cases as they come in.

The requirement that every complaint, regardless of its seriousness, receive a full hearing before the board has contributed to the backlog, officials said.

To remedy the problem, Porter and Dolkart said that two tracks should be set up to process complaints. "If everything gets equal weight, you find that less serious cases are pushing behind cases of more concern," Porter said.

Allegations of excessive force that result in serious bodily injury; cases that involve officers with more than two complaints and cases in which tremendous community concern is expressed would be placed on a fast track. Under the proposal, a full investigation of such complaints would begin within 24 hours of their filing.

A second track for less serious cases would be set up, with a goal of third-party mediation or a conciliation between the complaining citizen and the police officer. "These are the cases that we think can be shaken out of the process," Porter said.

Creation of boards made up of citizens to review complaints against police officers became popular in some cities during the 1970s after a period of antiwar and civil rights demonstrations that spawned complaints of police brutality.

Civilian boards were viewed as being less expensive and less exacting than civil court complaints and more objective than internal police department panels that were sometimes criticized for being overly protective of their own.

Police union officials contend that the District panel has become a weapon for disgruntled people to get back at the officers who arrested them and that board members favor citizens over officers. Finally, they say the long delays between the filing of citizen complaints and their resolution by the board cause officers unnecessary stress and blunt the effect of any disciplinary action taken against them.

"They treat you like garbage down there," said Detective David Isreal, chairman of the union's Civilian Complaint Review Board Committee. "Policemen were being thrown to the lions."

Police officials expressed concern that long delays result in unfair treatment of officers.

Neither union nor police officials have been given the opportunity to review the board proposals to revamp the system, Porter said.