Roy Knight always wanted to be a cop.

In youth, it was the idea of protecting Washington's streets that lured him. He so wanted to be what he calls "grass-roots"--working the streets--that he spent four years studying criminal justice at the University of the District of Columbia, where he recently received a degree.

Yesterday, at the D.C. police department's job fair, Knight, 22, said he had little, if any, fear of joining the 3,500-officer force. He quickly acknowledged, however, that his parents--and girlfriend, who came with him yesterday--aren't too thrilled with his plan. "They respect it . . . just not their son doing it," he said.

Armed with a $15 million U.S. Justice Department grant, the D.C. police department is poised to hire about 200 officers in the next year. Some of the applicants at the event in the Washington Convention Center were young; others were older, with years of experience.

In an effort to lure experienced officers to the force, D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey said the department will waive the standard entrance exam for officers applying from other law enforcement agencies, and will cut the training program from six months to eight weeks.

All applicants, however, will be required to undergo standard background checks and psychological and physical endurance exams, he said. The District's police force has suffered in the past from cutting corners on background checks and rushing recruits through training.

"We're not circumventing background checks. Just because they work for another department doesn't mean we'll lift that," Ramsey said. He added that all officers, regardless of experience, will serve an 18-month probation.

Sgt. Jacob Kishter, of the department's office of recruiting, said there were hundreds of applicants during the nine-hour job fair.

Many of them, he said, were the young and ambitious who said they hoped somehow to have a positive effect on their community.

Take Nicole Gray.

The 30-year-old Northeast Washington woman said that for years, she had bought into the bad rap that stuck with the city's police force. Gray said there was a "stigma" about the force, with one scandal following another and scant community support, which ultimately hurt the department's morale.

"It's starting to come around now," said Gray, adding that she has been generally impressed with Ramsey since he joined the force in April 1998. "I used to think a certain way about the D.C. police department.

"Now, it's more professional," Gray said, then walked off, jittery about the entrance exam she was about to take.

LaShante Russell, Knight's girlfriend, stood next to him as he filled out his application. Asked what she thought of his decision to apply to the force, Russell, 21, snapped back with: "We've been talking about it.

"Sure, I appreciate why he wants to do it. I respect it. But I just prefer him to be behind the desk."

Even if he is not afraid he'll be hurt, she is worried. "I prefer him to get the beat cop thing over with," she said, "then be an investigator, that's all."