Pete Crawford arrived in the world on a November day in 1950. His brother John arrived five minutes later.

Pete became an Alexandria police officer on a June day in 1975. John followed two months later.

So from day one, they've shared a lot. They have the same face. The same voice. The same Long Island accent. The same dark hair and mustache. The same uniform with the same lieutenant's bars. And they get the same puzzled looks from people who, after all these years, can't figure out who's who.

"If somebody calls me John, half the time I don't correct them," Pete said. "It's simpler just to nod or say hi."

The gun is a clue, though. The Crawfords are mirror-image identical twins, which in this case means Pete is left-handed and John is right-handed. Pete commands the police department's special operations section, including the SWAT, canine and traffic units; John commands the public information office and is one of the department's media liaisons, along with Amy Bertsch, a civilian.

Sometimes Pete will be complimented on a TV appearance John has made. "I just say, 'Yeah, did you like the piece?' " he said.

John says sometimes people who think he's Pete will start telling him about a police incident or thank him for helping them. "I won't have a clue as to what they're talking about," he said.

There are noticeable differences between the two, though. John seems more outgoing, Pete more reserved. John's face is a little thinner, Pete's hair a little longer.

"Even though we might not look identical anymore, people still confuse us," John said.

Detective Joe Morrash experienced that confusion early on. He met John shortly after arriving on the force in 1978 and saw him again soon afterward. Strangely, John didn't acknowledge him.

"I thought, 'Geez, why isn't he talking to me? Did I do something to make him angry?' " he said. Of course, it wasn't John he saw, the mystery was soon cleared up, and they all became friends.

Even their mother, who is very proud of her crime-fighting sons, had trouble telling them apart. Alice Crawford and her husband, Ken, a commercial artist who died last year, raised Pete, John and three other sons in Farmingdale, Long Island. When the twins were small, "if they were outdoors and dressed alike, it was difficult to tell which was which. We just yelled, 'Peterjohn,' " their mother said.

Alice Crawford said she had been "completely surprised" when her number-two son turned out to be numbers two and three. The twins were born seven weeks premature, and each weighed only 3 pounds, 2 ounces. "It was really a miracle they survived," said their mother, who is a registered nurse.

Pete and John survived quite nicely, playing baseball, hanging out together and growing up in a large, loving family. (They also fought "all the time," Pete said.) They experienced a rare separation after their 1968 high school graduation, when they volunteered for the military--but in different services. Pete joined the Army and served a tour in Vietnam, and John joined the Navy and spent a lot of time in the Caribbean. Along the way, Pete also attended an art college in Manhattan, and John attended the state college in Farmingdale.

After their military hitches were over, John decided to pursue his longtime dream of being a police officer, and Pete decided to join him. But police jobs were scarce on their home turf--New York City was even laying off officers--so Pete started looking at the rest of the world. He found out that a place called Alexandria was hiring, and he, his wife, Loretta, and two friends hit the road to Virginia.

Alexandria snapped Pete up during a whirlwind week, and "John was on the phone right away," he said. " 'You're gonna be a cop? You got a job as a cop?' John came down and saw all my stuff, saw me in my uniform, and he couldn't believe I was a cop."

John was impressed with the pay, too: $11,000 a year. "At that time, with that salary, you were a Rockefeller," he said.

John came down to visit, and "I fell in love with the place, the city, the uniform," so he decided to apply, too. Alexandria was happy to accommodate him, and he and Pete got apartments in the same complex and entered the police academy in September 1975.

They had to make a detour in October, though, for John's wedding on Long Island. They took the weekend off and "drove like hell back to New York" for the rehearsal dinner on a Friday night and the wedding on Saturday, John recalled. They returned to Virginia on Sunday along with John's bride, Michele, and were back in the academy on Monday.

Soon the streets of Alexandria had complete Crawford coverage--they were on different shifts--and the twins began their 24-year climb up the law enforcement ladder. Their career paths have been similar, with stints in patrol, criminal investigations and communications, though they almost never worked together. Both love their current jobs, and both agree that the Alexandria Police Department is the best thing that ever happened to them.

"In our wildest dreams, we never dreamed of being lieutenants," said John, whose son Daniel, 18, recently paid him the compliment of telling him he wants to be a police officer.

The brothers say they have always been close and they have always been competitive, but the competition reached another level with the police promotion process. Pete became a corporal first; John became a sergeant first; and on a particularly good day in 1991, they both became lieutenants.

John said that when Pete was promoted first, "I was happy for him, though it bothered me to a certain degree."

"There's a lot of mixed feelings going on," Pete agreed. "You want to get promoted, and when the other one doesn't make it, you feel very bad for him."

One officer who understands is Doug Powell, an Alexandria traffic cop whose identical twin, David, is a state trooper--so at least they don't compete for the same promotions. Doug Powell said it was natural for him to become friendly with the Crawfords when he joined the force shortly after they did.

"When you meet somebody else with an identical twin in the same profession, there's quite a lot to talk about," he said. "There's a bond that nobody except another twin would understand."

Another Crawford friend, Jerry McHugh, a fellow New Yorker, retired detective and former neighbor of Pete's, said Pete is more the leader and John the follower--a sentiment shared by their mother. McHugh is quick to add that John is "also a top-notch leader" but is more "happy-go-lucky."

When told he's considered the more serious of the two, Pete said, laughing: "More serious? More mature, maybe."

He did, after all, have that five-minute head start.

CAPTION: "Even though we might not look identical anymore, people still confuse us," said Lt. John Crawford, left, of his twin, Pete.