More than two years after federal authorities began a civil rights investigation into the Prince George's County Police Department, no reports or recommendations have been made, and officials will say very little about its status except to confirm that it remains open.

Casey Stravopoulos, a U.S. Department of Justice spokeswoman, said last week that there have been no developments and did not say when the investigation might end.

Meanwhile, many within the 1,400-member police department have come to question the effectiveness of the intense federal scrutiny and openly wonder whether the cloud of suspicion will ever disappear.

"There's always going to be a cloud over them," said Anthony Walker, head of the county police union. "It's going to be that way for the next 20 years. People will always refer to the 1990s when they say we led the nation in police shootings. Whoever has this false sense of hope that it will all magically be lifted with [the findings of] this investigation is wrong."

The pace of the federal investigation has contributed to frustration among the rank and file.

"If we were as bad as we were made out to be," asked one patrol officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, "then why hasn't something been done yet?"

Criminologists who have studied such investigations, in which federal officials search for a "pattern or practice" of abuse and misconduct, said the probes can take years as investigators wade through piles of internal records and personnel files.

And community leaders, many of whom aggressively supported federal intervention, have said they are in no hurry to see an end to the probe.

"From the perspective of [residents], we need to be sure there's a fair and impartial investigation done of our department," said Eugene Grant, who lives in Seat Pleasant and sits on a police advisory committee. "The department didn't rush to clean up its act, and so I don't want the Department of Justice to rush either and overlook something."

When the investigation began in November 2000 after a troubling string of officer shootings and in-custody deaths, Prince George's joined just 13 other police departments nationwide, from Los Angeles to Montgomery County, to face such a full-scale inquiry.

At the time, law enforcement experts and officers whose agencies had undergone such probes predicted that it could produce lasting reform.

Indeed, a lot of what the Justice Department often recommends at the conclusion of a department investigation already has been implemented in Prince George's.

For example, the county now uses a program that helps identify problem officers quickly. A computer produces a monthly list of officers who have had two complaints or forcible arrests in the past 60 days or three transgressions in the past three months. Those officers receive a warning and review the incidents with their commander. The system doesn't count older cases or those more than a month apart, so theoretically, an officer could kill six people in one year and not be flagged.

Law enforcement experts have said that for the system to work, however, it must track officers' conduct for years.

Early warning systems have become a favored tool in law enforcement circles as a way to reform agencies hobbled by brutality allegations. Since 1998, they've been adopted by police departments in Los Angeles, New Orleans, Pittsburgh and other places under federal investigation for civil rights violations.

"It's far more complicated than anyone ever realized but also has far more benefits than anyone realized," said Samuel Walker, a University of Nebraska criminologist who has studied such systems.

In one case, the system flagged an officer who hadn't made a single arrest, field observation or traffic stop in months, Walker said: "He had no complaints filed against him because he had been doing no work. The potential uses run on and on."

Another, more visible change came with the elevation of Gerald M. Wilson to chief. Wilson, who climbed through the ranks to replace John S. Farrell, who had come from Florida, has been more visible and more open in discussing department operations.

Wilson, 39, said last week that the agency has made notable changes, from creating a special response team charged with investigating police shootings and in-custody deaths to the hiring of a statistician whose responsibilities include analyzing the complaints filed against officers as well as their personnel records.

"The fact that we had only one shooting [by a police officer] until the last month of the year indicates we've come a long way," Wilson said. "It shows we've made significant strides but also shows we still have further to go."

After a year without a fatal shooting of a civilian by a police officer -- a year in which just one non-fatal shooting occurred -- the police this month have shot four people, one of them fatally. The FBI said Monday that it would review the fatal shooting, in which police who responded to a call from distraught family members said they shot a man as he held a knife to his mother's throat.

When about a dozen people protested what they called a "trigger-happy" police force outside the county administration department, Wilson stopped by to introduce himself and handed out business cards so protesters could contact him. It was a contrast to Farrell, who rarely responded to such situations.