Having followed with interest the debate concerning whether the Metropolitan Police Department needs to trim fat {op-ed, Nov. 28}, I offer my perspective as a D.C. resident and an attorney involved in civil rights litigation against the MPD. While there may be some fat to trim, according to James J. Fyfe and Patrick V. Murphy, I am more concerned with the fact that the MPD definitely needs to build muscle in the areas of training and supervision to help officers achieve professional competence.

The MPD has no formal system for evaluating officers. A previous evaluation system was scrapped several years ago because it was too cumbersome -- it has not been replaced. A public school student can't proceed to the next grade without a report card, but the men and women entrusted with the public safety go from year to year without feedback. There are numerous officers who have not received a formal evaluation since leaving the academy. One officer whose assault on a citizen cost the District more than $25,000 had received an "unsatisfactory" evaluation without any explanation in his personnel file; he didn't even know why.

The vicious cycle of poor performance begins with lack of adequate training. Officers have proven unfamiliar with the most basic definitions of probable cause to arrest and legal grounds for frisks and searches. They were unable to state the contents of the basic MPD general order covering these topics, nor were they familiar with the basic guidelines established by the U.S. Supreme Court. All those videotapes and roll-call lectures referred to by Richard Vavrick {"D.C. Police: A View From the Streets," op-ed, Dec. 10} aren't sinking in; the officers I deposed couldn't remember the specific contents of a single one nor are they ever tested on this information.

Officers have candidly admitted that they routinely fail to complete required paper work concerning stops, searches and injuries to arrestees. This lack of documentation deprives their supervisors of a critical basis to evaluate their knowledge and performance, and the conduct is reinforced. Aside from leading to civil rights violations, this situation puts more criminals back on the street because the arrests and seizures are held illegal and thrown out of court.

I estimate that the District has defended hundreds of lawsuits alleging violations of civil rights, yet the city maintains no statistical summary of the number of such lawsuits, the dispositions or how much money the illegal conduct of its officers costs taxpayers each year. Improving training and supervision is an absolutely essential step in breaking the cycle of poor police performance and the resulting human and economic costs. It's not what we're spending that concerns me; it's what we're getting for our money. ELIZABETH A. KARASIK Washington