Bear with me a moment while I explain why "being a cop in Washington" is nothing like being a newspaper columnist. As a condition for appointment to and continued employment with the Metropolitan Police Department, one must have character--in the sense that one's behavior demonstrates moral strength and conforms to the standard of conduct expected of a man or woman to whom society entrusts its police powers. These standards are embodied in laws, regulations and departmental policies, violations of which automatically expose officers (and recruits) to formal, internal discipline and may result in a fine, suspension or termination (whether or not civil or criminal liability also exists).

By contrast, a columnist apparently can compose a mixture of misinformation, pedantry and crude analogy, call the product journalism, and present it to the public with little fear of just repercussions piercing the First Amendment shield.

I have placed 39 recruits on administrative leave with pay (but with police powers revoked), pending the outcome of our investigation of the fact that their urine tested positive for illicit drug usage within the three to 10 days prior to the examination. No one can argue that this was not proper subject matter for coverage by The Post; however, The Post's readers deserved better analysis than they received in one recent issue.

Richard Cohen's column ("Marijuana," April 29) demonstrates what a columnist can do. Among other things, the work is predicated on misstatements of fact (also evident in the companion news article). Contrary to Cohen's assertions, we are not conducting an investigation either limited to marijuana usage or its "episodic (use) in the distant past," nor do we necessarily reject a police applicant whose background check reveals minor indiscretions or "experimentations."

Further, I believe this community holds a belief in, and expects its government to conform to, higher standards than those espoused by Cohen. "Hypocrisy" or no, we recruit noncriminals for police officers. Surely I am not alone in rejecting the notion that the "use of marijuana . . . has nothing to do with a person's ability to perform as a police officer," and in scoffing at logic that would suggest, with minimal extension, that we recruit at penitentiaries in order to find subject- matter experts.

In sum, conduct "ordinaire" is unacceptable in law enforcement; too much is at stake. Our judgment, our credibility and our liability routinely are evaluated by judge, jury and public at large (including The Post). Fortunately, good, honest, hard-working cops are not "rare birds," nor are responsible journalists.