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On a muggy Saturday night, a pair of Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) officers pull their cruiser up to the entrance of De’ Zulu Cave, a nightclub off Bladensburg Road NE. There’s no emergency or crime report, so the officers are in no hurry. When the car comes to a stop, the driver keeps the lights trained on the patrons streaming into the club—not to intimidate them, but to cop a nice, long look. Tonight is the club’s pajama party, an invitation for female clubgoers to sport their sexiest outfits. The cops dig it. “Have you seen girls with hips like that in your life?” exclaims the partner with the excitement of a scientist who has come across a particularly remarkable specimen. “She’s going to blow up like a blimp.”

The women strut past in silk PJs, bras, and Calvins. One even wears a see-through lace body stocking that draws dazed stares from the officers. “Hey, what kind of Converse are you wearing?” shouts the driver to a woman in cutoff shorts. He smiles; he likes that one. The two admit they don’t like dealing with raucous clubgoers, but De’ Zulu Cave and other nearby watering holes make for a fabulous chick scene—even if the women filing into the joint smile back uneasily, just trying to be polite. The two still get to look.

“We saw a girl bend over at the gas station…” the partner says.

“Buck naked!” interrupts the driver.

“You could see her privates,” his partner marvels, his hands cupping his crotch.

Last spring, a highly publicized report by consultants from the firm of Booz-Allen panned MPD for all kinds of no-nos: shoddy community policing, poorly trained officers, and too much paperwork. In the aftermath of the report, MPD Chief Larry Soulsby instituted a series of reforms, including controversial zero-tolerance policing, and kicked flabby paper-pushers from their desks out onto the streets. But Soulsby and MPD’s consultants have shown little interest in curbing officers’ No. 1 on-the-job distraction: babe watching. While D.C.’s finest may not use their badges to pick up criminals, they’re mighty aggressive when it comes to picking up chicks. They don’t call patrol cars “cruisers” for nothing.

Cops are chivalrous by nature. Most take up their profession to help old ladies cross the street and save damsels from purse-snatchers and rapists. Once they hit the street, though, cops learn that working the beat is a pretty boring routine that offers few chances for playing the knight in shining armor—but plenty for scoping women, a pastime that lasts from punch-in until the end of the shift. And cops on the beat will tell you that many times it goes beyond window shopping.

“The temptation is always there,” says Nicholas Beltrante, a retired police officer and private detective. “Back at the time when I was on the force, they had foot patrol in the neighborhoods. This presented the most opportunity. They would be able to make contact with prospective lovers….I would say the opportunity presents itself more than [it does to] the average person.”

Beltrante’s first brush with cop cruising came about 30 years ago, when he happened upon an officer about to have sex with a prostitute in his patrol car. Things haven’t changed much since then, he says. Last year, Beltrante tailed two cops whose wives suspected them of cheating. Their wives were right. “We did the best we could do to follow their cruisers,” he remembers, adding that the policemen in question ran red lights and sped through heavy traffic en route to their trysts. “One investigator…followed the officer, got on the elevator with him, and found the apartment number. From that we determined the occupant for our client. They went into the residence for a couple of hours and then went on their way.”

It’s not as if cops have a monopoly on cruising and cheating. “There’s a lot of doctors I’ve caught, psychiatrists I’ve caught, judges I’ve caught, lawyers I’ve caught,” says Richard Bast, a detective who has been profiled in Washingtonian and Esquire. “They all like to fuck.” But with cops, he says, it’s different: “They have the power.”

The Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) bar, located on Indiana Avenue NW across from D.C. Superior Court, is a cheap midday stop for officers on break. Inside, the walls drip with male hormones. Lite Beer cardboard displays are strung up like Christmas lights, the beer-stained gray chairs and red plastic tablecloths look as if they’ve taken some abuse, and the jukebox is stocked with white-male icons like Bryan Adams, ZZ Top, and Eric Clapton.

It’s easy to get FOP customers to spout off about chicks. Kirk, a detective who refuses to give his last name, offers the old UPS explanation for why he has success with the ladies. “It’s the excitement of a woman being with a guy in a uniform,” he explains. “It doesn’t matter the income. It doesn’t matter what he drives. It’s the uniform.”

Kirk credits his uniform for working some magic with an employee at a D.C. bank. He met the woman while he was on a routine security check and admits going back for more—albeit made-up—checks until he got her phone number. When pressed for more anecdotage on how the uniform seduces women, Kirk responds, “Go out and get me 10 bitches and we’ll see.”

The FOP is a virtual batting cage for would-be swingers to rehearse their bad lines, swap sex stories, and get their egos massaged. As the barmaid fusses with the TV, a trio of male officers are busy discussing a recent bachelor party. One of the officers reports that his girlfriend became jealous when she discovered that a group of party girls had showed up for the celebration. His friend responds that bachelor-party exploits are so much innocent shenanigans. “If you are in a pool of naked women, you’re bound to poke something by accident,” he explains.

When FOP regulars aren’t trading stories, they’re testing clumsy pickup lines. When one cop sniffs the barmaid’s permed locks, he proclaims, “I’m a hair sniffer, not a glue sniffer.” It doesn’t get him more than a dirty snicker.

After a brew, some fries, and a couple of chuckles with the boys, D.C.’s finest head out of the FOP onto prime cruising turf: Judiciary Square. Bordered by D.C. Superior Court, 1 Judiciary Square, and MPD headquarters, the block teems with all sorts of women—prosecutors on their way to court, secretaries out for a walk, and jilted wives heading out of divorce hearings. Cops come here for official business, like filling out paperwork and serving as witnesses in trials, but they often linger for reasons of their own.

In the entranceway of D.C. Superior Court, a phalanx stands as if on alert for terrorist activity, inspecting every short skirt and glossed lip that comes along. It’s lunchtime, so the place is hopping. The scene is an endless stream of leering smiles, ass pats, and cheap come-ons. “It’s a nice day, isn’t it?” says an officer to an unimpressed woman. One officer stands away from the rest, offering a trite compliment to each pretty thing that comes by.

Officer Robert Schmidt and two colleagues sit just outside the courthouse doors, their heads moving back and forth like tennis spectators. They look ragged and tired, but that doesn’t stop them from making meow noises when a female officer shuffles by. When another female officer comes over to announce that she has gotten married, one of the officers says, “Damn! Another one out of my black book. We could still have a bachelor party!” She politely rejects the offer.

They then spot Lynda Lopez, a reporter from Channel 4 on assignment covering the Rod Strickland case. In person, she isn’t what they had hoped for. “I don’t think they use her with a body shot,” explains a passing officer. They nod in agreement. One of the gawkers, who is married, says the courthouse offers much more fruitful hunting than his beat. “We work at crackheadville,” says Schmidt. “It’s many less desirables.”

He says there’s no allure from the uniform—just women trying to get something from them. “If you lock them up, they’ll say anything,” explains Schmidt. “I had one girl who asked me if I was married. She said she would marry me. I asked what she had to offer me. She said, ‘A warm bed, hot meals, and good lovin.’ So I ran.”

They wish they worked Georgetown, where they say high heels and tight skirts are easier to come by, but instead they’re stuck with sober lawyers in full-length dresses at the courthouse. They’ll take it. “There are some lawyers that are cockeyed,” says Schmidt, admiring a skinny lawyer he spots. “She actually looks really good, doesn’t she?”

Unfortunately the lawyer doesn’t have time for him, and instead she talks to another cop. “She always says she’s in a hurry, but she will always stop for a man in uniform,” Schmidt says before eventually shuffling inside the courthouse.

Lopez had her eye on the vigilant cops. “They were cute,” she says as they head inside. “Why don’t I ever run into the cute cops? You can give those guys my card.”

Inside, cops are still on the make—or at least bragging about it. An officer who patrols Georgetown has time between cases to watch for pretty defendants and swap stories. Despite his stumpy frame, he boasts that women come up to him all the time. “If I’m on my motorcycle, they want to sit on the motorcycle with me,” he explains. “If I tell them no, they go, ‘If I show you my tits, will you let me?’” He lets them. “I get a big huge ego out of it.”

He adds that officers will chase anything. “I know some officers that go after crack ho’s ’cause it’s quick and very cheap,” he says. “It’s just strictly oral like $5.” But most won’t touch what he calls “ghetto bunnies”—women living in the projects. “You don’t want to get hooked up with someone where you have to pay for everything. They’ll be puncturing your condom so you can get them pregnant.”

Chief Soulsby says officers resist on-the-job temptations. “I don’t think that’s a problem,” he says on his way out of police headquarters. “Officers know how to handle themselves.” Just before issuing his disclaimer, though, Soulsby happened upon about 10 of his subordinates staring at a woman sitting in front of the courthouse. The woman was dressed slovenly and appeared homeless. Her skirt was riding high. “I don’t think she’s wearing underwear,” exclaimed one of the blue onlookers.

Soulsby took note of the scene and told the officers to “cover her up.” Nobody moved until a bike cop came over five minutes later to order the woman away. CP