Police work provides a skewed -- if not positively warped -- outlook on the human pageant. A cop assessing civic life on the basis of professional experience is rather like a doctor assessing the physical health of society on the basis of an intensive care ward. From the cops' vantage point, life is a repetitive tragedy of victimization and suffering. They must look dead-on at everything that instinct and common decency tell the rest of us to turn away from: misery and gore, shame and cruelty, loss and abuse; weakness in all its creative deformities and clever disguises. They march resolutely down the side of the street we cross over from. Ugliness is part of their routine, a natural effluent of their occupation. POLICE are not robotic stoics, as they were caricatured in potboilers and films noir of the 1950s and serial television of the 1960s. They're touched by what they see, set apart by it -- and sometimes damaged by it -- in ways imperceptible to outsiders. Author Joseph Wambaugh has drawn on his 14-year career with the Los Angeles Police Department (1960--74) to construct complex portraits of the police universe that are at once compassionate, but not pitying -- and brutal, but not sadistic.