One cop left for the U.S. Park Police. Another resigned to get a master's degree.

The third, a 10-year veteran trained for the SWAT team, left for a job with State Department security in Afghanistan.

"Those are three of the five that have left 1D this year, and the month isn't even over," says Officer Nick Deciutiis, a union shop steward in the D.C. police department's 1st District, on Capitol Hill. "They've been disappointed and disrespected. They see no future."

They join a steady troop of cops marching -- some would say fleeing -- from the Metropolitan Police Department. MPD's top brass is touting the fact that the department's attrition rate is far below the 200 a year it was in 2008; now it's about 12 a month, closer to 150 men and women in blue who took a hike last year.

Replenishing the ranks used to be a lot easier. The MPD had an active recruiting arm, the department's pay is comparable with or higher than most jurisdictions, and policing in the nation's capital was attractive.

Now, not so much.

Word is out in the policing community that working conditions for D.C. cops is hellish -- not because the streets are dangerous but because management is destructive. Discipline is harsh, morale is low, opportunities beyond the District abound. To help close the city's growing budget gap, the police department all but closed down its recruiting program.

"Law enforcement forces in the suburbs and federal agencies are raiding our best people," says Georgetown council member Jack Evans, who sits on the Judiciary Committee. Every Virginia suburban police force is recruiting. Same for Prince George's County. D.C. has become a farm team for surrounding jurisdictions. And the feds.

The council authorized a police force of 4,200 in 2008. Since then the ranks have been dropping. Police Chief Cathy Lanier put the number of sworn officers at 3,850 last month.

"I would like to see us go back to gaining officers," says Judiciary Committee Chairman Phil Mendelson. "But that's not going to happen in this budget. I certainly don't want to go below where we are."

But we will. The force is headed down to 3,500 in the next few years, according to the police union. This comes at a time when homicides are down, but sexual assaults, burglaries and robberies are way up.

"At public meetings in my ward few if any talk about the public school system," Evans says. "Everyone wants to know why there aren't more police.

"The costs of education and human services have increased every year," he says. "Police haven't had a raise in five years. Enough is enough."

Which sets up a dilemma for the mayor and city council: In a time of falling revenues and rising deficits, does the local government owe its citizens the basics, namely public safety, public education and clean streets? Or are we responsible for public welfare for all comers?

Cut the budget, cut the waste, make the city safe -- and keep the street cops happy.

Harry Jaffe's column appears on Tuesday and Friday. He can be contacted at