District of Columbia Police Chief Burtell M. Jefferson, in an attempt to improve morale in a department where promotions are limited, yesterday created the position of "master patrol officer" to provide more money and prestige to "exemplary" officers.

He said 56 people would be named to the positions within the next two months, seven in each of the police districts and in the traffic and special operations divisions.

The new designation, while not a new rank, means a raise of $810 a year over officer, and carries with its new responsibilities, Jefferson said.

Master patrol officers will train new police officers, in the field, make progress reports to superiors, and will take charge of crime scenes among uniformed personnel until superiors arrive. Master patrol officers, selected from the rank and file, will be identified by a new patch on their uniform just below their shoulder patch.

The D.C. police Department, faced with budget restrictions, has shrunk from a peak of 5,100 in 1971 to around 4,100 today, creating ever-tightening competition for fewer promotion slots.

Of about 1,400 people who took the last examination for sergeant, only about 25 are expected to be promoted to that rank. The test is given every two years.

"As the uniformed people get older, there's nothing much for them to look forward to. Now this new advancement gives them some incentive," said one lieutenant in the patrol division.

Jefferson, in upon being promoted to chief Jan. 13, voiced concern over improving morale among the 2,400 uniformed patrol officers.

The International Brotherhood of Police Officers local, and the District of Columbia Police Association endorsed Jefferson's announcement yes terday, but expressed reservations at the way the new master patrol officers would be selected.

A panel of captains and lieutenants in each district is to select the officers, and they will look for experienced officers "who have continually performed their duties in an excellent manner," Jefferson said.

"I'm afraid we've got 56 more places that will simply be filled by favoritism," said Larry Simons, president of the IBPO local."I don't like the (panel) selection process. President Joseph Goldring of the Police Association made similar remarks.

"I wish there were more (positions)," said one patrol supervisor. "When you have 300 men in a district and seven receive a promotion, that in itself might create a morale problem."

A spokesman for the Police Foundation, a nonprofit research organization in Washington, said that the master police officer designation is seldom used in other police departments, but the foundation president, Patrick V. Murphy, praised the concept.

Montgomery County Police Chief Robert diGrazia, also concerned with promotions in a static department, has proposed more levels of authority in the lower ranks, with promotions based on proficiency rather than examinations. DiGrazia, like Jefferson, hopes the programs will keep good men in uniform rather than seeking transfer to other assignments.