D.C. Police Chief Burtell M. Jefferson said yesterday that he had assigned black police officers for the first time in the department's history to middle-management positions in financial management and planning and development. Both are areas in which blacks have never before had decision-making jobs.

Jefferson told a reporter that his assigment of Capt. Rodwell Catoe to a position in planning and development, and Lt. Isaac Fulwood to the financial management unit reflects "some new directions I am taking to give some qualified blacks who need some exposure a chance for career development."

Catoe, 36, a 15-year veteran of the force, and Fulwood, 38, a policeman for 14 years, are now the second-ranking officers in their new branches.

The assignments became effective Sunday, less than a week after Jefferson announced that two black policmen had been promoted to senior positions in the department.

Maurice T. Turner was promoted from deputy chief to assistant chief in charge of administrative services, and Marty M. Tapscott was promoted from inspector to deputy chief, filling Turner's old post. The promotions were triggered by the recent retirement of Assistant Chief Tilmon B. O'Bryant.

They were announced routinely because they were promotions in rank. The reassignments of the Catoe and Fulwood were not publicized because they were not promotions in the strict sense of the word; but they were viewed as equally significant because they augured a broadened avenue for advancement of qualified blacks.

This is because a working knowledge of fiscal matters and the efficient use of manpower in a future that is certain to demand a high degree of sophistication is seen as invaluable for a policeman eager to advance on the force.

For many years, the D.C. force has been criticized for not moving enough black officers into late junior and senior administrative positions. The 4,100-member force is 45 per cent black in a city in which blacks form more than a 70 per cent majority.

A spokesman for the department offered this current breakdown of the number of senior black policemen: six of 49 captains are black; two of 18 inspectors, three of 12 deputy chiefs, one of four assistant chiefs and one black police chief, Jefferson.

"There have been three former black assistant chiefs and deputy chiefs (including Jeffersons) and we've never had the benefit of assigsment to some of the areas in the police department that would have given us a more rounded exposure," Jefferson said.

"We need to have black officers in middle-managment positions and we still have quite a few who have some time in this department and who want to advance."

Jefferson said he hopes his selection of Cato and Fulwood, which he termed "career broadening," would give some black officers "confidence," especially those who might have been reluctant to seek middle-management responsibilities in positions that blacks have never held.

He said his new policy "direction will not be an all-black thing: I plan to look into career opportunities for females and for some white middle-level officers as well . . .

"I feel that if I had had some exposure to certain areas prior to achieving the ranks I did, I would have been more well-rounded, rather than having to learn on the job."

Unlike his predecessor, Maurice J. Cullinane, who is White, Jefferson never held positions in financial management or planning and development.

Jefferson has tried to minimize race and racial considerations, despite his own 30-year career in which race was a serious obstacle to advancement, his associates say.

His predecessors, former chiefs Jerry V. Wilson and Cullinane, advanced to the top job after 20 years on the force. Jefferson, who joined the department before either Wilson or Cullinane, was still a detective sergeant in 1968 when he completed his first 20 years as a policeman.

Jefferson and others organized classes in the mid 1950s to help black officers, including themselves, prepare for promotional exams. In a recent biography of retired assistant chief O'Bryant, Jefferson is quoted as saying: "We'll figure out every possible question. We'll beat them at their own game."

Another senior black officer, Owen W. Davis, now living here in retirement, put an even deeper perspective on the career potentials - and realities - of black officers of the 1930s, and 1940s. During his own long career - much of it spent in the lower ranks - Davis enjoyed an almost unique kind of respect throughout the city.

"You got to go back in history a little bit to understand what the situation was years ago," Davis told a reporter. He was one of the city's first black corporals, the first black uniformed sergeant, captain, inspector and deputy chief, a rank he held until he retired in 1973 after 34 years on the force.

"When I joined in 1939, only blacks who were plainclothes officers were promoted above private," Davis said. "Back in those days, black who were uniformed officers had the feeling that they would not be promoted."

He said that unlike plainclothes officers, who had to take only written exams for promotion, uniformed officers were promoted on the basis not only a written exam, but also a suitability-for-promotion rating, similar to an efficiency rating, which was subjective, and reflected a supervisor's opinion of an officer's performance.

"Any job in the force should be open to anybody, but back in those days, there were definitely white jobs and black jobs," Davis said.

Davis said he worked 14 years before he was promoted in 1953 to uniformed sergeant - the first black to gain that level. After another 11 years, he became the first black captain on the force and the first black to head a precinct. This was before the department adopted the present "district" format of command.

According to Davis, black officers were assigned generally to work in black sections of the city and walked their beats alone, eating in black cafes or in the kitchens of white restaurants.

"Because of the efforts of a lot of people inside and outside the department beginning in the 1950s, black officers have started moving up the pipeline," said Davis, whose current challenge is to raise $5 million for eight new clubhouses for the Metropolitan Police Boys and Girls clubs, long a labor of love for him.

"Back in those days, it didn't matter whether a black was qualified for a job or not, he just didn't get it." Davis recalled. "Any time you have an organization that excludes a certain segment of membership from certain jobs, that segment is at a great disadvantage. Naturally, the job that a person has grooms him for certain other things."

Catoe, a District resident and the father of three sons, said he doesn't consider his reassignment "as a promotion in the sense of money - but the job is certainly considered a more significant position in the (police department) hierarchy."

Fulwood was on leave and could not be reached for comment. Cato said he understood Fulwood had taken the week off - to study for Saturday's promotion examination for the rank of captain.