Forty-four members of the District of Columbia police department were promoted last week in ceremonies at the Department of Commerce auditorium, including the first female captain to earn that rank through the promotion process.

After last week's promoting, the department - which has been criticized in past years for not advancing black officers - now has more high-ranking black officials than it has had in its entire history.

For the officers, the promotions climaxed nearly a year of studying police general orders and management books for the promotion test in March. For the department, the ceremonies closed one of its most embarrassing chapters, after rumors of cheating on the promotion tests prompted Chief Burtell M. Jefferson to schedule an "Operation Candor" videotape explanation of test procedures.

That videotape was abruptly canceled, however, because the chief did not want to further publicize the matter, department source said.

Yesterday, the 44 top scorers on the test saw the results of their effort, and Mayor Walter E. Washington welcomed the officers to a new "truly democratic police department."

The three top promotions were captains who were advanced to the rank of inspector. These three were not promoted through the testing procedure, but were selected by the chief and approved by the mayor. They are Brian Traynor, 42, a 17-year veteran of the force; Alfonso D. Gibson, 43, also a 17-year veteran, and Joseph Latella Jr., 38, a 16-year veteran.

Traynor, director of the communications division, and Latella, acting director of the police-fire clinic, will remain at those posts with their higher rank. Gibson will leave his job as 1st District captain to become a night supervisor.

Six lieutenants were promoted to captain. They are Addison L. Davis, Isaac Fulwood, Fred W. Raines, Horatius W. Wilson, Eddy B. Sims and Joyce F. Leland.

Davis, a 15-year department veteran, scored highest on the test, finishing ahead of 104 men and women who took the examination in March, according to test results. Davis, Raines and Wilson said they had studied together for nearly a year before taking the exam.

Leland, 36, became the first woman to reach the position of captain through the ranks. There have been women captains in the past, but they headed the now-disbanded women's bureau and were appointed by the chief.

Leland, a Howard University sociology major, joined the department in 1965 and was assigned to that women's bureau; the traditional spot then for women on the force. When the section closed in 1967, she went to the department's youth division.

Leland became a specialist in the area of battered and abused children, and she wrote the department's procedural orders on dealing with those cases. Since 1975, she has coordinated the 5th District's community relations section.

Besides Leland, one other woman was promoted. Officer Kathie R. Tapscott became a sergeant.

With last week's promotions, the department now has a black chief (Jefferson), three black deputy chiefs, three black inspectors and 10 black captains.

The 4,088-member Metropolitan Police Department is 45 percent black.