The Prince George's County Police Department is recruiting top-ranking officers from outside the department for the first time in its history in an effort to bring blacks into the highest levels of the force.

Police Chief John W. Rhoads, on orders FROM County Executive Lawrence J. Hogan will begin advertising Monday for at least one policeman at the rank of lieutenant colonel. Hogan said the move "is specifically designed to integrate the police force at all ranks."

The department has never before hired officers at any rank but private.

The decision by Hogan to go outside the department for high-ranking officers (lieutenant colonels are subordinate only to the chief in rank) drew immediate criticism from rank-and-file members of the department.

"There hasn't been a promotion in the lower ranks of this department for more than a year and they're going to waltz somone in here, pay him $46,000 a year and tell him to shuffle some papers," said police union president Laney Hester.

"Right now they can't find enough work for the three lieutenant colonels they have. What do they need with another one? The same goes for Majors."

Although Hogan and Rhoads would not confirm the information, sources said yesterday, they were considering going outside the department to hire two majors, at least one of whom would be black.

"It is important that this department be fully integrated," said Rhoads. "The people of this community have made it clear they want a fully integrated department. This is the only way to have integration at all ranks."

The police department is currently 92.8 percent white. There are no black officers above the rank of sergeant.

"I don't think any of us are opposed to the principles of integration," Hester said. "But I don't think this is the right way to do it.

"This police force has been losing men regularly at the lower ranks during the past year. Our manpower on the street is down. There are times when there are more men in command staff meetings than there are on the street.

"We need more workers on this force, not more alleged thinkers."

Rhoads and Hester engaged in a lively 10-minute argument about the new hirings after a luncheon yesterday during which police and fire awards were given out.

"We will find work for anyone we hire," Rhoads said. "There is always work to be done. The members of this police force will accept this because they know it is necessary."

One of the top candidates for the lieutenant colonel's job is Roads' civilian aide, Roger Kelly, who is black. Hogan said he has spoken with three other "top black officers," on other forces who are interested in applying.

Several officers Questioned about the hirings yesterday were unanimous in their disapproval. "There's no place to go in this department," one said, "but down."