Howard Vernon Covell, 76, retired deputy chief and executive officer of the Metropolitan Police Department, died Saturday at the Woodbine nursing home in Alexandria. He had congestive heart failure and pneumonia.

Chief Covell served on the D.C. police force for 37 years. For the last 17 of those years, he was the department's second-in-command. He retired in October 1968. During his career he received more than 70 commendations.

Chief Covell was widely known and respected as an administrator during his police career. He was viewed by many as the official who really ran the day-to-day operations of the department under chiefs John B. Layton and Robert V. Murray.

Following Chief Covell's retirement, the department's No. 2 man became Jerry V. Wilson, who later was to become chief of police, and the dual posts of deputy chief and executive officer that Chief Covell held were abolished.

Chief Covell was named "Outstanding Policeman of 1962" by the D.C. chapter of the American Legion. He was president of the Metropolitan Police Boys Club of Washington in 1973 and had served on the advisory board of the Salvation Army and the board of Capitol Hill Hospital. In 1969, he directed security operations for the presidential inaugural balls.

Chief Covell was born in Baltimore and came to Washington in 1929. He studied criminal law at Columbus University and later graduated from the Washington Police Academy.

After joining the force in 1931, he served in scout cars and foot patrols before becoming a sergeant in the personnel office in 1940. From 1948 to 1951, he was captain of the old 1st Precinct. He was promoted to inspector and assigned to administrative headquarters in August 1951. He became the No. 2 man of the force in December of that year.

Chief Covell, who lived in Alexandria, was a 33rd degree Mason and member of the Benjamin B. French Masonic Lodge. His other Masonic affiliations included the Royal Order of Jesters and the Scottish Rite. He was potentate of Almas Temple.

He was a past president of the Association of the Oldest Inhabitants of Washington.

His wife of 36 years, the former Ethel Mae Steinwedel, died in 1961.

Survivors include his wife, Mary W., of Alexandria; a daughter by his first marriage, Betty Vernon Covell, of Adelphi, and two sisters, Edith Kellenbenz and Lillian Weyer, both of Baltimore.