The Fairfax City police chief last night defended his department's policy of evaluating officers according to a controversial system that awards points for arrests made, citizens helped, crimes solved, and other deeds.

Chief Loyd W. Smith told a special session of the Faifax City Council that the Police Officers Performance System, or POPS, was not a quota system that encourages unnecessary arrests and minimizes officers' discretion, as some critics have charged.

"The POPS system does incorporate safeguards to ensure that our citizens are not subjected to overzealousness on the part of any individual officer," he said.

The council seemed satisfied with Smith's explanation that POPS is only one measure of an officer's ability, and not the only factor in determining officers' advancement, evaluation or capability.

"The program seems like a valid effort," said Mayor John W. Russell. "I was afraid POPS was the whole aspect of an officer's evaluation. But if it's true, as the chief says, that it's only one aspect of many different qualities, then I don't have any problem with it. "At the same time," Russell said, "I think a police officer should have a great many attributes that you have trouble giving points to."

Smith said POPS is not a quota system--which he called "an old bugaboo"--because it is based on departmental averages rather than predetermined point levels.

Since POPS was disclosed Friday, the city's police force, already known for its vigorous enforcement of speeding laws, has been subjected to a media storm. Smith said last night the media had distorted the issue.

"Never have I heard so much about so little," he said.