A campaign to equip city police officers with safety vests has prompted legislation to ban commercial sales of armor-piercing ammunition that the vests cannot stop.

"These bullets, generally made of hard metals and able to travel at high speeds, are capable of penetrating the type of soft body-armor currently being evaluated" by city police, said City Council member Jerry A. Moore (R-At Large).

Moore's bill would limit posession of the bullets to law enforcement officials and licensed dealers. Anyone else selling or possessing the ammunition would be subject to a fine of up to $1,000 and a year in prison.

A local group has begun raising money from private sources to purchase the vests for city police officers. In addition, the City Council added $250,000 to the police department's budget to help pay for the vests.

Those actions have sparked debate in the law enforcement community on whether the vests should be required or optional.

Some police officers object to their use, even though the newer vests are less hot and bulky than older, heavier models and not noticeable.

In addition, some officers have told city officials privately they are concerned about increased danger from criminals who may be more likely to shoot at an officer's head if use of vests is widely known.

One former high-ranking police official said recently that he believed only about 10 percent of the officers would actually wear the vests if they were optional equipment, and only about 30 percent would bother with the vests if they became required gear..

NEVER-TOO-EARLY Department--Mayor Marion Barry, just elected to a second four-year term, has already begun fending off challengers, or would-be challengers for 1986.

At a recent news conference, Barry responded to a question with surprisingly lengthy criticism of council member Betty Ann Kane (D-At Large), who has made no secret of her desire to be mayor, but has kept a lower profile since her unsuccessful bid last year.

Although the reporter didn't mention Kane by name, he had asked the mayor about criticism from council members that the convention center's food service contract was held by a firm that is buying goods from outside the District and is associated with business interests in South Africa.

"Well, first of all," Barry quickly responded, "one of the persons who is constantly criticizing this administration about everything is Ms. Kane. And, she has indicated she is running for mayor, already. She wants to be mayor one day and hopefully she will run again in '86. She's waiting to see what goes on so she's going to always raise something.

"She's running for mayor, already. I'm doing my job now so I'm not running for anything. So I tend to be careful about what she says about this administration. You know she's on the Finance Committee; on one hand she favors funding for this and that, but she opposes tax increases. So I just don't worry about that part of it."

Kane, reacting to a release of the full news conference transcript on Monday, said the convention center questions must have "hit a nerve."

Can campaign bumper stickers be far behind?

SOUTH AFRICA & Investments--Dr. Joseph Lowery, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, is scheduled to testify tomorrow night at a committee hearing on a proposal to prohibit the District government from investing pension or other city funds in firms that do business with South Africa.

The hearing, which has attracted a total of about 30 witnesses, is set for 7 p.m. in the council chambers at the District Building. The hearing is scheduled to continue on Friday at 10 a.m.