In the aftermath of three rapes on or near campus last year, officials at the University of Maryland at College Park have reactivated a student foot patrol, whose members act as observers for the 80-member campus police department.

Six patrol members and a supervisor, all wearing silver-colored vests, are assigned to the campus in pairs, equipped with police radios and flashlights. They are directed to call on their radios for assistance from campus police when they spot trouble.

The patrol hours are 6 p.m. to midnight Sunday through Thursday, when pedestrian traffic is heaviest.

The paid patrols are associated with the university police force's student auxiliary, which handles security in campus buildings and at campus entrances after dark. Members of the patrol do not have power to arrest, but provide "eyes and ears" for the police, Chief Eugene Sides said.

Two rapes and two attempted rapes were reported to campus police last year. The most recent attack, on Nov. 7, was on a 20-year-old student in the basement of the university's Benjamin Building. In reaction, about 100 students rallied in a "Take Back the Night" demon stration asking for increased campus security.

A month earlier, a 21-year-old student had been attacked near campus while walking home from a party, and in August, a 36-year-old woman was raped at the west end of the campus after being abducted in her car, police spokeswoman Cathy Atwell said.

"For the most part this is a commuter school. Most of the night classes are Monday through Thursday and many of people who live in campus dormitories go home on the weekends," Atwell said. About 38,000 students attend classes at the 1,539-acre university; about 8,000 of them live on campus.

Sides said that in 1983, when there were two rapes and four attempted rapes on campus, the university provided emergency funding during the spring semester for a similar student foot patrol.

The patrols were not continued the following semester.

The patrols will be evaluated at the end of the semester, and if the report is favorable, Sides said he may ask the university administration for funds to continue them.

The current program costs $7,000, most of which goes to pay the student members $4 an hour.

Mark Lipton, president of the University Commuters Association, who pressed the university administration for reinstatement of the foot patrols after the rape in November, said that since the patrols began Feb. 24, "People have told me that it's good to see them out there. They feel safer."