Meet three of the newest cops on the beat in Montgomery County:

Anita M. Howe, a five foot tall green-eyed blond who once worked for a Bethesda investment company.

Michael B. Hancock, 6-foot-7 and a former basketball player for Georgetown University.

Deborah P. Dero, 34, a photographer and a veteran of the Air Force, the Marines and the Navy.

Dero, Hancock and Howe were among the 34 men and women who graduated last week from the Montgomery County Police Training Academy. The composition of the class reflects the trend toward hiring officers with more education and underlines efforts to hire more women and minorities.

Two of the graduates were hired by the National Capital Park Police, one by the Montgomery County sheriff and one by the Montgomery County fire marshal.

The remaining 30 were selected by the Montgomery County Police Department. They reported to work this week,, dressed in regulation brown uniforms, with shiny badges on their shirts and holstered pistols at their hips. Starting salary is $20,865 a year.

"I had always wanted to be a police officer," said Howe, "and when I found out there would be a new class, I applied."

During the 20-week course at the academy, Howe and her fellow students learned how to write traffic tickets, deal with juveniles, conduct criminal investigations and write police reports. They listened to long lectures on Maryland laws and how to enforce them. And they tackled the physical side of a cop's job, learning how to shoot revolvers and shotguns, maneuver patrol cars and defend themselves.

"Some of the physical requirements were hard for me because of my size," said Howe, the smallest member of the class. "Sgt. [Alfred E.] Dooley would show us how to do something . . . then he would come over to me and say, 'Because you are small, here is how you should do it.' "

For instance, she said, she had to learn a special way perform judo throws. She was taught to use positioning and momentum to give her more leverage.

Howe had no trouble with most other physical demands, such as pushups, however. "In fact, I came in second among the [nine] women in the physical requirements."

Hancock, the largest of the rookies, said his height helped in the defense section, but hindered him when it came time to get in and out of a patrol car quickly.

This year's rookies range from 21 to 34, with 24 the average age.

With the 30 rookies, the Montgomery County Police Department will be at its full authorized strength of 783, according to Lt. Col. Donald E. Brooks. That compares to 781 in 1980, 577 in 1970, 293 in 1960 and 189 in 1950, he said.

Brooks said new recruits each year replace 30 to 40 officers who retire.

Some of the candidates drop out during rigorous training at the Montgomery County Police Training Academy. Only 34 of the 43 who started the most recent training session completed the course. Some of the nine who dropped out were unable to meet the physical and academic requirements; others left to take higher-paying positions.

The Montgomery County Police Department has made a special effort in recent years to add minorities and women to the force.

"Montgomery County has an aggressive affirmative action program, and it applies to our department as well as other county agencies," Brooks said. "We have open and continuous recruitment, so if there are candidates out there who want to be police officers, we can take them."

Last week's graduates included eight black men, one Hispanic man and nine white women, police officials said.

Minimum height and weight requirements for the Montgomery County police were dropped in the mid-1970s.

New recruits must have a minimum of 60 hours of college credits. But many often have more than that. Of the new graduates, 17 have bachelor's degrees, Dooley said.

Four of the graduates are fluent in a second language. One speaks German, another speaks Spanish, a third knows Greek and a fourth can communicate in sign language.

Another characteristic of this group is that many of the graduates came to the training academy with previous law enforcement experience or with family ties to the police force.

Ruth Rooney Hopkins, a teacher, was attending her third police academy graduation, this one for her husband Gary W. Hopkins, 24, a former Baltimore policeman with a bachelor's degree in law enforcement from the University of Maryland. Ruth Hopkins' brother, Patrick Rooney, and her sister, Kathleen Rooney, already work as police officers for Montgomery County.

"Everybody I know is a policeman -- my brother, my sister, my husband and all our friends," said Hopkins. "Some policemen are macho and they like the power. But there were none in this class like that and my husband isn't like that either. Its a good thing, because that turns me off."

Max C. Phillips, 32, was a police officer in Los Angeles before applying to the Montgomery County Police Department. Phillips, who grew up in Northeast Washington, was selected as the "top cop" among last week's graduates, based on his achievements in the areas of firearms, driving, defensive tactics and overall academic skills.

Why did Phillips decide to come back here to pursue his police career? Before he could explain, Montgomery County Police Chief Bernard D. Crooke, who was passing by, gave this answer: "Because we're the best . . . and he knows it."