About half the Arlington police force will be relocated in January to free up sorely needed parking spaces at the county courthouse and give officials time to scout sites for a new police department home.

County Manager Larry J. Brown said the county is negotiating for a temporary site to house some divisions for three to five years while a new site is selected for a permanent base for the department.

"The driving force behind the relocation is our employe parking problems," Brown said, referring to the courthouse area parking crunch that is expected to worsen when construction begins on the multimillion-dollar Court House Plaza complex of offices and residential high-rises.

Brown declined to specify where the temporary site will be because of the negotiations. But other officials said the talks are focusing on a 22,000-square-foot building in an office complex in the 1400 block of North Quincy Street, across from the county school administration's headquarters and Washington-Lee High School.

Police Chief William K. Stover and William L. Hughes, director of the county's community affairs department, have begun a series of meetings with neighbors in the area in anticipation of County Board approval of the site later this month.

Deputy Police Chief Robert Dreischer said that about 200 of the department's nearly 350 full-time employes are to be relocated at the temporary site, including the department's 150-member operations division, which includes the patrol car, motorcycle and tactical (plainclothes investigators) squads. The department's youth resources division also is expected to join in the move.

Another 150 of the force's full-time and part-time employes are scheduled to stay at the department's existing headquarters at the courthouse. They would include the administrative staff, detectives and others in the major crimes, communications and records divisions. We provide to the public at all," Dreischer emphasized, adding that the move will enable the department to consolidate the various functions of the operations division in one place.

Brown added that the move will change only the place where the bulk of the officers meet to change shifts, and will not affect response time or other crime-fighting functions. Patrol cars and motorcycles are out on county streets at all times except during shift changes, he noted.

Officers making arrests will continue to bring suspects to the jail at the courthouse because no holding cells are to be built at the temporary facility, which will cost between $200,000 and $350,000 to lease and renovate, according to Brown.

The multi-million-dollar Court House Plaza complex is to be built behind the existing courthouse on a site that is currently a county employe parking lot. Although construction of the complex has been temporarily blocked by the Virginia Supreme Court, Brown said the county expects the legal issues to be resolved in time for a spring ground breaking.

In the meantime, planning for the complex is proceeding, with county officials scrambling to solve the employe parking dilemma: The county will be short by at least 300 spaces when the first phases of construction begin on Court House Plaza.

But, the relocation of the police department's operations division is expected to free up 150 spaces now taken by patrol cars, and another 100 spaces used by the department's uniformed and civilian employes.

The county currently is negotiating a lease to use possibly another 100 spaces at the Sears department store's parking lot, which is about a 10-minute walk from the courthouse, Brown said.

The temporary relocation of half the police department will give the county time to continue its search for a new permanent site for the department, Brown said.