A D.C. Superior Court judge has ordered the District's Public Employee Relations Board to review its decision to uphold an arbitration panel's ruling earlier this year that awarded District police officers a 15 percent wage increase over three years.

The panel's ruling, which for the first time granted larger pay increases to the city's police officers than its firefighters, has been challenged by Mayor Marion Barry as unfair and too costly. The city filed suit in D.C. Superior Court in July seeking to overturn the award, arguing that the arbitration panel used improper criteria in determining compensation.

Judge Paul R. Webber ruled Wednesday that although it was not the court's role to review the merits of the award, he was returning the case to PERB because the board had not explained why it refused Barry's request to review the award. Webber said PERB dismissed the city's arguments without addressing the factual questions.

Barry, who praised Webber's decision, said the city stood ready to resolve the impasse over the police pay raises.

"We are pleased Judge Webber agreed that PERB had a responsibility to tell the city why they decided the way that they did," said Barry through his spokeswoman Annette Samuels.

Representatives of the Fraternal Order of Police, which represents 3,300 District police officers, played down the significance of Judge Webber's decision yesterday, but said the ruling again would delay the pay raise. In May, the arbitration panel awarded police annual pay raises of 4.5 to 5.5 percent a year for three years, larger raises than those given other city employes.

"We are disappointed," said Gary Hankins, spokesman for the FOP, "but we are still confident that we ultimately are going to win this."

Hankins said the FOP was pleased that Judge Webber had noted that the final authority to review the arbitration ruling rests with the City Council. Barry has refused to submit the arbitration panel's contract to the council and a hearing on that issue is scheduled for Monday before another D.C. Superior Court judge.