Col. John E. Granfield, chief of the Fairfax County Police Department, was driving his daughter Kelly to school one morning when he saw a motorist illegally pass a stopped school bus.

So what did he do? Granfield, who is responsible for the largest local law enforcement agency in Virginia, with 1,288 employes and an annual budget of $49 million, got on his police radio and summoned one of his uniformed officers -- so he could borrow a traffic ticket and write it up.

"He doesn't tend to be a glory boy," said Fairfax Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr.

"He's one of those guys who says, 'Let's get the job done.' And that's a good police chief."

That opinion is shared by many inside and outside the Police Department who would not be surprised to see Granfield writing a traffic ticket, comfortably doing a task he performed as a Fairfax patrol officer 18 years ago.

When he joined the force in 1969, "there was very much a feeling that I had entered a family," Granfield said in a recent interview.

Even though the family has tripled in size, "we still have a real caring attitude toward one another," he said.

Granfield, who is as proud of the department as he is of the gold eagle he wears on his left lapel, attended George Mason University part time while he worked his way through every rank in the police department.

Two years ago, he was appointed by the county Board of Supervisors to succeed Carroll D. Buracker, who retired to start a consulting firm in law enforcement.

At 43, Granfield makes $78,912 a year and said he primarily earns his living talking: to employes, people in the community, county officials and other law enforcement agencies.

As an administrator, he also plans, directs and analyzes.

After the county experienced a record number of fatalities on its roads last year, it was his job to devise a way to attack the problem.

He had the department put extra emphasis on the importance of wearing seat belts and increase enforcement in areas where speeding is a problem.

The police chief carries a beeper -- and a gun -- and shows up at major crime scenes.

Since there are relatively few major crimes in the county, that amounts to about two dozen times a year.

With 700,000 residents and 399 square miles, the affluent county has a low crime rate and is considered one of the safest jurisdictions of its size in the nation. Its biggest problem is property crime. There are on the average 13 homicides a year, compared to just fewer than 200 in the District.

The department recently received national attention when Lt. Col. Oliver North, who lives in Great Falls, testified during the Iran-contra hearings to what he described as the department's professionalism.

Since then, law enforcement agencies around the country have called the Fairfax Police Department, requesting copies of its annual report, "Behind the Badge."

One woman from Orange County, Calif., called a county police officer and "asked us to send a cruiser by" North's house to give him an "atta-boy" on her behalf, the officer said. The department declined.

Granfield appears unfazed by all the fuss. He is low-key and prefers keeping a low profile. Although he doesn't dodge the spotlight when it shines, he also doesn't seek it out. Police spokesman Warren Carmichael generally speaks for him and is never far from his side when reporters are around.

Perhaps much of Granfield's popularity within the department results from his desire to delegate authority. "I let everybody do the job they were hired to do," Granfield said.

Although he may write a traffic ticket or direct traffic at an accident scene every now and then, Granfield said he considers the captains at the county's seven district police stations to be "mini police chiefs."

That he allows them autonomy was illustrated when the Police Department came under heavy fire recently for infiltrating teen-age parties with plainclothes officers. While Granfield staunchly defended the practice, not all his police captains said they use the tactic.

Granfield said he believes any legal means should be used to enforce the drinking age in Virginia and to prevent alcohol-related deaths on the highways. He said he would rather take "proactive" measures than sit back and try to explain to parents why their son or daughter died on the road after leaving a party drunk.

Asked why police officers could not accomplish the same goal with uniforms on, Granfield said infiltrating open parties allows officers to see whether adults are allowing underage drinking on their property. Yet he does not insist that the practice be followed throughout the department.

Granfield is also a morale booster. At a recent after-hours meeting of the Police Association, a nonunion organization representing most police officers in the department, hundreds of officers packed a gymnasium. They came to express concerns about a merit pay plan for teachers that the officers said they felt would end a policy of uniform pay increases to all county workers.

At what could have been a classic showdown between labor and management, Granfield stood up and addressed the crowd: "What's certainly good for them is certainly good for us. It's time for the cops to get something, too."

Although the police pay package was approved by the county board, low salaries remain a sore subject in the department. Some on the force "I let everybody do the job they were hired to do."

-- John E. Granfield

say that while there is no quota system for writing traffic citations, they feel a lot of pressure to do so.

Granfield said that with more traffic, and more violations, the department has placed more emphasis on traffic enforcement. But Horan, the county's chief prosecutor for two decades, said he has noticed more pressure to close cases in recent years. "I worry about the department because of a feeling I have that maybe there is too much concern about closing cases as opposed to the quality of closing cases," Horan said.

Responding to Horan's concern, Granfield said simply: "I don't see that."

More than six years ago, the police department was cited as having the highest number of citizen complaints against police officers in the Washington area.

Granfield said that was because the county counted all citizen complaints, while other jurisdictions only included substantiated incidents.

Horan and others say that the most serious problem Granfield will face in the next few years is an acute staffing shortage. Estimates of current openings range from 30 to 60, and the department has had trouble finding suitable candidates to fill those slots. Many of the officers hired during an expansion of the department in the 1970s will be eligible for retirement soon.

Granfield acknowledges that staffing is a "legitimate concern." He said intensified recruiting efforts are under way, especially at military bases.

Asked what he does when he is not working, Granfield considered the question. After a long pause, his spokesman Carmichael piped up: "Mows the lawn." Also, Granfield, who lives in Oakton, said he likes to fish, walk and tinker with old cars. His current project is an old truck -- "a piece of junk I fixed up."

Granfield said he likes working with his hands because his job is often office-oriented. He says he does not watch police shows because he rarely watches television. But he enjoys spending time with his wife Carol, 40, and three daughters, Valerie, 17, Michelle, 15, and Kelly, 9.

As for the traffic ticket he wrote while taking Kelly to school, Granfield had a recognition problem when the case came before the court.

The motorist told the judge that Granfield never told her he was a police officer. Who did he say he was, the judge wanted to know. The woman responded: "Well, he told me he was chief of police."