As someone who, like tens of thousands of others, believes in scouting and has devoted much of his spare time trying to make a difference, I was dismayed to read about David Rankin, the former College Park scoutmaster convicted of child abuse. I was equally appalled that such aberrant behavior by a scout leader could go undetected for so long by the National Capital Area Council, whose responsibility it is to maintain the quality of the Boy Scouts program in this area.

Scouting endures today, more than 75 years after its inception, as one of the most effective educational programs to touch the lives of youth, not only in America but also in almost every country of the world. It is a program whose ambitious aims -- the development of good citizenship, moral strength and physical, mental and emotional fitness -- are achieved to a great extent through the bond created between scoutmaster and scout, through the example set by the adult entrusted one evening a week and an occasional weekend with those precious young lives. It is a program that would die in a day without the trust of parents in a person they quite often know only by name -- the scoutmaster.

Such incidents as the one involving David Rankin fortunately are rare in scouting. However, as with air travel, it's not the millions of miles safely traveled that make the news, but the crashes. Such incidents must receive full public scrutiny, for they threaten the program's very future and are a disgrace to the millions throughout the world who have been scouts. PAUL R. SMITH Bowie