Thomas Wolfe said you can't go home again, but Bob Law isn't buying it. After 31 years with the Prince George's County police department, the police spokesman last week retired from the constantly ringing phones, the endless questioning from reporters and the middle-of-the-night press conferences for the serenity of his boyhood home in Lilly, Pa.

"I'm getting out of this rat race and going back into the mountains where it's quiet and peaceful," said the 55-year-old Law on Monday, as he prepared to tackle his first major retirement project -- filing his 1987 tax return.

Since 1974, when he became the first county officer in the police Public Information Office, Law has given reporters the lowdown on thousands of cases, from lost children to light plane crashes to homicides. His open and honest approach with the media has won him praise and respect from a corps seldom impressed by a "spokesman."

Former county police officer Doug Hill, now a television weatherman for Channel 9, once worked with Law and called him "a pro with an untarnished reputation. Having been one, I know that a public information officer is one of the most frustrating jobs in the police department, and no one has done it with more class than Bob Law."

Fellow public information officer Carol Landrum agreed. "Bob Law was truly an inspiration to those of us who were newer in the job. His patience was an amazing thing to behold. He never lost his cool," she said.

Law had no formal journalism education, but he developed an instinct for knowing what is important to reporters, and he often answered questions before they were asked. At crime scenes, where details are sketchy at first and where a reporter's tenacious behavior becomes more apparent as deadline approaches, Law was at his best.

"I always tried to get into the scene so I could see it with my own eyes," Law explained. "That way I could report the factual stuff. I always tried to get all the details. I thought that was important."

Law was one of a dozen young recruits to join the department on New Year's Day 1958, pushing the force's strength to 101 officers.

Law has taken plenty of ribbing for his surname. "A lot of people on the streets just didn't believe that was my name," he said, chuckling. "In the early years we didn't wear nameplates and they thought it was a phony name."

After several years of working as beat officer in the Hyattsville district, Law transferred to the Communications Division, where he later was promoted to the rank of sergeant. He retired as a sworn officer in 1981 but retained his spokesman position as a civilian.

In recent years, said Law, he has seen the public renew its faith in police. "Sadly, we saw that disappear over the years and we were later met with resentment," said Law. "However, I've been noticing a change over the last four or five years, and people are coming back to realizing that they do need police officers to fight crime."

Law expects to sell his home in Beltsville by the end of spring and return to the house where he was born. He plans to sit in the wooden porch swing his coworkers gave him and "watch the stars and listen to the frogs."