For months, the Montgomery County police union complained about the shortage of take-home police cruisers, faulty car radios, outdated weapons and a lack of leadership at the top. Then, with the fall elections coming into focus, union leaders scheduled a vote of no confidence in the police chief.

Just hours before the vote Tuesday night, County Executive Sidney Kramer said he would find $1.3 million to buy 66 new police cars. Yesterday, Police Chief Donald E. Brooks, in a hastily arranged news conference, admitted he had made mistakes and vowed to become a more outspoken leader for his troops.

"Our goal was to bring about a show of unity that would move {the county} to get these problems rectified," said Walter Bader, president of the county's Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 35. "We wanted to make everyone take notice of how serious the problems were to the officers."

"Let's forget about the past," said Brooks. "I've done some things that maybe I would redo differently now. But let's look to the future."

The threat of the censure vote still looms. Bader said the union may consider the no-confidence vote Aug. 13 if "good-faith discussions" bog down on the other unresolved issues. According to a union press release, Brooks "salvaged a temporary reprieve" with the vote postponement.

Bader denied that the police car deal was a quid pro quo for the union to back off its censure vote of the embattled Brooks. "Had the cars been the only issue, the vote would still have been taken," Bader said. "The cars were nothing more than a show of good faith."

Union leaders said it was "an attitude change" that led them to postpone the no-confidence vote. Kramer, facing a reelection challenge from veteran County Council member Neal Potter, denied that he acquiesced to the union for political reasons.

Kramer, who appointed Brooks two years ago, said he was convinced of the need for the cars and expressed complete confidence in the chief. He said he has no plans to ask Brooks to step aside.

Brooks said he did not think the controversy has eroded his authority to manage the 850-member police force. "There is not a shadow of doubt that I can lead this department." However, some of Kramer's political advisers, including some County Council members, said they believe increasingly that Brooks is a political liability for the executive.

"I think the time comes when the executive ought to consider some new blood," said council member Michael L. Gudis.

While not calling for Brooks's removal, Gudis said such a move may be the only solution if the remaining problems are not addressed quickly.

Sources said the Brooks controversy will test Kramer's political gamesmanship.

"He has to be careful not to appear to be caving in" to the union, said one council member.

In addition, Kramer, who sources said is intensely loyal to his appointees, has been particularly defensive about the criticisms of Brooks. Kramer has a rocky relationship with the union, which in 1986 endorsed Kramer's opponent, David Scull.

Robert Denny, head of the Fairness in Taxation taxpayers group and a frequent critic of Kramer's, said he supports the proposed car purchases because he doesn't view police cruisers, radios and guns as luxury items.

Still, Denny said he found the timing curious. "Clearly there is money in the pocket to pull out for election-year purchases."

Bader said yesterday the union will decide in about three weeks whom it will endorse in the upcoming county executive race.

Brooks, who was excluded from this week's last-minute discussions between the union and county government officials, said he didn't consider himself a scapegoat in the controversy. He said he "had worked hard" to lobby Kramer for additional equipment and more money.

"By my nature, I'm not confrontational," said Brooks. "I tried to be a realist" in budget negotiations, he said. "Perhaps I let my realism overtake my aggressiveness."

The next five weeks will be a crucial test of Brooks's new advocacy role, Bader said. "He had not been able to produce {the cars} in the past," he said. "We're going to have to see what the future will show us."