Donald E. Brooks, Montgomery County's chief of police, is a stickler for details.

"I cut my grass the other night," said Brooks, 63, in a recent interview. "I'm glad I had the lights on my mower. I didn't do a very good job. I didn't get the lines straight."

Brooks's penchant for perfection also can be seen in his crisp tan uniform and deliberate management style. But in recent months, critics have complained that his admiration of tradition and order has put him out of step with rank-and-file officers eager for changes.

Two years after being appointed chief, Brooks is struggling to cut his way through a thicket of problems besetting a suburban force that just a decade ago was considered a model for modern police techniques.

To supporters, the white-haired Brooks, the department's oldest active member, is a "cop's cop." County Executive Sidney Kramer, who selected Brooks over three other finalists, said, "He has run a very efficient and effective department. I've never been disappointed."

Yet police union leaders, upset about Brooks's leadership, threatened but later postponed a censure vote last week against the chief after Kramer agreed to spend $1.3 million for new cruisers and to begin "good-faith" talks to resolve other long-standing concerns. On August 13th, the union may still consider a vote of no-confidence in the chief.

"He always has an open-door policy," said Sgt. James A. Fenner, president of the county's Coalition of Black Police Officers. "But it stops there. He's more reactive than pro-active."

The manager of 892 sworn officers and 315 civilian employees, Brooks acknowledges that his habit of taking a long time to review issues rubs some people the wrong way. "I never, ever, tell anybody 'no,' " he said. "That may be the reason I'm inundated all the time. I get criticized for not delegating. I need to improve in that. I'm not perfect. I'm pretty dependable."

Fenner said many younger officers are frustrated that changes, such as promotions and new equipment purchases, are not coming faster in Montgomery. Some officers have left for other local law enforcement agencies, particularly the Prince George's County police department. "It once was unheard of for us to go to Prince George's," he said. "Their officers used to come to us."

Since Brooks took over the police force on April 26, 1988, there has been a slow stream of complaints about his administration. For more than two years none of the grumblings seemed serious enough to topple him.

Early last month, however, the situation heated up when the county NAACP alleged Brooks had a "dismal record" in recruiting blacks and pointed to a report showing that only one of 100 black candidates had been accepted in an upcoming recruit class. A few days later, Brooks's new minority recruiter, who was appointed after the NAACP complaint, resigned under pressure because of past sexual harassment complaints from two female officers.

Then, the union, "smelling blood," as one observer put it, scheduled a vote of no-confidence against Brooks.

The recent criticisms seem to have stung the plain-spoken Brooks, a graduate of Poolesville High School who joined the police force in 1950 and rose through the ranks.

"I too am human, have the same emotions as the officers on the street," he said. "Above all, I try to be very objective. I know what frustration is like. I haven't always been chief of police."

Despite the controversy, Brooks, an avid horseback rider and bird hunter, said he has no plans to retire or step aside. "I saw a need after Chief {Bernard} Crook died," he said. "There were several things over the years that I've wanted to do," he said, adding that he had turned down the top post 10 years ago.

Brooks said many of the union demands -- for more police cars, 9mm semiautomatic weapons and an overhaul of a faulty radio system -- have been under review for months.

"I get criticized because the radios don't work," Brooks said. "Well, I don't fix radios, you know. Every time those complaints come in about radios or every time those complaints come in about the cars, I address them through the normal procedures and capabilities that I have to address them."

After a "heart-to-heart" talk last week, Brooks said he and the police union's president, Walter E. Bader, agreed to put aside differences and improve dialogue between labor and management.

An insider who dislikes confrontation, Brooks said constraints on his budget have thwarted his efforts to upgrade the department and take initiatives.

Brooks said a "long, dry spell" in funding hurt the department in the early 1980s. "We had a hiatus or siesta for about eight years because when Mr. {Charles} Gilchrist was the county executive we were not allowed to expand. Mr. Gilchrist was very much social program-oriented."

"In the meantime though, there was a build up in law enforcement issues that were not addressed," Brooks said. "Immediately then, there came the crack {cocaine} explosion, and nobody was prepared for that."

Fighting drugs has been a top priority for Brooks, who cites as accomplishments the crackdown on drugs in the Lincoln Park community in Rockville and the creation of the Drug Turn-In and Assistance program.

"You tell me a police chief who has the audacity or the intestinal fortitude to come up with a program like that, okay, and I would like to meet that gentleman," Brooks said.

The Drug Turn-In program, launched in January, encourages private citizens to seize drugs from children and other suspected drug abusers and anonymously turn the illegal substances over to police for testing, without fear of arrest or prosecution. Brooks said such drug-education and prevention programs are more important than racking up many arrests.

"Who gives a damn if we lose a few {drug} cases," he said. "Losing a few cases or making cases is not the issue. The issue is to do something to reverse the trend."

Brooks, whose 15-hour work days start around 7 a.m., isn't above a little bragging. "I have, although I don't display it, one of the few diplomas in the department that have summa cum laude on it from the University of Maryland," he said, pulling a framed diploma from his office closet. "Maybe that was braggadocio," he said, "but it shows the emphasis I put on education."

A former truck driver, Brooks never fired his gun as a patrol officer on the street. He was promoted to sergeant in 1961. Two years later, he rose to lieutenant. In another three years he was a captain. He became a station commander in 1969 and a major in charge of the patrol division in 1971. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel and deputy chief in 1979.

Brooks, who is paid $96,250 annually, said he's been pushing some of his proposals for almost two decades. "In 1972, I initiated an idea, the telephone reporting program. My boss didn't like it." Later this year, Brooks said he hopes to set up a civilian-staffed telephone reporting system to handle less serious crimes, such as stolen property.

Brooks said his motto is: "Be of service to the public you serve."