The union that represents rank-and-file D.C. police officers rejected the recommendation of its leadership last night and endorsed former police chief Maurice T. Turner Jr. for mayor.

By a vote of 67 to 56, members of the Fraternal Order of Police turned down the union executive committee's unanimous recommendation that they endorse Democrat Sharon Pratt Dixon over their former boss, who is running as a Republican.

Several union members said they viewed Dixon's attacks on Turner's record as an attack on the department itself.

"He's a cop. He's been around. He knows what's going on," Detective David Israel said of Turner.

"Turner has a track record," said a police officer from the 1st District who declined to be identified. "He's spent 32 years of loyal service to the people of the District. He's not a newcomer to the scene."

"I'm happy to hear that I've been endorsed," Turner said last night.

He said the officers "know they can't tolerate this nonsense on the streets."

During the campaign, Turner has tried to persuade the voters that he is better qualified than Dixon to cope with the illegal drug and violence crisis besetting the city.

Spokesmen for Dixon could not be reached for comment last night.

Earlier, Gary Hankins, chairman of the union's labor committee, expressed disappointment in Turner's performance as chief and described Dixon as an "intelligent, articulate, open-minded person."

From interviews at last night's meeting, it appeared that in addition to loyalty to a former chief, the rejection of Dixon may also have stemmed from discontent with union leadership.

"We don't want Dixon," one union member said last night. "Gary {Hankins} and the establishment want Dixon."

Hankins indicated that he had accepted the members' vote.

"Maurice Turner all the way," Hankins said. "He's our chief. He's going to be our mayor."

The police union, which has about 3,000 members, endorsed D.C. Council member John Ray (At Large) in the Democratic mayoral primary, which Dixon won.

The endorsement by the police union comes at a time when new attention has been focused on street violence and the city's rising homicide toll.

Dixon said Monday that the killings stem in part from the "cumulative effect" of failed leadership during Turner's years as chief. Turner has asserted that Dixon would not be tough enough on crime.

Dixon's campaign said earlier that she has been endorsed by the 450-member Afro-American Police Officers Association.

After repudiating the 20-member FOP executive committee's endorsement last night, the members gave their backing to Turner in what was described as an "overwhelming" voice vote.

In 1986, the police union, which had never before endorsed a mayoral candidate, announced its backing of D.C. Council member Carol Schwartz (R-At Large) in the race for mayor. Schwartz was defeated by Mayor Marion Barry.