Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker said last week that he is seeking someone with good "people skills and police skills" to replace Police Chief Frederick W. Chaney, who resigned at Ecker's request last month.

"We're looking for someone who's a good communicator," the county executive said in an interview. "Most of our problems are people problems. If you don't have someone with those skills, you can make the problems worse.

"If we have to choose between someone with a strong police background and someone with people skills, then we'll take the people skills. Ideally, we want someone with good people skills and good police skills."

Ecker asked Chaney on Dec. 19 to resign from the office he has held for four years.

The county executive has declined to give specific reasons for his decision, although he and his aides have expressed concern over the negative impression that many residents have of the police department.

"A lot of responsible citizens had a concern that the police department was out of control," said Dana Caro, the member of Ecker's transition team in charge of evaluating public safety departments.

"In reality, you've got an excellent department, but that's certainly not the perception."

The department was buffeted with criticism last year after two county teenagers charged that they had been brutalized by officers during an arrest in January at a local motel.

A subsequent investigation led to departmental charges against three officers involved in the arrest.

Ecker declined to say how large a role that incident and the resulting negative publicity played in his decision to oust Chaney, but he conceded that "it did play a part. It did have some impact."

Ecker, who said his office had received 25 to 30 applications for the police post, said he hopes to have a new chief by mid-February. Ecker has asked Chaney to leave office by March 1.

Several present or former police officials -- from county, state and federal agencies -- are rumored to be possible contenders to replace Chaney.

Those most frequently mentioned are: Garth Davis, former chief of Howard County detectives; Col. James Harvey, director of the services bureau of the Maryland State Police; Maj. James Robey, second in command in the Howard County Police Department; and John R. Smith, former deputy assistant director of the Secret Service.

Davis, a member of the Howard County Police Department for 13 years and former owner of the Truckers Inn on Route 1, is said to be the most aggressive candidate so far.

He has sought the endorsements of judges, council members and state legislators, among others, according to police sources.

Davis, who does commercial consulting work, declined last week to discuss his candidacy, other than to say that he is "absolutely" interested in the position.

Harvey, who has been a state police officer for 27 years and has served as a commander of three barracks, said last week that he had not applied for the job but would be interested if approached.

"I don't know what their problems are, if there are any," Harvey said. "And I would want to find out more about the job: how much authority I would have, who I would answer to, those sorts of things."

Robey, 49, who said he submitted a re'sume' two weeks ago, has been the department's second in command since 1981.

A 25-year veteran of the force, Robey said he thinks his chances of being selected "are good, if they consider my record." He said he sees the chief's job as a "logical next step in my career."

Smith, 43, who served with the Secret Service 20 years before retiring in December 1989, spent three years as deputy assistant director in charge of the service's 1,100-member uniformed division.

He said last week that "some people have talked to me about the possibility" of becoming chief, but "I haven't talked to anyone from Mr. Ecker's office."

Smith said that he did send in a re'sume' last month and that, if sought, he would be "very interested" in the post.