THE LONG and acrimonious deliberations over a new police chief for Prince George's County have now degenerated into a very nasty brawl between County Executive Lawrence J. Hogan and police union president Laney Hester -- with nominee James R. Taylor as the political football and county council members on the sidelines egging everybody on. Though Mr. Hogan's reactions and comments won't put him in line for a Dale Carnegie award, the reprehensible behavior of Mr. Hester far outstrips anybody else's. Mr. Hester has seized on a sensitive and important decision in another crude attempt to wrest control of the police from the county's elected government and turn it over to union leaders.

Mr. Hester -- with the help of council members eager to watch Mr. Hogan squirm and easily bullied by "blue power" police union politics -- is claiming that "Ayatollah Hogan is trying to hold our contract hostage because he's realized that his nominee is a turkey who's in trouble." Mr. Hogan, whose candidate has some support from black officers, is countering that Mr. Hester is an "Alabama racist" who is "trying to shoot down someone who's enlightened on race relations."

Meanwhile, residents of Prince George's County -- anxious for a satisfactory resolution of the police chief question -- have been trying to learn more about Mr. Taylor's qualifications. But that effort has been frustrated and upstaged by the Hogan-Hester show. At this point, people would like to know more about the nominee's ability to continue the improvement of police-community relations begun by Chief John Rhoads. That question -- and not petty partisan politics -- should be the focus of county council attention.

Mr. Hogan, for his part, has been trying hard to point up the importance to the county of having a police force that enjoys the respect of black and white citizens. He believes that Mr. Taylor measures up to the task -- and his opinion on this point should be an important consideration. But the dispute has degenerated to ugly farce.