FEW CHIEFS of a major police force can earn the respect of local government leaders, fellow law enforcement authorities, police unions, rank and file and the public. But Montgomery County Police Chief Bernard D. Crooke Jr., who died Tuesday at the age of 54, was this sort of 100 percent policeman with an even hand and disposition to match. He was the son of a police officer and the father of a police officer. "Tell the cop in the street that I'm jealous of him," he said when he became the county chief in 1979. "I've never lost my taste for the street."

It served him in Montgomery and earlier in Washington's Metropolitan Police Department, where he signed on as a patrolman 32 years ago and rose to the No. 2 job. In the city and in Montgomery, Chief Crooke came to be known for thoughtfulness and stability, notably in times of major change and occasional chaos in these departments. He accepted change and remained open to the growing and necessary sophistication of law enforcement, though it upset some old-liners. He considered police work the most honorable of occupations and insisted that it need not harden or dehumanize its practitioners. "Learn to deal with violence without becoming violent yourselves," he cautioned officers. "You must always have a good level of compassion."

He demonstrated this quality in another challenging aspect of police work: race relations. Takoma Park Police Chief A. Tony Fisher, the first black chief in Montgomery and a former county detective under Chief Crooke, praised him for displaying "a great deal of sensitivity in the area of minority representation. He never came across as a macho kind of guy, never came across as overpowering." In Montgomery, Chief Crooke took over a 750-member force deeply troubled by dissension. He quickly reduced tensions, and then reorganized and modernized the department and stood up for his officers. In this way as in others, he served the people well.