THE POLICE of Prince George's County deserve a pat on the back for mending their canine unit's ways. What for too many years had been a barrage of grisly brutality reports has given way to dramatically fewer injuries to suspects and other people. As reported last week by The Post's Ruben Castaneda, the canine unit, which had been operating under a Justice Department consent decree because of allegations of excessive force and lack of accountability, is being freed of federal oversight.

The statistics -- and the views of citizen groups that used to complain constantly about snarly, excessively ferocious dogs -- indicate significant improvement. During a seven-year period from the mid-1980s to the early 1990s, county police dogs were involved in nearly 800 biting incidents, according to an internal police report included in a federal civil lawsuit against a canine handler. Last year, county police dogs apprehended 55 suspects without biting them, a result of steady training of the dogs to "bark and hold," not bark and sink their teeth.

Police Chief Melvin C. High says his leaders and the rank and file have "worked really hard to get to this place." Better still, he acknowledges that "this is just the first step in what we're about," which he calls "constitutional policing." We call it encouraging news for all county residents.