AFTER MUCH FUSSING over reports of a rift between Mayor Barry and Police Chief Burtell M. Jefferson, the two men are going to great lenghts to smooth things. Over the weekend, the mayor appeared before the Organization of Black Police Officers to sing the praises of his chief-noting that Chief Jefferson, originally appointed by Mayor Washington, happens to be among the department heads whom Mayor Barry is asking the D.C. Council to confirm. The council should concur. There is no reason to fire the chief. He has served the city well.

There is another aspect of the controversy that needs to be addressed. According to the first reports of this affair, Chief Jefferson had told friends he was distressed and angry because of what he perceived as continual interference in his department. And whether he did or not, it is indisputable that those who rose to the chief's defense were quick to decry "interference" by the mayor. This line of thought is wrong and dangerous. The mayor is in charge of the police department. The police force is not an independant body; it is a part of the city government run by an elected mayor.

That wasn't always the case. Before District citizens were granted modified home rule authority, police chiefs answered to Congress and the president more than to the appointed mayor or the old board of commissioners. In turn, the rank-and-file had cozy arrangements with key members of Congress for pay raises, pension improvements and protections against any orders from a commissioner-"interference," if you will. That is precisely the bad arrangement that Mayor Barry seeks to avoid. Surely Chief Jefferson, too recognizes the principle at stake. An elected District government is capable of running its own departments efficiently, under a mayor with command over all department heads. The last thing this city needs is a reversion to the old special-treatment-for-certain-police system.