The 181-acre Capitol complex, the place where our laws are made, is just like Hometown, U.S.A. It has all the touches:

Restaurants, gymnasiums, barbershops, libraries and stationers, carpentry shops, print shops, frame shops, a greenhouse, a bank, a car wash, street vendors, a gas station, TV studios.

And like Hometown, it has a police force. But this police force is special.

With its long blue line of 1,181, it is larger than the Ohio or Florida highway patrols, larger than the police forces of San Diego, Atlanta, Buffalo or San Antonio, to pick a few.

"Some members of Congress think we have too many police officers," said Chief James M. Powell, a man known for wryness.

"We all agree we like to have a revelation of our free democratic society, keeping our public buildings open," Powell said the other day, "but with all the dissidents who come here to raise hell, we have to be prepared to protect the peace."

Powell is right.Like everything else on Capitol Hill, the police force is growing like a weed and a few of the flintier critics are beginning to stir.

The Capitol Police budget next year will be more than $22 million, and with 15 more officer positions approved, the ranks will grow to 1.196.

The House Appropriations Committee, while approving the expenditures, last month admonished police officials about rising costs and personnel practices.

The committee was worried about soaring overtime and the costly practice of keeping officers on loan from the Metropolitan Police Department.

"It is not really criticism - it is guidance," said Rep. Adam Benjamin Jr. (D-Ind.), chairman of the legislative appropriations subcommittee. "But each year, the guidance is getting more rigid."

The force got its real start after Puerto Rican nationalists fired at legislators from the House gallery in 1954. The House and Senate disagreed about setting up a professional force, but continued the existing practice - building up Capitol ranks, while leaning heavily on Metropolitan policemen as the cadre.

Another incident in 1971, when a section of the Capitol building was damaged by a bomb, put Powell and his force under increased congressional pressure to make sure it didn't happen again.

Weapons detectors were added to doorways. Closed-circuit TV monitors were installed. Plainsclothes police now roam Capitol Hill. Unmarked cards patrol. There has been training in hostage negotiations, just in case.

Contrary to the picture of armed-camp that might suggest, most of the duties of Powell's growing little army are benign and uninspiring.

They guard the doorways of congressional buildings, checking purses and packages for weapons. They direct tourists. They shoo intruders from the reserved parking spots. They patrol sidewalks and corridors.

Such duties, which often leave officers just standing around, have for years made the police force the butt of in-house humor around Capitol Hill.

It used to be, for example, that a police officer couldn't be hired unless he knew an influential legislator - a patron. And it didn't matter if he couldn't handle a gun. That was resolved by not issuing bullets.

Some patronage still is involved, but officers now are hired through a testing procedure and all undergo a 16-week training course that includes time at a law enforcement academy in Georgia.

The old patronage system created a force that had high turnover (80 percent some years) among the porkchoppers, which made the presence of "real" policemen from the Metropolitan force necessary.

Powell, an assistant chief in the Metropolitan force, has been on loan to the Capitol police since 1958 and chief since 1965 - a situation that symbolized the subcommittee's "concern" last month.

Congress reimburses the Metropolitan police ($1.2 million this year) for the 30 officers still on loan. Their presence creates some unhappiness, even jealousy, among the Capitol regulars, Powell and others note.

"We want to eliminate that two-tiered force," said Benjamin. Phasing out the Metropolitan officers "could save the taxpayers some money," he said.

Amen, added the chief. He's recommending his own transfer onto the Capitol force. CAPTION: Picture, Powell: "Some members...think we have too many police officers." By James K. W. Atherton - The Washington Post