UNDER POLICE CHIEF John W. Rhoads, the Prince George's County police force underwent significant, constructive change. Not only did its reputation among black and white residents improve, but the reality of civilized race relations won some necessary recognition at the command level. It is enormously important to Prince George's that this progress continue, that the transformation of the police force into a more responsible, accountable corps of public servants and protectors not stop now. This will depend in large part on who is the next police chief -- and unfortunately that important decision has been handled badly so far by both the Republic county executive, Lawrence J. Hogan and the Democratic county council.

While continuing to pick some silly partisan fights with the council on other issues, Mr. Hogan has been vacillating for months over the selection of a police chief. That has invited council opposition to his eventual selection; members are now considering legislation that would prohibit the county executive from choosing a police chief from outside the Prince George's department. Whatever the council members may feel about the personalities and policies of the police department, such a restriction would be bad government. Besides, the members are still free to oppose any appointee on an individual basis.

What Mr. Hogan has been talking about sensibly is the possibility that an outside expert may be best for the police force as well as the people it serves. He has cited the importance of selecting a chief with a determination to improve police-community relations and to actively recruit more black officers. The chief executive also has noted that while there are some capable young men on the force today, their ability to assume immediate command is questionable. In an effort to focus the necessary attention on this matter, Mr. Hogan apologized to the council for any past combativeness and is seeking the members' support for his attempt to find the best police chief possible. Those members who put the reputation and the well-being of Prince George's ahead of petty bickering should move to set aside the restrictive legislation -- and should appreciate the importance of considering every talented police expert available.