PRINCE GEORGE'S County Executive Lawrence Hogan has made a smart move by nominating John E. McHale to head the county police force. After the last episode in the search for a police chief, it was really the only sensible thing Mr. Hogan could do. His prime candidate for the job, found during a six-month search, had been rejected by the county council in December. It was said that the nominee was an outsider who was unfamiliar with the county and that he did not have the right relationships with blacks.

To have initiated a second search for a new candidate would have stirred up all the politics of anger and fear that have burdened the selection of a candidate for chief. To satisfy everyone concerned, Mr. Hogan would have had to locate a man who belonged to the Prince George's County police force and could be trusted by county officers as one of their own; a man who at the same time was an outsider capable of seeing what improvements need to be made in the department and making them; a man who had dealt fairly with blacks throughout his career; and, finally, a man who had lived in the county most of his life.

During the search for this ideal candidate, the county police department would have been, once again, left directionless.To sacrifice leadership temporarily in order to search out the best candidate is theortically all right. But the Prince George's County force is not of such good reputation and solid leadership throughout that it can afford much more time without a strong appointee in charge. Relations between the department and black people in the county remain precarious. The bitter memory of Terrence Johnson, the black teen-ager serving a 25-year term for shooting two white police officers, after possibly rough treatment by the officers during questioning, is ready to provoke blacks at the first hint of unfair treatment from the police. The leadership void needs to be filled now.

By nominating Mr. McHale to be chief, Mr. Hogan has responded to the police department's needs, as well as the community's need for a stable police force. Mr. McHale, a former FBI official, has some experience in police work. As acting chief of the department for less then two weeks, he has already shown a talent for improving the department without angering his policemen. He reorganized the top of the department without any major dispute. Mr. McHale is also a 21-year resident of the county, and it has not been shown that he has a bad record in dealing with blacks. Even more important to blacks in the county is the fact that Mr. McHale is a good bet to be sensitive to the black community because he is close to Mr. Hogan. Mr. Hogan appears to have a political commitment to improving police relations with blacks.

The worst that can be said about Mr. McHale is that it is not clear that he is the downright absolute best candidate in the entire United States to head the troubled Prince George's police force -- but then that was always a kind of preposterous way of looking at the standard a new chief should meet. Considering the desperate need for steady leadership in the department (as well as for leadership that can be trusted both by policemen and residents), Mr. McHale seems to be a fine choice. The council should approve his nomination.