Burtell Jefferson, chief of Washington's metropolitan police, stood at attention beside one of the Aztec's more frightening goddesses, Coatlicue. Her head a bifurcate snake, her skirt made of human skulls and serpents, she embodied life and death.

She also was the protectress of fallen warriors, which was why Jefferson and four other Washington officials were there. They placed a wreath at the Coatlicue statue, a monument to policemen slain in the line of duty.

As the group walked back through a lane of 44 Mexican colonels, Gen. Arturo Durazo, the Mexico City police chief, seemed pleased. Although White House security chief Harvey Pryor had canceled at the last moment, five District of Columbia officials and their wives had accepted his invitation.

The week-long trip, all expenses paid by the host, included Jefferson Capitol Police Chief James Powell Parker Hill, chief of the U.S. Park Police George White, architect of the Capitol and Elijah B. Rogers, city administrator. It began in Mexico City and was to end on an Acapulco beach.

Like other Mexicans with access to large public or private funds, Durazo receives his guests in style. Wherever the Washingtonians went, motorcycles and sirens whipped them through Mexico City traffic, often near-impenetrable for lesser folk. There were dinners, shopping trips, visits to the mayor, museum and pyramids.

Durazo had himself been to Washington four months ago, where, so he said, the reception had been most cordial. He had been particularly touched by a telephone call from Rosalyn Carter, who relayed a message from the president saying how much he regretted to be out of town. Such things count. This morning, before calling on Coatlicue, Durazo had taken the group to meet Jose Lopez Portillo, the Mexican president.

"We can never compete with the generosity of the Mexicans," said a beaming Jefferson in a speech, "but we have great friendship for you in our heart."

As the Washingtonians headed for Acapulco, a foreign reporter asked Jefferson what he found to be the difference between the Mexican and American police.

"I can see very little difference," replied Jefferson. "I see they leave no stone unturned here."

The following day, Mexico City Mayor Hank Gonzalez stated that Mexico would need no technical assistance from any U.S. police. "I agree," said a Mexican police reporter with a decade on the beat. "I'm sure the Americans could learn a few tricks from us."

Durazo's generosity is such that it sometimes comes with a vengeance. Last year, so he told friends, he was invited to Paris but was neither met at the airport nor booked into a hotel. And, when he left, he was given a tie by his French colleagues, "so ugly, so long and thin, it looked like a taco," the general recalled.

But when the Paris police commissioner paid a return visit to Mexico last winter, the general received him at the airport with a motorcycle escorts and personally took him to one of the city's most luxurious hotel suites. In the closet, the Frenchman found four tailor-made suits as well as shirts and ties of the best quality, sent by Durazo.

The general, policing one of the world's most crowded and chaotic capitals, has become something of a legend at home and abroad. "Everybody in this business is fascinated," said one senior member of a foreign constabulary. t"Mexico is one of the biggest places around. Everybody wants to see how Durazo does it, how he operates."

For its 10 million inhabitants and despite widespread poverty, walking around the federal district can be safer than Washington or New York. The explanation is not necessarily the effectivess of the police, although according to insiders, Durazo has swamped streets and public transport with detectives and cut back assaults.

Including all seven of the federal district's police forces, Durazo rules over 50,000 men, almost two-thirds the size of the Mexican Army or as much as the combined military of neighboring Guatemala, Honduras and El Savador.

Durazo, who has been a policeman for 33 of his 58 years, steers the huge law enforcement apparatus here with a firm, thumping fist. He started off by launching Mexico's first proper police academy.

Since he took over in 1976, he has swept through the forces like a broom. "So far, I've fired 8,200 people for corruption or incompetence. Some of them are in jail," he said in an interview.

Four years ago, when he was appointed, the U.S. Embassy here was embarrassed to find there was an indictment pending against him in the United States, "related to his activities as Mexico's narcotics chief," an embassy official explained at the time.

Since then, the indictment has been dropped and relations are at a high. When the new American ambassador, Julian Nava, arrived here on an unannounced flight, Durazo had been tipped off by his Los Angeles police mates and to Nava's surprise, was at the airport to meet him.

Last month Durazo was the center of a controversy implying that he had enriched himself out of proportion. Several press reports claimed he had spent $4 million to buy the ostentatious, rambling villa of a prominent banker.

Durazo dispatched a flurry of angry letters, denying the purchase and calling the reports false.

A police public relations man explained why the general "would not have to steal any money anyway."

"He's been rich for a long time. Years ago, yes he was already in the police force, he was also in the trucking business. It's well known there's a lot of money in that."