IF YOU WERE BUYING new police cars for a city, how would you decide which is the best buy among 17 deals offered? Would you go for the cheapest car-- even if police experts had reservations about its durability, the cost of running it or the convenience and price of servicing? These routine consumer concerns --rather than any questionable greasing of palms or political shenanigans--seem to have prompted the D.C. government to reject low bids from Ford and Chrysler for 90 new police cars in favor of a higher proposal from a local Chevrolet dealer.

There might have been less fuss, of course, if the police department had made known its preference for cars other than Ford or Chrysler products before the bids were advertised. It helps also to understand that the rejection of the low bids was checked with the city's legal experts. They ruled that there was ample justification for choosing the local dealer's offer and that this choice was consistent with established federal and local procedures.

In recommending the contract award, Police Chief Maurice T. Turner said his department wished to establish a close working relationship with a local dealer instead of working through a manufacturer's representative. Besides, the chief noted, the police have had many problems with 135 Ford Fairmonts purchased last year, including poor wheel alignment and a defect in the power steering that "could jeopardize the safety of our officers." Ford has been making repairs, but Chief Turner questioned how long this would continue, and whether in the long run the costs might "far outweigh any initial savings at the time of purchase."

In short, unless there's something yet to meet the jaundiced eye, the city's decision is the stuff of good management, not scandal.