Charles Tyson Strobel, whose bootstrap climb to the post of Alexandria public safety director occurred during 25 years on the city police force, is no stranger to controversy.

Shortly after becoming police chief in 1977, Strobel announced he would change the traditional role of chief by establishing a closer working relationship between the police and citizens while modernizing the force. The police, he said, had lost contact with the community.

Since becoming the city's top law enforcement officer, Strobel, 47, has won both praise and criticism -- and found himself the subject of heated political battles over his role in the department's handling of bingo games, murders, massage parlors and prostitution investigations.

Now, Strobel is at the center of legal and political controversy as he awaits the outcome of a special local grand jury probe into allegations that he mishandled a police drug investigation. In addition, a federal grand jury is believed to be examining allegations of illegal wiretapping by the police department.

Throughout the whirlwind of conflict, Strobel has maintained that, "at the very worst" his handling of the case has raised questions about his judgment, not his integrity.

Confident that he will be exonerated, Strobel has applied for the position of director of Colorado's Bureau of Investigation, the criminal investigation arm of the state's public safety department. Bill Koleszar, the department's executive director, said yesterday that he was aware of developments in Alexandria, but would not comment on the current status of Strobel's application.

Strobel, rarely seen in public out of uniform, graduated from Mount Vernon High School in 1956, where he listed his hobbies as "automobiles and girls" in the yearbook.

Strobel, a native Alexandrian, is the son of a stonemason who helped found Alexandria's Rescue Squad. The thrice-married father of four attended Ferrum College in Ferrum, Va.

He joined the police force as soon as he turned 21, and rose through the ranks while earning degrees in justice administration from American University and the FBI National Police Academy.

His 1983 appointment as public safety director, a post that gave him authority over the fire department, prompted then Fire Chief Charles Rule to resign. "Most of his problems are self-inflicted," Rule said yesterday of the grand jury probe.

Over the years, Strobel was named policeman of the year by the Alexandria Junior Chamber of Commerce, and was awarded $1,000 by Routh Robbins Real Estate Corp. for exceptional merit in contributions to the community.