Today, the Fairfax County Police Department is a cutting edge, modern force serving a population of more than 1 million residents.
Its roughly 1,400 police officers are equipped with the latest in law enforcement, forensic and communication technologies.
But when former Police Chief Col. William S. Durrer, 89, joined the department — which at the time only had been formed seven years earlier — the county's population wasn't even one-tenth of its current size and the department's ranks consisted of fewer than 20 officers.
“The county was growing fast,” said retired officer Lt. Dan Courtney, who recently wrote a book outlining the department's history. “When the department was formed in 1940, it served a population of only about 40,000, which grew to 125,000 by the end of that decade.”
Durrer served in the Army Air Corps during World War II, and on his return wanted to become a Fairfax County police officer like his father, Capt. Haywood J. Durrer.
Right after the war, openings in the department were scarce; the younger Durrer nearly joined the Virginia State Police instead. But in July 1947, he was accepted and became a Fairfax County officer, eventually becoming the department's second police chief; a title he held for 17 years of his nearly 30-year career.
“I really loved being a police officer,” Durrer said. “I began by helping my father with police radio calls as a young boy and I knew then I wanted to become a policeman.”
Early on, Durrer worked many high-profile cases, including that of Charles Holober.
In February 1949, long before there was a Reston, a double homicide was committed in the Green Forest nudist colony, which, today, is located where the Reston South Park and Ride commuter parking lot sits at the intersection of Reston Parkway and Lawyers Road.
Holober of Washington, D.C., later confessed to shooting his wife and burying his infant daughter alive there. Dubbed the “laughing killer” by the media because of his apparent lack of remorse, Holober was declared insane and remanded to the Southwestern State Mental Hospital in Marion, Va., for the rest of his life.
“I remember that case well,” said Durrer, who worked the case as a detective.
Durrer was promoted to lieutenant in April 1955 and, in July of that year, attended the FBI National Academy. Having completed the federal training in November, he was then promoted to the rank of captain the following month.
Ten years into his career — in November 1957 — Durrer became a colonel and chief of police, ushering in a new era in modernizing the department, Courtney said.
In 1961, Durrer toured burgeoning computer company IBM as an executive officer with the International Association of the Chiefs of Police. The visit resulted in the first computer system for policing installed in the region in 1963, Courtney said.
“As chief, Durrer understood the needs of officers and brought the department into the modern age,” Courtney said. “He helped to modernize many aspects of the department, from its communications, to developing the department's first helicopter program, expanding its narcotics division, and improving ways of preserving evidence from crime scenes.”
In 1971, a state crime lab was established for the first time in Northern Virginia. The forensic lab enabled in-depth forensic analysis of evidence and rapid response time for results, which previously were unavailable to the department.
“Col. Durrer was very instrumental in using his influence in getting that lab established,” said retired Fairfax Police Officer James Dooley, who is Durrer's son-in-law. “As a detective working major crimes, experience gave him a keen appreciation for evidence preservation.”
According to Dooley, who joined the department in 1968, before the local lab crime evidence such as fingerprints had to be sent either to the FBI in Washington or to a state lab in Richmond. “Having a lab locally helped improve efficiency overall and certainly the ability of analysts to testify in Fairfax County courts,” Dooley said.
After 28 years with the department, Durrer retired in 1975. He now lives in Florida.
This past October, he returned to Fairfax County and was present when the department's newest forensic facility was dedicated and named after him.
“Over the course of his 17-year tenure as chief, Col. Durrer embraced science and technology, advancing the department into a modern law enforcement agency,” said Capt. Paul L. Thornton, who is in charge of the facility.
The 33,000-square-foot Col. William Durrer forensic facility, located at the McConnell Public Safety and Transportation Operations Center on West Ox Road in Fairfax, is dedicated in honor of Durrer's vision and leadership. It employs 10 full-time detectives, two photo technicians and a supplemental staff of 12 patrol officers.
“We do fingerprints here from soup to nuts,” Thornton said. “We also do blood-splatter trajectory analysis and many other forensic-related procedures in-house.”
Thornton said DNA analysis still is sent to the FBI and state labs, but that the local facility aids the department tremendously in its day-to-day evidence analysis.
“I am honored and pleased to have the facilty named after me,” Durrer said.
“I was there with Col. Durrer at the dedication,” Dooley said. “It was amazing. He hasn't been chief since 1975 but when he got up there and spoke, he underwent a physical transformation and went right into ‘chief mode,' thanking everyone and remembering everyone's names and ranks. It really meant a lot to him.”