Book chronicles history of Fairfax County Police Department

By Tom Jackman
Thursday, September 9, 2010

The complaints were coming in to the Fairfax County sheriff: Somebody needed to do something about traffic.

The year was 1921. All of 20,000 people lived in the 400 square miles of Fairfax County, which was mostly farmland. And people were already bothered by traffic.

And so, the first police officer was detailed to handle motorway miscreants, and eventually, as the county's growth exploded, a full-fledged police department was needed, apart from the sheriff, who was busy with the jail and the courts. In July 1940, the Fairfax County Police Department was created, and the first five decades of that department are re-created in a new, coffee table-style book written and compiled by a group of retired Fairfax officers and recently released by Fairfax publisher History4All.

The book was written by retired lieutenant Dan Courtney, with help from retired lieutenant Lee Hubbard, retired captain Paul Puff, retired captain Eddie Wingo and civilian Dan Cronin. In addition to a history starting in 1921, 19 years before the department's creation, there are hundreds of photographs documenting every step of growth for Virginia's largest police department. The book serves as a pocket history of Fairfax County through 1990 as well.

"All of us have a strong interest in history," Courtney said in a group interview with his co-authors, "and the department didn't have a written history dating back to when it started. As retirees, we can't think of anything better to honor the department with."

Wingo died in 2008.

The retirees did interviews with older members, including the department's second chief, William J. Durrer, who headed the Fairfax police from 1957 to 1975, the longest-tenured chief. There have been nine chiefs in Fairfax's history, and only two -- Durrer and Carl R. McIntosh, the first chief, from 1940 to 1957 -- have lasted more than seven years. Current Chief David M. Rohrer, appointed in 2004, is poised to become the third. He wrote the book's foreword.

But perhaps more impressive than the written history is the collection by the authors of 8,000 photographs, which were winnowed down to 585 in the book , Courtney said. As word of the project spread, current and former officers and their families pulled out photo books, old hats, badges and other memorabilia, and much of it is in the book.

In fact, anyone who was a Fairfax officer before 1990 is probably in "History of the Fairfax County Police Department, 1921-1990" somewhere. Courtney takes pains to list numerous officers as new units were created, and a complete index is in the back, along with a chronology of the department.

The book stops in 1990, though. Courtney said the project had taken four years, and he wanted it to be ready for the department's 70th anniversary this year. He noted that in the digital age, photos were not as easily tracked down as the hard copies sitting in boxes in the police department basement or in family scrapbooks.

The book recounts the major crime incidents in Fairfax between 1921 and 1990. They include Charles Holober's murder of his wife and child in 1949 in the nudist colony that is now Reston; the quadruple homicide at the Roy Rogers restaurant just outside the City of Alexandria in 1976; and the kidnappings of 10-year-old Rosie Gordon and 5-year-old Melissa Brannen in 1989.

But there are far more lighthearted historical highlights, such as the military plane landing in Kamp Washington, at routes 29 and 50, in 1934. (Today, that plane would land on a mattress store.) The first female officer, Inez Oliver, hired in 1946 and introduced by The Washington Post as "First pretty cop." And the fact that for years beginning in the 1930s, all radio dispatches to Fairfax officers had to first be called into the Washington police department, and then radioed out from the District.

The photos include a desolate Tysons Corner in the 1940s and a muddy path known as Lee Highway in 1924. There are also shots of the young prosecutor Robert F. Horan Jr., who would be the county commonwealth's attorney for 40 years, and even a patrol officer named Rohrer from 1980.

"History of the Fairfax County Police Department, 1921-1990" is available from the publisher at http://www.history4all.com and at Amazon.com. The Washington Post is one of the contributors to the book.


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