Alexandria Police Chief John B. Holihan, head of the city's police department since 1970, announced yesterday that he will retire Sept. 1 "because I'm getting too damn old." He will be 60 next month.

Holihan said 60 is the required retirement age in his department. He could have asked for special permission from the city to continue in his job, but he said he has decided instead to retired.

Holihan was appointed chief seven years ago, shortly after Alexandria had exxperienced several major racial disturbances. He replaced Russell Hawes, who retired that year and who had frequently been criticized by the black community for his hanling of the department.

Holihan has started a narcotics squard, religned patrol areas, installed an in-house inspections system, strengthened the community relations department and set up more accurate and extensive crime reporting systems.

"When I came, it was a good department, but they were overcoming the effects of the disorders, and morale was low," Holihan said. During the weeks before his appointment was announced, almost two dozen police officers and quit, many of them joining a new police department that had been set up in prince William County.

Before coming to Alexandria, Holihan served for 28 1/2 years with the police department in Wyracuse, N.Y.

"When I started out (36 years ago), there was no such thing as community relations departments," Holihan said. "The police chief was community relaions and internal inspections himself."

Holihan said the recent murders of four Alexandria women rank as the "biggest thing" to have happened during his years in Alexandria. Montie R. Rissell, an Alexandria youth, has been indicted in all four slayings.

Holihan said his department also played a major role in assisting rescue teams in getting trapped and dead persons out when the Skyline Center collapsed at Baileys Cross-roads in 1973.

He said he has increased the number of blacks and women police officers in Alexandria statistics were not available yesterday. When he arrived in the city in 1970, women officers worked in the youth division almost exclusively, he said.

"I remember asking two women if they wanted to go to the police academy," Holihan sadi with a smile. "They said they did, and when I told the police academy, they asked me what they were supposed to do with them." He said the police department now has women working alone in patrol cars on beats.

Holihan has worked under three Alexandria City Councils, four city managers and two mayors. He described his style as "not flamboyant. I let my men take their own bows. I'm not the type to call press conferences."

Holihan, who is active in numerous civic and law enforcement-related organizations, said he and his wife will continue to live in Alexandria. Their immediated plans are to visit Washington tourist sights they haven't had time to see.

Before moving to Alexandria, Holihan had retired from the Syracuse police department. It turned out he didn't like retirement.

"My wife's rule of retirement is that you end up with more husband, less money," he said. "Getting another job got me out from underfoot in the house."

Is he ready for retirement this time? "I don't know, he said "I really don't know, but I should be able to find something else to do. Maybe I'll become a news reporter or run for President."