Resolve, empathy, leadership mark his career

For more than four decades, a Chester County detective has enjoyed a successful law-enforcement career that might never have happened in today’s world.

Chester County Det. Harold 'Butch' Dutter stands outside the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 11 in West Chester, where a memorial commemorates the nine Chester County officers who died in the line of duty.

Chester County Det. Harold 'Butch' Dutter stands outside the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 11 in West Chester, where a memorial honors the nine Chester County officers who died in the line of duty.

Det. Harold "Butch" Dutter, who will retire on Friday, Sept. 9, after 43 years as a police officer, acknowledged that his path to law enforcement didn’t follow a standard route. It was neither a childhood quest nor a family tradition.

“I was the first member of my family to pursue law enforcement,” he recalled during a recent interview. “I was working as a police dispatcher for the county, and I really started getting the bug.”

Area residents have benefitted from his choice, longtime associates have said. Career criminals would likely have a different view. A handful are sitting in prison after receiving life sentences for murder, outcomes that Dutter counts among his proudest accomplishments.

“Detective Butch Dutter has helped to protect the citizens of Chester County for decades, first with the Tredyffrin Township Police Department and then with the Chester County Detectives,” said Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan. “Butch was always a team player and a calm voice of reason in trying circumstances. In addition, his role as president of the Fraternal Order of Police has demonstrated his leadership capabilities for the over 800 law enforcement officers in Chester County. Butch will be greatly missed.”

Dutter, who attended Great Valley High School, said numerous members of his family were affiliated with the Malvern Fire Company, but when Dutter started working as a dispatcher, he got pulled in a different direction.

“I would get done my 3 to 11 shift, and then I rode around with some of the officers I knew,” he said.

When he got a request from former Malvern Police Chief Bill Cockerham to stop by the station, Dutter said he was a bit nervous. “I wondered if I did anything wrong,” he said.

Instead, Cockerham had an opening for a part-time police officer and wanted to know if Dutter had interest. “I’m not even 21 yet,” Dutter recalled responding. At the time, applicants only needed to be 18, and Dutter was given a uniform and put on the street. “I had to carry my own handgun,” he said.

That position led to another part-time police job in East Brandywine Township as well as an eight-hour weekly stint as a security officer for the Exton Mall. The latter helped expedite his purchase of a coveted 1974 Pontiac LeMans. “I still remember that car,” he said wistfully.

Such resolve would eventually play a role in his chosen career. His determination to gain full-time employment as a police officer prompted him to take a three-month leave to attend the police academy. He then worked for a year in Doylestown Township before a job opened up in Tredyffrin Township.

Chester County Det. Harold 'Butch' Dutter has served 35 years

Chester County Det. Harold 'Butch' Dutter has served 35 years in the local FOP in a variety of leadership roles, including its president.

Dutter said he enjoyed working in Bucks County, but his heart – and his family – remained in Chester County. “I was thrilled to be able to come back,” he said.

He continued to pursue his education, becoming a certified polygraph examiner, taking an FBI course in fingerprinting, and pursuing training in electronics and child-abuse investigations. After four years in Tredyffrin, he was promoted to detective.

Magisterial District Judge John Bailey has countless fond memories of working with Dutter. Bailey said he joined the Tredyffrin Township Police Department shortly after Dutter and was assigned to his squad. He later joined Dutter in the detectives’ division.

“We were partners for nearly 20 years,” he said. “Butch was the best partner anyone could ever ask for … I learned a lot from him.”

Bailey said Dutter earned a reputation for his resolve, dependability and compassion. “If he said he was going to do something, it got done,” Bailey said. “And just because a case was closed didn’t mean that he was done with it.”

Long before the advent of social media, Dutter would periodically pick up the phone and check in with crime victims to make sure they were doing well, Bailey said.

That practice quickly came to the attention of Peggy Gusz, who was co-founding what is now the Crime Victims’ Center of Chester County at the same time Dutter became a full-time officer.

“I can’t say enough good things about him,” said Gusz. “He became our vital, go-to guy. If we needed to reach out to the law-enforcement community to spread the word about a particular issue or training opportunity, Butch always helped us do that.”

Gusz said that Dutter’s concern for victims was evident early on and that he would routinely respond to her requests for assistance with “whatever you need.” She said Dutter often reached out to his many connections. “If he didn’t know the answer or couldn’t get something done, he knew someone who could,” she said.

Dutter, who joined the Chester County Detectives in 2001, served on the executive board of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 11 for three decades. He is currently serving his second term as its president.

Steve Plaugher, a retired lieutenant with the Downingtown Police Department and a past local FOP president, said Dutter represented “the ultimate law-enforcement professional.” Plaugher said the two served on the FOP for more than 30 years.

“His dedication to his fellow police officers while moving up through the ranks of the FOP to his present position as president is unparalleled,” Plaugher said. “Butch has completed a very distinguished law enforcement career and I wish him well in retirement. “

As he prepared to exit the Chester County Justice Center for the final time as a county detective, Dutter acknowledged that he would miss many aspects of the job, including the many longtime relationships he’s forged.

However, bidding farewell to one component will be easy. “I’m not going to miss getting called [to a crime scene] in the middle of the night,” he said, adding that those calls typically turned into long days of nonstop investigating.

In addition to spending time with his family, Dutter said he envisioned more fishing trips and opportunities to improve his golf game. And he won’t make a clean break from police work. He said he would continue his FOP duties and plans to take a part-time, law-enforcement job.

“I need to keep my foot in the door,” he said.

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