Concepts like crime prevention, authority, professionalism and discretion have evolved in modern law enforcement since the twentieth century. August Vollmer instituted university training as a tool for young officers in training and under Vollmer’s teachings; O.W. Wilson pioneered the use of advanced training for officers and is also known for the start of criminal justice as an academic field. Wilson was also instrumental in applying modern management and administrative techniques to policing. Vollmer’s drive for educational innovations and improvements has changed policing tremendously and is still practiced heavily upon in today’s modern law enforcement society.
August Vollmer Contribution to Modern Law Enforcement
August Vollmer, the leading figure in the development of the field of criminal justice in the United States in the early 20th century was born New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1876. His only formal education, beyond grade school, was a vocational course in book-keeping, typing and shorthand that he took at New Orleans Academy. His family moved to Berkeley, California, in 1891 when he was fifteen and was active in the formation of a volunteer fire department. Upon Vollmer’s erection of the Berkeley police department, Vollmer learned that police officers had very little literature and education on policing. Within Vollmer’s program for modernization, he established bicycle patrol and created the first centralized police records system, designed to streamline and organized criminal investigations, the utilization of patrol vehicles, radio communications, crime labs, lie detectors, fingerprints, computerized records systems, beat analysis, and community relations. He also established a call box network and provided his officers training in marksmanship. The effectiveness of Vollmer’s programs grew and effected surrounding police departments. In 1908 Vollmer started the Berkley Police School, taught by himself and an Oakland police inspector; subjects included first aid, photography, and course in sanitation laws and criminal evidence, far ahead of its time. Vollmer and the “college cop” program began around 1919 when Vollmer placed an ad in the campus newspaper inviting students to earn extra money by becoming Berkeley police officers. This was a period of economic recession and many students responded, perhaps also attracted by the challenge of passing the intelligence tests that the department was using to screen recruits. Nationally, Vollmer worked through such forums as the International Association of Chiefs of Police, serving as President in 1922. He served as a police consultant in cities like Kansas City, Missouri (1929), and he directed the police study for the 1931 National Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement, better known as the Wickersham Report (Smith, 1960). He condemned the corruption and ineffectiveness that prevailed in most American police departments and urged professionalization of the police function, removal of political influence from routine police operations, and the adoption of modern technological methods. After his retirement from the Berkeley force in 1931, he was appointed professor of police administration in the Political Science Department at the University of California, retiring in 1937.
August Vollmer worked for police reform throughout the first half of the 20th century. His ideas were dispersed through the police executives he trained; through professional groups like the International Association of Chiefs of Police; through scholarly journals and societies; and through government surveys and reports, most notably the Wickersham Report. Both the regional and national press publicized the advanced practices of the Berkeley Police Department, and urban crime commissions and police departments requested Vollmer s services as a resource. Vollmer s professionalism was rooted in the freedom of the police from political interference; it stressed technical...
References: August Vollmer papers, BANC MSS C-B 403, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.Title: Berkeley Police Department records, 1909-1932,
Bruce Smith, Police Systems in the United States, 2nd Rev. Ed. (New York: Harper and Bros. , 1960)
Hart James, D. A Companion to California, Oxford Univ. Press, New York, 1978 p. 466.
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National Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement, Report on Lawlessness in Law Enforcement (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1931).
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Wilson, O. W. (1953). Police Science. The Journal of Criminal Law, Criminology, and Police Science, 44 (1), pp. 91-103.
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