In 1916, then-Berkeley Police Chief August Vollmer started the first criminology program in higher education at the University of California to help develop expertise in policing. A hundred years later, criminal justice programs have become a mainstay on college campuses across the country and have helped professionalize the field.
“The very reason that I am here, that my colleagues are here, and that our students are here, can all be traced back to the innovation of Berkeley Police Chief August Vollmer,” said Dr. Willard Oliver, the author of “Celebrating 100 Years of Criminal Justice Education” in the Journal of Criminal Justice Education.
During his tenure as Police Chief, Vollmer and his department were credited with bringing scientific ideas into policing, such as the first free-standing crime lab for Los Angeles, the Keeler-Larson Polygraph, a one-way communication system for patrol cars, and a private security signaling system. He also was an advocate for training and education. Under his leadership, the first criminology program, held during the summer as not to interfere with faculty schedules, included classes in “Police Organization and Administration” and “Police Methods and Procedures” as well as courses in criminology, psychology, and natural sciences.
Vollmer helped spread the new discipline to the University of Chicago, and he was hired by the institution as the first official police professor in the country while on loan from Berkeley Police Department. He later returned to Berkeley, taking the position of professor at UC Berkeley. After juggling both his jobs as a professor and a police chief for a year, he retired from law enforcement to teach full-time between 1932 and 1937. Vollmer passed the torch of the program to O.W. Wilson, who is credited with opening the School of Criminology at UC-Berkeley and served as the program’s Dean for 10 years. Following his academic career, Wilson later was appointed Superintendent of Police in Chicago.
Vollmer influenced other early programs before World War II, including San Jose State College, the University of Hawaii, and Michigan State University. Other offerings sprung up at Indiana University and Washington State College, and police courses also were offered at the University of Wisconsin, Harvard University, Northwestern University, and the University of Southern California.
In 1941, Vollmer helped create the National Association of College Police Training Officials, which later became the Society for the Advancement of Criminology. After WWII, more programs were developed on the East Coast at Brooklyn College, Baruch School, and the New York Institute of Criminology, which were influenced by Bruce Smith of the Institute of Public Administration, a program loosely affiliated with Columbia University. After Vollmer’s death in 1955, the two factions joined to promote criminology, not police science, and evolved into the American Society of Criminology, one of the largest professional organizations in the field. Later, the old guard started by Vollmer would break away to create the International Association of Police Professors – today the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences.
A new focus in the field of criminal justice began in 1967 with the publication of “The Challenge of Crime in a Free Society,” which called for all police officers to attain bachelors’ degree. With the passage of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Street Act of 1968, an influx of federal funding helped create additional higher education programs in the discipline across the country and provided money for police officers to attend the programs. With the creation of more than 400 criminal justice program nationwide, the International Association of Police Professors changed its name to the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences and helped bring focus to the criminal justice programs and research in the discipline.
Because of the rapid growth of programs, ACJS developed minimum standards for these programs. The Police Foundation, an off-shoot of the Ford Foundation, also recommended reform to the curriculum, which included controversial policies that denied college credit for police training and discounted police services as a criterion for the selection of faculty for programs.
“As I learned in the research for my biography of August Vollmer,” explains Oliver, “not only did he professionalize American policing in the early 20th century, he established the entire discipline of police higher education that exists today in criminal justice and criminology programs.”
Dr. Oliver served as the guest editor of the upcoming issue of the Journal of Criminal Justice Education, which also examined police education, courts, corrections, and Washington State University and the 1960s grants for higher education in policing. Dr. Oliver also wrote a book, August Vollmer: The Father of American Policing, which is expected to be released by Carolina Academic Press in January.