August Vollmer was a police chief in Berkeley, California, from 1909 to 1932. He had a remarkable impact on the direction of American policing. He previously served as an elected town Marshal of Berkeley from 1905 until 1909. The Police Department developed many innovations during his tenure, such as using science to detect crime, police radio, record keeping, and the use of polygraph. The most important was Vollmer’s influence upon a whole generation of police stakeholders who began their careers under his mentorship. The image of professional policing, as we see it today, is his contribution ( Dinkelspiel, 2010).
He played a central role in organizing his police department by creating a code of Ethics and fighting rampant corruption. He demanded a high level of integrity, efficiency, and hard work from his officers. In 1908, Vollmer initiated formal training in his police department. He also encouraged his officers to attend classes in police administration. Vollmer served as the President of Police Chiefs’ Association and was a police consultant for other cities. His only education after school was a course in shorthand typing.
Vollmer considered the control of crime as the primary role of law enforcement, and could be achieved by giving them better training skills and techniques to prevail over criminals. He was known for his honesty, devotion to duty and courage. He did not support capital punishment, and could visit jail in the morning to to see how the prisoners were treated. He stood against brutality and violence against prisoners and ordered his officers to treat suspects with dignity during interrogations.
A large number of Vollmer's protégés and students became professionals in the policing field. In 1924, he took a leave of absence to commit in the transformation of the Los Angeles Police Department where he established police hiring standards, set up a crime lab and a crime prevention unit dedicated to juvenile delinquency related issues. In late 1940’s, Vollmer had 25 police chiefs serving him in different parts of the country. (Bozzo, 2011).
It is important to mention that at the time of Vollmer’s appointment, crime was on the rise. The police department was a shell. Officers were known more for their corruption and brutality than their duty to the public. Vollmer banned corruption and gifts to the police officers. He instituted a series of reforms that transformed law enforcement into a modern profession.
In 1932 Vollmer retired from the Berkeley Police Department but continued to teach at the University in 1937. Later on, he established the American Society of Criminology and became its first president in 1941. He committed suicide at the age of 75; on November 4, 1955. Vollmer donated his body to the University of California while the Police Department benefited from his written works.
He had a stellar career in Law Enforcement, worth celebrating, and remains a legend for the far-reaching reforms and practices that are used even today. This is the level of discipline and work ethics of most, if not all, civil and public servants and must leave a lasting impact for future generations.
A blend of hard working, due diligence, passion to alleviate standards from the status quo, as well as being considerate and responsive to the needs of the public, can achieve a long-lasting impact. Even in the end he had chosen to end his life because of cancer. Vollmer donated his body to science for purposes of advancing the criminal justice system.