August Vollmer was a pioneer in the science of forensic investigations. The founder of "professional policing," he was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, on March 7, 1876. Vollmer held a variety of jobs in his early years, including firefighting, a coal and feed business, a private in the military, and a mail carrier. In 1905, he became the town marshal of Berkeley, California, and by 1909 he was made the chief of police for Berkeley.
In the wake of years of police corruption and brutality throughout the United States, Vollmer sought to increase the professionalism of police. During his tenure as police chief, Vollmer began to revamp the Berkeley Police Department by making changes that would transform policing across the nation. Vollmer instituted police training , advocated using college-educated officers, and promoted the use of new technology for fighting crime such as fingerprinting, polygraph machines, and crime laboratories. In addition, Vollmer equipped the Berkeley Police Department with radio communication and in 1914 established the first automobile patrol in the United States.
Vollmer was elected as the president of the California Police Chiefs Association in 1907, and in 1922 he became the president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police. During his tenure as president, Vollmer suggested changes for policing nationwide. Many suggestions mirrored the policies and programs Vollmer instituted in Berkeley, such as increased use of technology and science and providing training for police. Vollmer also advocated using female officers more frequently and encouraged universities to increase their study of human behavior. Vollmer also contended that the goal of policing should be crime prevention. Throughout his life, both before and after retirement, Vollmer assisted police departments outside of Berkeley in improving their policing strategies. Vollmer helped revamp the San Diego Police Department, and completed several surveys of local police departments throughout the United States, including Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, Kansas City, Minneapolis, Santa Barbara, Piedmont, Syracuse, Dallas, and Portland. The surveys were used to help departments consider ways to reconstruct their police departments. Drawing on these surveys, Vollmer also authored a "Report on Police" for the Wickersham Commission in 1931.
In conjunction with his emphasis on the importance of education in policing, Vollmer taught police administration courses during the summer at the University of California. Additionally, he took leave as Police Chief of Berkeley from 1929–1931 and taught courses at the University of Chicago. When Vollmer retired as chief in 1931, he took on a position as a professor of police administration at the University of California Political Science Department where he continued to teach until 1937. During his years at the University of California, he wrote Crime and the State Police in 1935 and the Police and Modern Society in 1936. Vollmer also helped develop criminology courses at the university.
After retiring from his position at the University of California in 1937, he continued to play an active role in the field of criminal justice by founding the American Society of Criminology, and in 1941 served as its president. He also collaborated with Alfred E. Parker in 1937 to write Crime, Crooks and Cops, and in 1949 he authored The Criminal. After a long and successful career in policing and criminal justice, August Vollmer took his own life on November 4, 1955, at the age of 79.
see also Criminology; Fingerprint; Literature, forensic science in; Polygraphs.