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Book pays homage to August Vollmer, father of American policing

March 30, 2017

HUNTSVILLE, TX (3/30/17) -- After 10 years of research and a bookcase full of documents, Professor Willard Oliver of Sam Houston State University, College of Criminal Justice published a comprehensive biography of August Vollmer, known as the "Father of American Policing."

Vollmer, the former police chief of Berkeley, CA, ushered in a new era of professionalism in policing, which led to the first criminology program at the University of California, Berkeley in 1916, the forerunner of criminal justice and criminology programs today.

In addition to promoting education for his officers, Vollmer is credited with modernizing local policing agencies by collaborating with others to launch the first free-standing police crime lab in Los Angeles and to introduce the polygraph exam as well as one-way radios in his department. Vollmer was the first to use hot spot policing in 1924 to target high crime areas, a popular practice not routinely used until the 1990s.

Vollmer came from humble beginnings. After fighting in the Spanish American War, he was appointed a postal carrier in Berkeley. In 1904 while on his route, he stopped a runaway rail car before it plowed into a commuter train filled with people. Celebrated as a hero, Vollmer was urged to run for town marshal to replace the corrupt incumbent, who represented the old guard of politicized policing at the turn of the century. Vollmer was elected and then became police chief when the community adopted its city charter 1909. He also served a year as police chief in Los Angeles.

Oliver browsed news archives and found 17,000 listings for "August Vollmer." He eventually ended up with 10,000 newspaper articles on Vollmer. He spent seven weeks at the library at the University of Berkeley, reading through Vollmer's papers. He also spent days working at the Berkeley Police Department, sifting through historical records in the department.

The result is an 800-page book written in popular biographical style.

Through his research, Oliver discovered Vollmer was a humanitarian, treating prisoners with dignity and respect.

Despite his successes, Vollmer's life ended at age 79 by suicide. Oliver didn't shy away from the topic; instead he explored potential reasons behind it through both his supporters and detractors.

For Oliver, the book was clearly a labor of love.

"Some of his ideas and his influences, we still see in policing today," said Oliver. "He was certainly a man ahead of his time."
August Vollmer: The Father of American Policing is available from Carolina Academic.

Sam Houston State University

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