August Vollmer: Biography & Contributions

Instructor: Jessica Schubert

Jessica is a practicing attorney and has taught law and has a J.D. and LL.M.

Learn who August Vollmer was and why he is a key figure in modern day law enforcement. Review his biography and examine the contributions he made to the criminal justice system in the United States.


August Vollmer is known as the father of modern day law enforcement and a significant figure in the creation of the modern day criminal justice system. Vollmer was born in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1876. At an early age, Vollmer's father died and his mother took him to Germany, where he studied and grew up. In his teens, he returned to the United States. He settled in Berkeley, California.

Vollmer served in the Philippines in the Army after the outbreak of the Spanish-American War in 1892. Thereafter, he worked briefly as a mail carrier and later ran for the office of town marshal. During the campaign period, Vollmer jumped onto a runaway railroad freight car in Berkeley and stopped the car. Everyone thought of Vollmer as a hero, and at the young age of 29, Vollmer won the election. Subsequently, in 1905, Vollmer was appointed as the first Chief of Police in the City of Berkeley in California.

At the time that Vollmer took office, the police department was in disarray. Moreover, there was a history of corruption and gratuities on the force. Things were so bad in the City that trains were known not to stop at certain train stops along their routes. Vollmer wanted to reform the City's police department and create a streamlined system.


Vollmer is known for creating innovations in the police department upon which police departments are modeled. Concerning some of his more novel ideas, he:

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