August Vollmer, Police Chief’s Residence (demolished)


August Vollmer, Police Chief

Vollmer Residence (1906–1911): 1627 Bonita Ave. (demolished)
Vollmer Residence (post 1915): 2303 Durant Ave. (demolished for St Mark’s parking lot)
Vollmer Residence (1925–1955): 923 Euclid Ave.

Berkeley’s first police chief, August Vollmer, is often called the founder of “professional policing.” Born in New Orleans, he had little formal education beyond the sixth grade when his father died and the family moved to Germany for several years before ultimately settling in Berkeley. In 1890 his mother purchased a north Berkeley home where she resided until her death in 1938. At age 18, August opened a hay, grain, wood, and coal supply store at the corner of Shattuck and Vine to help support his family. He was elected town marshal in 1905 after achieving local hero status a year earlier by leaping onto a runaway train and preventing its collision with a loaded commuter train.

Vollmer, a Unitarian and Elks Club member, was made Police Chief when Berkeley created the position in 1909. In an era of widespread police brutality and corruption, he advocated the hiring of college educated policemen and mandatory police training classes. He banned graft and gifts and instituted new law enforcement technologies like radio communication, the lie detector, and crime lab forensic science. Under his leadership, Berkeley became the first city in the country to establish automobile patrols. He opposed capital punishment, advocated federal distribution (at cost) of addictive drugs, and was among the first to hire black (1919) and female (1925) police officers.

With his eyesight failing, Chief Vollmer retired from the police force in 1932 to teach at the University of California, Berkeley, where he developed the School of Criminology. After serving on loan as the Los Angeles Chief of Police he returned to Berkeley in August, 1924. He and his new wife Pat moved into a house just down the street from the Police Department for a year before moving into a home at 923 Euclid Avenue. He was among the founders and a first director of the East Bay Regional Park District, where Tilden’s Bald Peak was renamed Vollmer Peak in his honor. Plagued by throat cancer and early stage Parkinson’s disease, Vollmer committed suicide at age 79.

Contributed by Robert Kehlmann, 2012

  • Berkeley's first auto patrol cars (1915), Berkeley Police Department Historical Unit.

  • Police Chief Vollmer with his officers (ca. 1925), Berkeley Police Department Historical Unit.

  • Administering a lie detector test, Berkeley Police Department Historical Unit.

  • Berkeley Police Dept. Communication Center (ca.1914), Berkeley Police Department Historical Unit.

  • Berkeley police motorcycle squad (ca.1912), Berkeley Police Department Historical Unit.

  • Vollmer Residence (1939) subsequently demolished, 2303 Durant, BAHA Archives.

  • Berkeley Police Department (1908), Berkeley Public Library.

  • Vollmer Residence, 2303 Durant Ave., postcard, Sarah Wikander Collection

  • Vollmer Residence (1924–1955), photo (2014) R. Kehlmann

Photo credit abbreviations:
BAHA: Berkeley Architectural Heritage Assn.
BHS: Berkeley Historical Society