Developing a policing college – a historical perspective

This blog was originally posted in July 2012

The development of a college that is focused on police related studies is not new, but one has to delve into American police history to identify a police college that left a legacy of professional policing the impact of which is still felt today.

William J. Bopp (1977) states “the police professionalisation movement is largely a search for status and identity, and a sense of history can furnish a foundation for the type of self-realisation which is so essential to personal and professional development.” these are very wise words and a review of American police history identifies what Professor John Grieve refers to as the DNA of policing which started with August Vollmer in 1920s.

Vollmer, was not only the police chief of Berkley California, he was a lecturer at University of California where he taught a series of police administration courses that had been added to the political science curriculum.  The courses were so successful that in 1939 the university recommended the expansion of programme and the hiring of a full time faculty administrator.  Vollmer’s first choice was a former student and police chief of Wichita Orlando Winfield (OW) Wilson.   

Tough negotiations and promises of freedom to work as a consultant with other police forces secured the appointment of Wilson as a Professor of Police Administration, thereby becoming America’s first full time Professor of Police Administration.  In order to make his programme acceptable to both the academics and police practitioners Wilson designed a programme to prepare police students for administrative positions in law enforcement agencies that included subjects such as criminological, medical and psychiatric research on crime, delinquency and deviance.  

The criminology approach to education took a holistic view of policing and consisted of modules on administration, corrections, law, crime prevention and the psychological aspects of criminology.   Wilson focused on the practical aspects of policing, although this was not detrimental to the introduction of theory.  His primary aim was to professionalise the field of law enforcement and over time Wilson led the expansion of the police college and developed a fledgling degree programme into a full school of criminology serving as its first dean.  Throughout this time Wilson amassed a wealth of material that he fed into his two eponymous books ‘Police Administration’ and ‘Police Planning’. 

Between them, Vollmer and Wilson introduced new working practices into policing such as motorcycle patrols, fingerprinting and M.O. files and through their development of the police college influenced policing in America for decades.  

Of course policing has changed since the time of Vollmer and Wilson, but that does not mean that the UK police college should not pay tribute to the impact of these men and should focus on the global impact on policing.  It is recognised that Peel and his first Commissioners left a legacy of policing that is still felt today.  I would assert that Vollmer and Wilson through their police college left a legacy of policing and those responsible for developing the UK police college would do well to study the development of the Berkely college and learn from Vollmer and Wilson.  

Finally, it will be interesting to see who will be chosen to head the UK police college.  There are those in the policing family, serving or retired, with the skills and leadership to pull this off.  Choosing the right leader will be crucial to the success of the programme. 

Credit to William J. Bopp (1977) O.W: OW Wilson and the search for a police profession

Published by thebluelocust

Former police superintendent. Current university lecturer, police trainer and Director of Blue Locust Network Ltd

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