Many Americans have never heard of August Vollmer, though according to Glenn Beck, we are all witnessing the results of policies he put into place nearly 100 years ago.
"Armored vehicles, flash-bang grenades, off-grid interrogations, full-body gear, SWAT raids, heavy weaponry," Beck said in a "Root" special that aired Thursday. "These are the tactics and equipment that are normally reserved for the battlefield. But now it's all part of America's local police force. 'Protect and serve' has been replaced with shock and awe."
Beck said policing in America began as a partnership among citizens in the colonial era, with night watches and elected constables, but it has "gradually morphed into an intimidating fighting force with enough fighting power to invade a small nation."
"No question there are times when this type of extreme force is necessary and vital to the safety of our officers, but sometimes the very citizens they are charged to serve and protect feel like the enemy, made to feel as though they're constantly monitored," Beck said. "Because more and more, this excessive force is being deployed when it is simply not necessary."
Beck said you may not be surprised to learn that America's system of policing was transformed in the progressive era due to the work of August Vollmer, a man born to German immigrants in New Orleans who eventually settled in Berkeley, California.
Vollmer became a local hero in 1904 after spotting a runaway railway car speeding towards a coach filled with commuters. As the town looked on, horrified, Vollmer managed to catch up to the car, leaping aboard and pulling the brakes, bringing it to a grinding halt just in time to avert the collision.
"The notoriety propelled him to the position of town marshal," Beck said. "He didn't have much experience, but he did have a military background. And so he began structuring the Berkeley, California police in exactly the same way the Marine Corps was structured. He was the first to give police officers a military rank structure and designated military-style uniforms."
Vollmer also reportedly created the first centralized police records system in 1906, keeping fingerprints and blood samples.
"His star began to rise and in 1907, he was elected president of the California Association of Police Chiefs," Beck continued. "Vollmer's criminal justice methods were made into a college degree at the University of California and spread to universities all over the country. His methods utilizing military rank structure, uniforms, the scientific method and university-level education were highly sought-after. But he wasn't finished."
Vollmer began instituting motorized patrols, which more than anything, Beck said, widened the rift between police officers and those they swore to serve and protect.
"Before Vollmer, law enforcement officers were part of the community and the local neighborhood," Beck said. "They patrolled the streets on foot and quite often lived amongst those that they served. Now officers with military ranks and uniforms responded to calls from outside the community, rolling in in police cars and motorcycles. ... Some felt protected, some began to feel invaded."
Beck said many praise Vollmer as a hero to the profession, but fail to mention that the FBI had the man under surveillance for being a suspected Nazi sympathizer.
Whatever his intentions, Beck said Vollmer "began the militarization of America's local police force," shifting it away from the vision of the nation's founders and "creating the social divide between communities and law enforcement."
Beck made it clear that as long as they are obeying the Constitution, police officers are in no way culpable for the policy changes put into place long before they arrived. He is just as concerned about their safety as he is about the safety of those they protect.
"Early 20th century progressives are responsible for leading the country away from its founding principles, and America is finally reaping what the progressives have sown for over 100 years," Beck concluded. "The war rooms brought home in the name of safety and security will provide neither because in the end, societies run by overgrown military establishments just do not last."
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