Criminal Justice Degrees Guide

The History of the Criminal Justice Discipline

Criminal justice as an academic discipline is relatively new in comparison to other areas of study. It has steadily evolved over the last fifty years, with significant growth in only the last thirty years or so. Criminal justice is different from criminology, which studies the behaviors that drive commissions of crime. The study of criminal justice seeks to understand the systems of law enforcement, courts and corrections.

The study of criminal justice is traditionally thought to have started with August Vollmer, the first police chief of Berkeley, California. After being appointed to the position, Vollmer found that there was very little written on the subject of criminal justice in the United States, so he turned to European text for more information. Vollmer then modernized the Berkeley police force by creating a bicycle patrol, trained his deputies in marksmanship, created a central records system and soon required his officers to hold college degrees. Then in 1916, Vollmer established a criminal justice program at the University of California, Berkeley, which focused primarily on professionalizing policing and reducing corruption in law enforcement. He is known today as the "Father of Law Enforcement." Soon after the program was created at Berkeley, criminal justice programs were established at Indiana University, Michigan State University, San Jose State University and the University of Washington. But by 1950, the discipline only boasted around 1,000 students and still only focused on police science.

In the late 1960’s with rising racial tensions and increased corruption running rampant, the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration was established as a part of the U.S. Department of Justice. The LEAA provided federal funding for state and local law enforcement agencies, crime initiatives and can be credited with advancing the criminal justice discipline through grants it established in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s for criminology and criminal justice research and academic pursuits. The administration has since been abolished, but was succeeded by the U.S. Office of Justice Programs which is still operational today.

By the mid-1970’s, there were 729 academic programs of criminal justice in the United States and roughly 100,000 students enrolled in these programs. Today, there are hundreds of thousands of students who study the criminal justice discipline in hundreds of colleges across the county, both traditional and online. Those who are interested in learning more about a career or a degree in criminal justice have August Vollmer to thank for modernizing and popularizing it and law enforcement into the system we recognize today.

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