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Contrasts in Criminal Justice Leadership: August Vollmer and J. Edgar Hoover

Contrasts in Criminal Justice Leadership: August Vollmer and J. Edgar Hoover

Both August Vollmer and J. Edgar Hoover had an impact in the reform of law enforcement in the United States. However, the autocratic leadership style of Hoover stands in contrast to the efforts that Vollmer made in reforming law enforcement professionalism. Hoover was autocratic to the point of firing an FBI agent for baldness; yet his personal perfectionism and attention to detail carried through in his leadership to make the FBI a public exemplar for clean and efficient law enforcement. Although there is limited discussion of Vollmer's leadership style, it can be inferred that a more participative model of management can be ascribed to him due to his focus on educating and advancing the skills of every policeman on the line, and in consulting with them.
Hoover's level of autocratic control of the FBI was total. His concern for personal appearance and professional behavior was infused through the agency. This led to a high estimation of the “G-Man” in the public eye, and Hoover's steering of the Bureau to be well respected by Congress and many Presidents from the 1930's until the mid 1960's. Jack Anderson said of him, “Hoover transformed the FBI from a collection of hacks, misfits...into one of the world's most effective and formidable law enforcement organizations” (Gentry, 1991, p.29). On the other hand, when his personal judgment failed (such as the bizarre example of the bald agent), it often caused the Bureau to fail in a mission, or caused dissension within the agency. Hoover's personal dislike of MLK turned into one of the FBI's greatest fiascoes; his assistant DeLoach “believed that the King press conference marked the beginning of the end of Hoover's unassailable public image”(Powers, 1987, p.415)
Vollmer, on the other hand, often consulted with his officers in what were called “Friday crab club” meetings (Kelling & Wycoff, 2001, p.2) His dedication to ensuring an educated and professional force can be seen in his words, "The policeman's job is the highest calling in the world. The men who do that job should be the finest men. They should be the best educated.”(Bennett, 2010, para. 5) Although Vollmer was a “tolerant and flexible thinker”(Lane, 1976, p.751), his style of leadership was not universally accepted, and he left the Los Angeles Police Department after two years due to it's “hostility towards leadership”, which may have been due to his outsider status.(Police Writers, n.d., para. 2)
Hoover's style of leadership, even in it's extremes, is more suited to criminal justice agencies due to the idea that criminal justice is a more serious field in comparison to most industries, and that the consequences of leadership decsions have more impact on the public. This, in turn, requires that leaders be responsible for those decisions. However, no criminal justice leader should ignore the professional input of his line officers if he wishes to maximize his effectiveness, and Vollmer's “Friday crab club” meetings should have a place in every leader's toolbag.
August Vollmer. (n.d). Police Writers. Retrieved November 15, 2014 from http://www.police-writers.com/vollmer.html

Bennett, C. (2010, May 27). Legendary lawman August Vollmer. Officer.com. Retrieved November 15, 2014 from http://www.officer.com/article/10232661/legendary-lawman-august-vollmer

Gentry, C. (1991). J. Edgar Hoover: The man and his secrets. New York. W W Norton & Company
Kelling, G. And Wycoff, M. (2001). Evolving strategy of policing: Case studies of
strategic change. Department of Justice. Retrieved November 15, 2014 from https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/198029.pdf

Lane, R. (1976). Review of Police Reform in the United States: The Era of August Vollmer, 1905-1932 by Gene E. Carte; Elaine H. Carte. The Journal of American History, 63(3), 751–752. doi:10.2307/1887429

Powers, R. (1987). Secrecy and power: The life of J. Edgar Hoover. New York. Macmillan Inc.

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