Sgt. Michael Holland, in his office at the Berkeley Police Department. Photo: Emilie Raguso
Picture of August Vollmer and other officers in 1905

When Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan heard that the late vintner Jess Jackson might have once been a Berkeley police officer in the 1950s, he was intrigued. Wouldn’t that be an interesting detour in a life that took Jackson from a poor childhood in San Francisco to the top of Kendall-Jackson, of one of the country’s largest and most successful wine companies?

Meehan was similarly interested when he heard that Evelyn Einstein, the granddaughter of Albert Einstein who died in Albany on April 13, was affiliated with the Berkeley police department.

Meehan knew exactly what to do to verify the information.

He called Sgt. Michael J. Holland.

For the past 14 years, Holland, who first became a Berkeley cadet in 1968, has been the keeper of the Berkeley police department history. He’s the person who made sure files weren’t thrown out when the police department moved from the old Hall of Justice into its new public safety building in 2001. He’s the one who made sure that old case reports were filmed and put on microfiche. He’s the man who people call when they want to find out whether a relative ever worked for BPD. He’s even figured out all sorts of interesting trivia, like the date of the first automobile fatality in Berkeley. (November 8, 1910)

Sgt. Michael J. Holland

In 1997, Holland helped create the Berkeley Police Department Historical Preservation Society. (Now known as the Berkeley Police Department Historical Unit.) It’s a mostly volunteer effort run on a tight budget, although Holland and the group put together an extensive exhibit for the department’s centennial in 2005. The members have also created a fascinating exhibit of police artifacts in the basement of the public safety building.

Now Holland is working to create a non-profit arm of the unit, to be known as the Berkeley Police Department Historical Foundation. He filed papers in Sacramento to form the group in December and hopes that it will be up and running later this year.

“There’s a history of the Berkeley Police Department that’s phenomenal in terms of police evolution,” said Holland. “I feel privileged to be in a position to preserve that history and make it available to the public and the new generation of law enforcement.”

And Holland doesn’t even formally work for the police department anymore. He retired from the department in April 2003 after he broke his leg in a work-related motorcycle accident. He now works as a US Marshall at the federal courthouse in Oakland. Since then, though, he has put in 1,530 hours working as a volunteer for the historical unit. (He keeps a log.) Other volunteers have put in another 464 hours.

Old police call box on display in basement of police department

One reason Holland is so fascinated by the department’s history is the role that August Vollmer, the department’s first chief, played in the development of modern policing. While serving as Berkeley’s chief of police from 1909-1931 (he was marshal from 1905-1909), Vollmer introduced numerous concepts that transformed policing into what it is today.

When Vollmer came into office, police officers were known more for their brutality and corruption than their crime-solving skills. Gambling and opium parlors operated openly in Berkeley because the owners paid off city officials. Vollmer, who only had a sixth-grade education, banned graft and gifts, and instituted a series of reforms that are credited with transforming policing into a modern profession. Vollmer:

  • Was the first chief to put officers on bicycles, (1910) then on motorcycles (1911) and then in patrol cars (1913) and then put radio communications in the cars. 1928)
  • Created a centralized police records system, one of the first in the US (1906)
  • Was the first chief in the US to insist his department use blood, fiber, and soil analysis to solve crimes. (1907) Vollmer’s emphasis on scientific investigation spurred the creation of numerous crime laboratories around the state.
  • Started the world’s first police school where officers could learn about the laws of evidence. (1907)
  • Was the first to use radio communications between officers (1914)
  • Formed the first juvenile division in the US (1914)
  • Was the first police chief to require officers get college degrees
  • Pioneered the teaching of criminal justice classes by starting a program at UC Berkeley (1916)
  • Outlawed the use of the “third degree,” meaning police officers could no longer brutalize detainees to extract information.
  • Was the first chief to use the lie detector in investigations (1921)
  • Was one of the first to use fingerprints to identify suspects

“He was our chief,” said Holland. “A lot of stuff got started during his term.”

Old riot helmet on display

Many of Vollmer’s accomplishments are commemorated in an L-shaped hallway in the basement of the police department. There is an old lie detector encased in a wooden box, a scale to weigh inmates, and an autographed picture of President John F. Kennedy, probably signed when he came to UC Berkeley in 1961, as well as many other artifacts.

As for the question of whether Jess Jackson worked for the Berkeley Police Department — he did, Holland determined. He was hired on May 25, 1952 and was issued Badge #35. He resigned September 29, 1952 to return to law school at UC Berkeley.

In Jackson’s separation letter, “he thanked the department for the experience and he complimented the department on its personnel and character,” said Holland.

Einstein, it turns out, was never a police officer but served in the police reserves, said Holland.

Frances Dinkelspiel

Frances Dinkelspiel (co-founder) is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California,...

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9 Comments

  1. Thanks for reminding me of, “Traffics”. My brother was a traffic and I later became one too. I remember marching around in the red sweaters and yellow hats. The sergeant even let me keep my hat.

  2. Thanks, Berkeleyside, for this kinda sweet story. It’s nice to be reminded the police perform positive service to society. It is often easy to be down on cops. I am glad to see the Berkeley police get a little positive ink.

  3. The district is taking advice from the northern California ACLU, here is a excerpt from the ACLU white paper on school safety.
    http://www.aclu.org/pdfs/racialjustice/whitepaper_policinginschools.pdf.

    Police Presence and Law Enforcement Intervention:
    School discipline and classroom management should be under the exclusive control of school administrators and educators, yet police presence and law enforcement intervention have become commonplace in California public schools. Although often intended to create positive relationships with law enforcement, the presence of uniformed officers on campus — commonly referred to as School Resource Officers or SROs — creates an intimidating atmosphere for many students and is consistent with an increase in the criminalization of adolescent behavior. Accordingly, police should not be assigned to school campuses and should only be called in to intervene in emergency situations.

    Despite the detrimental effects of SROs on campus, many school districts and their administrators feel the need to have SROs assigned to their campus or regularly call the police in order to ensure the safety of students and school personnel. School safety is essential to the effective operation of a school, but the education of youth is paramount. Accordingly, alternatives to policing that promote school discipline as education, rather than criminalization, should be implemented as a means to ensure school safety, teach appropriate behavior, and achieve the primary goal of educating and graduating students.

    The Ill-Defined Role Police Play in Schools.
    ➜ Policy Recommendations: Police Presence
    Prohibit SROs from providing “counseling” or creating trust relationships with students who are seeking help or assistance, but who are then subject to law enforcement intervention or arrest. For example, SROs should not engage students in discussions about students’ weekend activities and then cite or arrest a student for admitting to underage drinking.

    Limit law enforcement contact with students during school hours or on school property to those matters that are related to school. Law enforcement should not be conducting police work on school property except in an emergency situation that poses a threat to safety.

    Require school officials to contact a student’s parent prior to the student being questioned by police, or permit the student an opportunity to contact a parent or trusted adult before such questioning occurs.

    Prohibit SROs from being involved in administrative (i.e. school-related) searches of
    students, unless requested by the school principal for the purpose of providing security
    or protection, or for handling contraband. Further prohibit SROs from requesting (and
    being granted requests) that an administrative search be conducted for law enforcement
    purposes or that an administrator act as an SRO’s agent. Administrative searches should
    be conducted under the direction and control of school officials.

  4. The district is taking advice from the northern California ACLU, here is a excerpt from the ACLU white paper on school safety.
    http://www.aclu.org/pdfs/racialjustice/whitepaper_policinginschools.pdf.

    Police Presence and Law Enforcement Intervention:
    School discipline and classroom management should be under the exclusive control of school administrators and educators, yet police presence and law enforcement intervention have become commonplace in California public schools. Although often intended to create positive relationships with law enforcement, the presence of uniformed officers on campus — commonly referred to as School Resource Officers or SROs — creates an intimidating atmosphere for many students and is consistent with an increase in the criminalization of adolescent behavior. Accordingly, police should not be assigned to school campuses and should only be called in to intervene in emergency situations.

    Despite the detrimental effects of SROs on campus, many school districts and their administrators feel the need to have SROs assigned to their campus or regularly call the police in order to ensure the safety of students and school personnel. School safety is essential to the effective operation of a school, but the education of youth is paramount. Accordingly, alternatives to policing that promote school discipline as education, rather than criminalization, should be implemented as a means to ensure school safety, teach appropriate behavior, and achieve the primary goal of educating and graduating students.

    The Ill-Defined Role Police Play in Schools.
    ➜ Policy Recommendations: Police Presence
    Prohibit SROs from providing “counseling” or creating trust relationships with students who are seeking help or assistance, but who are then subject to law enforcement intervention or arrest. For example, SROs should not engage students in discussions about students’ weekend activities and then cite or arrest a student for admitting to underage drinking.

    Limit law enforcement contact with students during school hours or on school property to those matters that are related to school. Law enforcement should not be conducting police work on school property except in an emergency situation that poses a threat to safety.

    Require school officials to contact a student’s parent prior to the student being questioned by police, or permit the student an opportunity to contact a parent or trusted adult before such questioning occurs.

    Prohibit SROs from being involved in administrative (i.e. school-related) searches of
    students, unless requested by the school principal for the purpose of providing security
    or protection, or for handling contraband. Further prohibit SROs from requesting (and
    being granted requests) that an administrative search be conducted for law enforcement
    purposes or that an administrator act as an SRO’s agent. Administrative searches should
    be conducted under the direction and control of school officials.

  5. Let’s not forget about the Berkeley Junior Traffic Police. The first organized school safety patrol in 1923. There are some fantastic videos produced by Frank Church that we came across while producing the Jefferson Elementary Centennial celebration. Not only did the police train Berkeley students to run traffic safety but students from all over the east bay. My Dad recalls being sent to Berkeley from Lafayette for training as a boy.

  6. Thanks for the interesting article, and kudos to Sgt. Holland for undertaking this important work. I wonder how Chief Vollmer would have responded to the current troubles at Berkeley High School? Vollmer did pioneering work on juvenile delinquency and famously responded to an epidemic of juvenile crime by deputizing West Berkeley gang members as the newly-formed Berkeley Junior Police. (“Yes, a star and some authority, but no guns.”) He kept close tabs on all youthful offenders and saw to it that he and his officers established personal relationships with the parents/guardians of each. Vollmer also had a keen interest in the causes of criminality, devoted significant BPD resources to prevention of juvenile crime, and sought referrals of at-risk children from each school principal.
    Vollmer believed that the BPD had an integral role in keeping kids from turning to crime and also recognized that it is dangerous to conclude that juvenile delinquents will necessarily become hardened criminals. (“No reward in life is more satisfying than that of helping to save one of these youngsters who is off to a bad start.”) But he knew well that all that BPD then did could never be enough: “It is clear, then, that, the police efforts to prevent delinquency are hopeless without aid from the home, the school and behavior clinics.”

  7. What an interesting article! “Gambling and opium parlors operated openly in Berkeley” – kind of puts things in perspective. 🙂

  8. Fascinating stuff. Who knew that a little town in California pioneered modern policing?