History of Criminology

V. Criminology Emerges as a Separate Field of Study

The emergence of criminology as a separate academic and research field is an issue discussed earlier in this research paper. This occurred at two universities: the University of California at Berkeley and Michigan State University. Neither focused on what had occupied criminologists for over 60 years: the explanation of criminal behavior; instead, both emerged to address the issue of the need for better educated police officers.

The effort at the University of California was led by the now-legendary figure in American policing, August Vollmer. Albert Morris (1975), in his history of the American Society of Criminology, described Vollmer as follows:

Vollmer taught courses at Berkeley, helped form a major offered in political science at Berkeley in the middle 1930s, joined the faculty in 1932, and led the development of first School of Criminology in the United States founded at Berkeley in 1950. For Vollmer, the primary purpose of his efforts was to educate police officers who could lead the professionalization of policing. It was Vollmer who in 1941 convened a meeting at his home that led to the creation of the National Association of College Police Training Officials, which later became the Society for the Advancement of Criminology and is today the American Society of Criminology. The purpose of the organization and the academic programs that participated in its founding was stated as follows (Morris, 1975):

  1. To associate officials engaged in professional police training at the college level
  2. To standardize the various police training curricula
  3. To standardize, insofar as possible, the subject matter of similar courses in the various schools
  4. To keep abreast of recent developments and to foster research
  5. To disseminate information
  6. To elevate standards of police service
  7. To stimulate the formation of police training schools in colleges throughout the nation

As an academic enterprise at Berkeley, criminology began with a focus on the criminal justice system and, more specifically, the training of police.

The story at Michigan State University was similar. Founded in 1935, the School of Criminal Justice is the program with the longest history of continuous degree granting in the field. Led by the efforts of LeMoyne Snyder (a doctor and son of a former president of Michigan State) and in cooperation with the Michigan State Patrol, the university approved a new department and major in 1935 that was to educate current and potential police officers in administration and law.As stated in 1935 (Brandstetter, 1989), the new dean of the program summarized it as follows:

Educated police were the goal of the program. The professionalization of policing was the ultimate goal of the effort. As an academic enterprise, criminology emerged with a much closer connection to the goals of Beccaria than it did to the goals of Lombroso. The tension between training and education is clear in both programs, but the focus on education in the Michigan State program set the standard for all academic programs that followed.

While the professional organization for criminology was changing from a focus on policing, the new field of criminology was also changing. When the program at Florida State University was formed in the 1950s, it covered causes of crime, policing, corrections, and criminal law, with an emphasis on science and research as a comprehensive criminology program that would serve as a model for others throughout the country. In 1957, the professional organization changed its name again to the American Society of Criminology, to reflect the growing breadth of the field and the organization.

So, criminology began at two state universities in the 1930s, and by the 1950s was emerging at other, predominantly public, universities. In 20 years, it has changed from police education to a new field that includes the two great traditions of criminology: (1) a concern with the causes of crime and the improvement of the criminal justice system and (2) a reliance on science as the method to understand causes and identify improvements. Still, the field had not yet fully found its identity. Note that Berkeley’s program is a School of Criminology, Michigan State’s is a School of Criminal Justice, and Florida State’s also is a School of Criminology. In the 1970s and 1980s, the model program was at Albany University, the School of Criminal Justice, whereas in the 1990s and 2000s, the most prominent program has been the University of Maryland’s Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice. Although the names differ, a look at their programs, research, careers of graduates, and faculty reveals much similarity. Why, then, do the programs have different names?

In the 1960s, crime became a focus of national attention and federal legislation and funding. The goal was to reduce crime through more effective criminal justice. For some people in the political world, criminology was associated with causation (“root causes”), treatment of offenders, and being “soft” on crime. This position was enhanced when the School of Criminology at the University of California at Berkeley became a center for radical, left criminology and was closed by the university.As the field grew, in part fueled by the growing national interest in crime and federal funding, criminal justice became a more acceptable name than criminology. However, as the field matured and the role of criminology became clearer, the use of the name criminology and criminal justice emerged as a clear statement that the field addressed both foundations of the field—causes of crime and criminal justice improvements. Now Beccaria and Lombroso could be seen as the founders of a field that lived up to Sutherland’s (1939) definition of a body that scientifically studied the making of law, the breaking of law, and society’s reaction to lawbreaking. Today, even a brief perusal of the program of the meetings of the American Society of Criminology reveals that the field encompasses just about every aspect of crime and justice but always with a concern for the scientific rigor of the enterprise.