Berkeley City Council is calling for Vollmer Peak to be renamed amid claims that August Vollmer, after whom the popular hiking destination is named, upheld ideas of white supremacy during his lifetime.
During its regular meeting Sept. 15, the City Council approved a letter to East Bay Regional Park District, or EBRPD, claiming Vollmer, Berkeley’s first chief of police, “perpetuated racism through his participation in eugenics societies and the inclusion of eugenics and other racist philosophies in his criminology school’s curriculum.”
The letter, submitted by Councilmember Cheryl Davila, urges the EBRPD Board of Directors to take action to rename the peak.
“Although historic persons may have been chosen as namesakes for our parks’ landmarks due to their popularity and service to the community, keeping their names attached to our landmarks signals to our Black, indigenous, and community members of color that they are not welcome,” the letter states.
Vollmer was appointed as Berkeley Police Department’s first chief of police in 1909 and is widely considered to be the father of American policing for the many contributions he made to the profession throughout his career.
Additionally, Vollmer is remembered for hiring Walter Gordon, the city’s first Black police officer, despite criticism from other officers and the community. When a white officer would object to working with Gordon, Vollmer would tell them to resign from the force.
Though this history acknowledges Vollmer’s reputation as a progressive leader, Davila’s letter calls attention to Vollmer’s association with the theory of eugenics and its place within the curriculum of the criminology school he established at UC Berkeley in 1916.
In a 1917 proposal for the school’s curriculum, Vollmer and a co-author listed units on theories such as “race degeneration,” “eugenics” and “heredity.”
An article Vollmer wrote in 1926 during his time as BPD chief advanced the notion that preventing the “socially unfit” from reproducing would reduce crime rates.
The City Council’s request is the first time this aspect of Vollmer’s history has been brought to the park district’s attention, said EBRPD spokesperson Dave Mason in an email.
According to Mason, Bald Peak, the highest point in the Berkeley Hills, was renamed after Vollmer because he was a beloved and respected founding member of EBRPD and served as board director for 15 years, not because of his status as the “Father of Policing.”
If the EBRPD Board of Directors decides to move forward with renaming the peak, there is a formal protocol in place that would provide for a public engagement process, Mason added in the email. The board, however, does have the option to decide what to name the peak internally.