The years from 1921 to 1933 beverages. Prohibition created a

new federal medium for fighting crime. But the Department of the Treasury,

not the Department of Justice, had jurisdiction for these violations.


Attacking crimes that were federal in scope but local in jurisdiction called

for creative solutions. The Bureau of Investigation had limited success

using its narrow jurisdiction to investigate some of the criminals of "the

gangster era." For example, it investigated Al Capone as a "fugitive federal

witness." Federal investigation of a resurgent white supremacy movement also

required creativity. The Ku Klux Klan (KKK), dormant since the late 1800s,

was revived in part to counteract the economic gains made by African

Americans during World War I. The Bureau of Investigation used the Mann Act

to bring Louisiana's philandering KKK "Imperial Kleagle" to justice.


Through these investigations and through more traditional investigations of

nuetrality violations and antitrust violations, the Bureau of Investigation

gained stature. Although the Harding Administration suffered from

unqualified and sometimes corrupt officials, the Progressive Era reform

tradition continued among the professional Department of Justice Special

Agents. The new Bureau of Investigation Director, William J. Burns, who had

previously run his own detective agency, appointed 26-year-old J. Edgar

Hoover as Assistant Director. Hoover, a graduate of George Washington

University Law School, had worked for the Department of Justice since 1917,

where he headed the enemy alien operations during World War I and assisted

in the General Intelligence Division under Attorney General A. Mitchell

Palmer, investigating suspected anarchists and communists.


After Harding died in 1923, his successor, Calvin Coolidge, appointed

replacements for Harding's cronies in the Cabinet. For the new Attorney

General, Coolidge appointed attorney Harlan Fiske Stone. Stone then, on May

10, 1924, selected Hoover to head the Bureau of Investigation. By

inclination and training, Hoover embodied the Progressive tradition. His

appointment ensured that the Bureau of Investigation would keep that

tradition alive.


When Hoover took over, the Bureau of Investigation had approximately 650

employees, including 441 Special Agents. He immediately fired those Agents

he considered unqualified and proceeded to professionalize the organization.

For example, Hoover abolished the seniority rule of promotion and introduced

uniform performance appraisals. Regular inspections of Headquarters and

field office operations were scheduled. New Agents had to be between 25 and

35 years old. Then, in January 1928, Hoover established a formal training

course for new Agents. He also returned to the earlier preference for

Special Agents with law or accounting experience.


The new Director was also keenly aware that the Bureau of Investigation

could not fight crime without public support. In remarks prepared for the

Attorney General in 1925, he wrote, "The Agents of the Bureau of

Investigation have been impressed with the fact that the real problem of law

enforcement is in trying to obtain the cooperation and sympathy of the

public and that they cannot hope to get such cooperation until they

themselves merit the respect of the public."


Also in the early days of Hoover's directorship, a long held goal of

American law enforcement was achieved: the establishment of an

Identification Division. Tracking criminals by means of identification

records had been considered a crucial tool of law enforcement since the 19th

century, and matching fingerprints was considered the most accurate method.

By 1922, many large cities had started their own fingerprint collections.


In keeping with the Progressive Era tradition of federal assistance to

localities, the Department of Justice created a Bureau of Criminal

Identification in 1905 in order to provide a centralized reference

collection of fingerprint cards. In 1907, the collection was moved, as a

money-saving measure, to Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary, where it was

staffed by convicts. Understandably suspicious of this arrangement, police

departments formed their own centralized identification bureau maintained by

the International Association of Chiefs of Police. It refused to share its

data with the Bureau of Criminal Investigation. In 1924, Congress was

persuaded to merge the two collections in Washington, D.C., under Bureau of

Investigation administration. As a result, law enforcement agencies across

the country began contributing fingerprint cards to the Bureau of

Investigation by 1926.


By the end of the decade, Special Agent training was institutionalized, the

field office inspection system was solidly in place, and the Identification

Division was functioning. In addition, studies were underway that would lead

to the creation of the Technical Laboratory and Uniform Crime Reports. The

Bureau was equipped to end the "lawless years."


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