1921 - 1933
years from 1921 to 1933 were sometimes called the "lawless
years" because of gangsterism and the public
disregard for Prohibition, which made it illegal
to sell or import intoxicating 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.
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.
these investigations and through more traditional
investigations of neutrality 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.
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
Hoover took over, the Bureau of Investigation had
approximately 650 employees, including 441 Special
Agents who worked in field offices in nine cities.
By the end of the decade, there were approximately
field offices, with Divisional headquarters in New
York, Baltimore, Atlanta, Cincinnati, Chicago, Kansas
City, San Antonio, San Francisco, and Portland. 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.
At the beginning of the decade, the Bureau of Investigation
established field offices in nine cities. He also
scheduled regular inspections of the operations in
all field offices. Then, in January 1928, Hoover
established a formal training course for new Agents,
including the requirement that New Agents had to
be in the 25-35 year range to apply. He also returned
to the earlier preference for Special Agents with
law or accounting experience.
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 1925, Agent Edwin C. Shanahan (pictured left)
became the first Agent to be killed in the line of
duty when he was murdered by a car thief.
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
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.
the end of the decade, Special Agent training was
institutionalized, the field office inspection system
was solidly in place, and the National Division of
Identification and Information was collecting and
compiling uniform crime statistics for the entire
United States. 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."