Leon DeKalb: U.S. Probation’s First Black Officer

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Leon E. DeKalb’s family members pose with a photo of him during a 2016 ceremony honoring probation officers in the Southern District of New York

Leon Elmer DeKalb made history nearly 80 years ago when he became the first African American probation officer in the federal court system. He was appointed on Dec. 1, 1941, just before the United States entered World War II, and went on to a distinguished career in the Southern District of New York, where he rose to the position of deputy chief probation officer.

Officers in the Manhattan-based district and around the country are honoring DeKalb’s memory during February’s celebration of African American History Month.

“To be the first Black officer in the entire federal system couldn’t have been easy,” said Michael Fitzpatrick, chief probation officer for the Southern District of New York. “I’m sure he faced a great deal of resistance, but Mr. DeKalb overcame those challenges. He spent his career finding ways to help people struggling to successfully reenter society after prison and served as a role model to many of the officers here in New York Southern over the years.”

Leon E. DeKalb, as a young man. Photo courtesy of the Southern District of New York Probation Office.

DeKalb, who died in 1994, was a pioneer who had a profound influence on the federal probation system. He helped advance the notion that officers, in addition to their law enforcement roles, could help people struggling with drug and substance abuse. He was an instructor for the Federal Judicial Center, helping newly appointed judges understand the workings of the pretrial and probation system. He was on the board of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, a research organization focused on making the justice system more equitable.

DeKalb is also remembered as an important mentor to young minority officers.

Yvonne Samuels, one of the first Black women to become a probation officer in the district, still remembers touring the courthouse with then Deputy Chief DeKalb on her first day of work in 1974.

“I was questioning my decision to leave my higher paying probation job for a career in federal probation, and speaking with Deputy Chief DeKalb reassured me that I made the right decision,” Samuels said. “He was a very kind person who cared deeply not only for his fellow officers, but for the offenders that we worked with. Although he never mentioned that I was Black, I could tell that he was especially interested in making sure that I and others who looked like me had the tools we needed to succeed.”

Born and raised in New York City, DeKalb graduated from DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, and a master’s degree from Columbia University during the peak of the Great Depression.

Leon E. DeKalb, 1974. Photo courtesy of the Southern District of New York Probation Office.

At Lincoln University, he befriended Thurgood Marshall, the future first African American U.S. Supreme Court justice. Marshall was DeKalb’s mentor in the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity.

Before joining the probation office in the Southern District of New York, DeKalb was a New York City probation officer. He also spent time as teacher in Virginia and North Carolina and as an education advisor and welfare worker.

When war broke out, his career in probation was interrupted by two years of service in the Army, where he earned the rank of second lieutenant. In 1972, DeKalb achieved another historic first by becoming the first Black deputy chief probation officer in the federal system.

He retired after 33 years of distinguished service in 1974 and died on April 23, 1994, at the age of 86.

“Even at the age of 83, I can still remember Mr. DeKalb telling us, ‘Don’t give up. Keep trying,’ whenever things got tough for one of us in the office,” Samuels said. “We worked hard to build trust with the individuals we worked with. It was, and still is, important for them to feel comfortable confiding in us, so that we can better help them stay on the right path.”

Related Topics: Judicial History, Probation and Pretrial Services

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    On Jan. 13, 2021, President Donald J. Trump signed into law the Competitive Health Insurance Reform Act of 2020 (the “Act”), which limits the antitrust exemption available to health insurance companies under the McCarran-Ferguson Act.  The Act, sponsored by Rep. Peter DeFazio, passed the House of Representatives on Sept. 21, 2020 and passed the Senate on Dec. 22, 2020. 
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  • Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim Delivers Remarks at the 47th Annual Conference on International Antitrust Law and Policy and Antitrust Economics Workshops
    In Crime News
    Virtual Event “Video [Read More…]
  • Justice Department Awards Over $54 Million to Support Wellness and Safety of Law Enforcement Officers
    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs today announced it has awarded funding totaling over $54 million to provide services that protect officers and improve overall public safety. OJP’s Bureau of Justice Assistance awarded grants to law enforcement departments, local jurisdictions, and training and technical assistance organizations throughout the United States.
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  • U.S. Decision To Reengage with the UN Human Rights Council
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Utah Man Posing As Medical Doctor To Sell Baseless Coronavirus Cure Indicted On Fraud Charges
    In Crime News
    Utah resident Gordon H. Pedersen has been indicted for posing as a medical doctor to sell a baseless treatment for coronavirus (COVID-19). According to the indictment returned by a federal grand jury in Salt Lake City late last week, Pedersen fraudulently promoted and sold ingestible silver-based products as a cure for COVID-19 despite having no evidence that his products could treat or cure the disease. Pedersen is also alleged to have claimed to be a physician and worn a stethoscope and white lab coat in videos and photos posted on the Internet to further his alleged fraud scheme.
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  • Former Blue Bell Creameries President Charged In Connection With 2015 Ice Cream Listeria Contamination
    In Crime News
    A Texas grand jury charged the former president of ice cream manufacturer Blue Bell Creameries L.P. with wire fraud and conspiracy in connection with an alleged scheme to cover up the company’s sales of Listeria-tainted ice cream in 2015, the Justice Department announced today. 
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  • Virginia Man Pleads Guilty to Enticement, Child Pornography Charges
    In Crime News
    A Virginia man who used an online chat website to engage in sexually explicit conversations with a 12-year-old minor female and later induced the victim to engage in sexually explicit behavior over video chat, pleaded guilty today in U.S. District Court in the Western District of Virginia to a pair of federal charges, announced Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian C. Rabbitt of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Thomas T. Cullen for the Western District of Virginia.
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  • Terrorist Designation of ISIS Leader Amir Muhammad Sa’id Abdal-Rahman al-Mawla
    In Crime News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Military Housing: DOD Has Taken Key Steps to Strengthen Oversight, but More Action Is Needed in Some Areas
    In U.S GAO News
    In 1996 Congress provided DOD with authorities enabling it to obtain private-sector financing and management to repair, renovate, construct, and operate military housing. DOD has since privatized about 99 percent of its domestic housing. The Department of Defense (DOD) has made progress in addressing weaknesses in its privatized housing program, and GAO has identified additional opportunities to strengthen the program. GAO reported in March 2020 on DOD's oversight and its role in the management of privatized housing. Specifically, GAO found that 1) the military departments conducted some oversight of the physical condition of privatized housing, but some efforts were limited in scope; 2) the military departments used performance metrics to monitor private developers, but the metrics did not provide meaningful information on the condition of housing; 3) the military departments and private developers collected maintenance data on homes, but these data were not captured reliably or consistently, and 4) DOD provided reports to Congress on the status of privatized housing, but some data in these reports were unreliable, leading to misleading results. GAO made 12 recommendations, including that DOD take steps to improve housing condition oversight, performance indicators, maintenance data, and resident satisfaction reporting. DOD generally concurred with the recommendations. As of February 2021, DOD fully implemented 5 recommendations and partially implemented 7 recommendations. DOD should also take action to improve the process for setting basic allowance for housing (BAH)—a key source of revenue for privatized housing projects. In January 2021, GAO reported on DOD's process to determine BAH. GAO found that DOD has not always collected rental data on the minimum number of rental units needed to estimate the total housing cost for certain locations and housing types. Until DOD develops ways to increase its sample size, it will risk providing housing cost compensation that does not accurately represent the cost of suitable housing for servicemembers. GAO recommended that DOD review its methodology to increase sample sizes. GAO has also determined, in a report to be issued this week, that DOD should improve oversight of privatized housing property insurance and natural disaster recovery. GAO assessed the extent to which the military departments and the Office of the Secretary of Defense exercise oversight of their projects' insurance coverage. GAO found that the military departments have exercised insufficient oversight, and that the Office of the Secretary of Defense has not regularly monitored the military departments' implementation of insurance requirements. Without establishing procedures for timely and documented reviews, the military departments cannot be assured that the projects are complying with insurance requirements and assuming a proper balance of risk and cost. The draft of this report, which GAO provided to DOD for official comment, included 9 recommendations, 2 of which DOD addressed in January 2021 by issuing policy updates. The final report's 7 remaining recommendations, including that the military departments update their respective insurance review oversight procedures, will help strengthen DOD's oversight of privatized housing, once implemented. DOD concurred with all of the recommendations. Congress enacted the Military Housing Privatization Initiative (MHPI) in 1996 to improve the quality of housing for servicemembers. DOD is responsible for general oversight of privatized housing projects. Private-sector developers are responsible for the ownership, construction, renovation, maintenance, and repair of about 99 percent of military housing in the United States. GAO has conducted a series of reviews of MHPI, following reports of hazards (such as mold) in homes, questions about DOD's process to determine the basic allowance for housing rates, which is a key revenue source for privatized housing, and concerns about how DOD ensures appropriate property insurance for privatized housing projects impacted by severe weather. This statement summarizes 1) steps DOD has taken to strengthen oversight and management of its privatized housing program, and work remaining; 2) actions needed to improve DOD's BAH process; and 3) actions needed to enhance DOD's oversight of privatized housing property insurance. The statement summarizes two of GAO's prior reports, and a report to be issued, related to privatized housing. For this statement, GAO reviewed prior reports, collected information on recommendation implementation, and interviewed DOD officials. In prior reports, GAO recommended that DOD improve oversight of housing conditions; review its process for determining basic allowance for housing rates; and that the military departments update their housing insurance review oversight procedures. For more information, contact Elizabeth A. Field at (202) 512-2775 or fielde1@gao.gov.
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  • Wisconsin-Based Nonprofit To Pay $1.9 Million To Settle Allegations Of False Claims And Kickbacks On Federal Contracts For Blind Workers
    In Crime News
    Industries for the Blind and Visually Impaired Inc. (IBI) has agreed to pay the United States $1,938,684.09 to resolve allegations that IBI violated the False Claims Act and the Anti-Kickback Act in connection with certain federal contracts set aside to employ blind workers, the Justice Department announced today. 
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  • Department of Justice Announces the Use of Body-Worn Cameras on Federal Task Forces
    In Crime News
    Today, the Justice Department announced that it will permit state, local, territorial, and tribal task force officers to use body-worn cameras on federal task forces around the nation.  The department’s policy will permit federally deputized officers to activate a body-worn camera while serving arrest warrants, or during other planned arrest operations, and during the execution of search warrants.  The policy is the result of a pilot program launched by the department last October.
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  • Belarus Travel Advisory
    In Travel
    Reconsider Travel due to [Read More…]
  • Justice Department Files Sexual Harassment Lawsuit Against Massachusetts Property Manager
    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice announced today that it has filed a lawsuit alleging that a property manager in Chicopee, Massachusetts violated the Fair Housing Act by subjecting female tenants to sexual harassment.
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