The Bertillon system that cataloged criminals by their physical measurements, 1894


In the late nineteenth century, the photography of criminals was standardized as anthropological photography, largely due to the work of Paris police officer Alphonse Bertillon (1853–1914).

The son of Louis Adolphe Bertillon, a renowned anthropologist who used figures to describe humans, Alphonse Bertillon developed a verbal and visual system for describing criminals. His main interest was to identify repeat offenders – that is, repeat offenders. Called the "spoken analogy", Bertillon's invention is known today as the mugshot.

In 1888 Bertillon became director of the Identity Bureau due to his invention of anthropometry - the first scientific system of criminal identification. The system, named Bertilonez in his honor, consisted of recording eleven measurements of set parts of the head and body on a card, with two photographs and additional physical details such as eye and hair color, a unique, classified and established . Most important, recoverable criminal records.

Alphonse Bertillon assumed that this photographic information would create a unique record of a person that could be used by the police to identify criminals. The Bertillon system techniques included standing height, sitting height (trunk and head length), distance between fingers with arms, and size of head, right ear, left leg, digit, and forearm. In addition, distinctive individual characteristics, such as eye colour, scarring and deformity, were noted.

Bertillon set standardization of lighting conditions, exposure times, distance from subject, posture and reduction scale, ensuring that a clear full face and profile picture – a mugshot – appeared on each identification card. He also created Portrait Parlay, an identification chart of sectional photographs of facial features, such as ears and nose, mounted side by side to enable comparison and contrast.

Although the system was based on scientific measures, it was known to have flaws. For example, it may not apply precisely to children or women, as it was mostly designed for men who had reached full physical maturity and had short hair.

Bertillon also created several other forensic techniques, including the use of galvanoplastic compounds to preserve footprints, ballistics, and dynamometers, which were used to determine the degree of force used in breaking and entering. goes.

Replacing the unreliable system of eyewitness accounts, Bertilonez significantly increased the number of arrests of many criminals and was later adopted by police departments outside France, such as New York City (1888), Argentina (1891), and Chicago. (1894).

Since Bertillones used photographs in the process of identification, in 1888 Bertillon incorporated the prefecture's photography studio into his department and introduced a strictly uniform photographic technique to complement the accuracy of the system.

Photography also played an important role in solving crimes, by identifying and documenting people as well as clues. Although not widely accepted as evidence in a court of law until the late nineteenth, forensic photography has been used since the late 1850s to discredit forged documents, to record crime scenes including traffic accidents, and to treat injuries. was done to provide evidence.

Breaking up physical appearances into smaller, standardized units allowed unskilled clerks to record and retrieve criminal photographs. The creation of large information collections, such as those used in police work, strengthened government control of the population and came close to fulfilling the enduring dream of the nineteenth century of vast, encyclopedic collections of images, along with anthropological photographs. .

Soon after the turn of the century, bertilonez was supplanted by the more reliable system of dactyloscopy or identification by fingerprints. Ironically, the change in this method led to an increase in the number of special police photographers as it increased the need to record fingerprints and fingerprints found at the crime scene.

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