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Alphonse Bertillon

After having graduated from the Imperial Lycée of Versailles, Bertillon drifted through a number of jobs in England and France, before being conscripted into the French army in 1875. Several years later, he was discharged from the army with no real higher education, so his father arranged for his employment in a low-level clerical job at the Prefecture of Police in Paris. Thus, Bertillon began his police career on 15 March 1879 as a department copyist. Shortly upon his appointment, he started the development of a anthropometric method to register criminals through measurement, in order to identify recidivists more easily. His publication of L’Identité des recidivists et la loi de régulation (1883) resulted the reluctant adoption of his new methods in 1883. Two years later, it was introduced in most French prisons. He brought his invention to international attention during conferences on criminal anthropology in Rome (1885), Paris (1889) and Brussels (1892). Furthermore, he developed the new, international standards for judicial photography, culminating in the publication of La photographie judiciaire (1890). His identification of Ravachol, and the centralization of the anthropometric ateliers, photographic department and judicial records into the comprehensive Service d’identité judiciaire in August 1893, brought forth a boost in visits from police officials from the whole of Europe. Other than a transfer of knowledge, he got inspiration from abroad too. For instance, he added finger prints to his measurement cards after British example in 1894 – although it was largely a gimmick and bared no practical value. He grew out to the most influential inventor for police technology of the late-nineteenth century. Notably his latest work, Identification anthropométrique (1893) was translated into, at least, Romanian (1892), German (1894), Dutch (1895) and English (1896). He presented his works once again at the criminal anthropology congress of 1896. During the trial of Alfred Dreyfus (1894-1895), Bertillon acted as expert for the prosecution, which was dissatisfied with the conclusions of its first graphologist experts. Although Bertillon lacked expertise in handwriting (and was a notorious anti-semite), under pressure of the army, he claimed that Dreyfus was the author of a document indicating espionage activities for the Germans. His conclusion was undermined by various mathematicians, who criticized his pseudoscientific probability calculation. In March 1895, Prefect Louis Lépine ordered all Sûreté officers and detectives to take courses on Bertillon’s new invention of portrait parlé. Through these methods of ‘spoken portraits’, police officials might transmit detailed descriptions to one another by telegraph using a universal language, consisting only of specific words, numbers and coded abbreviations. Following the anti-anarchist conference of Rome (1898), portrait parlé, was acknowledged as transnational method to exchange information. Resultantly, police officials from Europe and the Ottoman Empire received training in Paris; thirty lessons of two hours each were found necessary to master the techniques. Nevertheless, following the turn of the century, his identification methods were rapidly replaced by dactyloscopy. He kept making his appearances at several international expositions, knowing in Paris (1900), St. Louis (1904), Liège (1905), London (1908), Dresden (1909), Buenos Aires and Brussels (1910) ad Turin (1911). Bertillon died on 13 February 1914 and is buried at Paris’ Père-Lachaise cemetery

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