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Gustav Roscher

Roscher studied law in Munich and Göttingen from 1870 to 1874; in 1879 he started in the public prosecutor’s office in Hildesheim, followed by Verden. In 1889 he became a prosecutor in Hamburg. On August 1892 he was promoted representative of the chief prosecutor, and on 16 January 1893, Roscher became Superintendent (Polizeirat) of Hamburg’s criminal and political police. He was known for his vigorous professionalization efforts. Following a study trip to Vienna’s photographic department and the Paris identification service in 1893, he reorganized the Hamburg recognition service the following year. His department was the first in the German Empire to appropriate Bertillon’s methods for identification and registration. Furthermore, he applied registers and albums containing predefined categories to quickly find information about individuals. A journal for criminal science wrote in 1899 that ‘Hamburg’s Criminal Police might be in the possession of the most extensive and best photographic institution in the world’. Up to that year, about 80 index boxes holding 190,000 entries were created. Roscher also introduced telephone connections to the Hamburg police and established a police museum. From the start of his appointment, he sought transnational cooperation. In 1894, for instance, he contacted foreign authorities such as the Paris prefecture and the Dutch Ministry of Justice to request the exchange of photographs and intelligence on anarchists. In June 1897, he represented the Hamburg police at the Berlin conference to discuss the introduction of the Bertillon methods in the empire. Furthermore, due to Roscher’s practices the Hamburg police turned into a certain stop for study trips by European police officials – in 1898 he was mentioned in the memoires of former Parisian detective Marie-François Goron as ‘policier du plus grand mérite’. The following year, Roscher was one of the first to present in front of the newly established Dutch Brotherhoods of Police Commissioners, chaired by Voormolen. In the Dutch Justice Ministry, he elaborated on the Hamburg police’s organizational structure and practices. In 1903, Roscher introduced dactyloscopy, identification by fingerprints, following a visit to Dresden’s Municipal Exhibition. At the exhibition, Paul Köttig invited European police forces to present the state-of-the-art in scientific policing. Most probably, the British delegates presented the methods of dactyloscopy, identification by finger prints. Before the end of the year, the methods were introduced in Dresden, followed closely by Hamburg. In 1905, Roscher introduced his own version of dactyloscopy. Roscher’s views on the modernization of policing were brought together in his 1912 publication: Großstadtpolizei. Ein praktisches Handbuch der deutschen Polizei.

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