Wednesday, 11 October 2017

rogues' gallery

While previously on PfRC we were exposed to the teaching and methodology of Inspector Alphonse Bertillon whose research into how anthropometry could be applied as systematic way of identifying repeat offenders and informed our notions of biometrics, we hadn’t actually seen his superbly complex diagrams and composite “mug-shots” until now.  First working as a transcriptionist for the Paris police department, Bertillon grew frustrated with informal, instinctive forensic techniques that were failing to reduce recidivism rates—and encouraged bolder criminal behaviour since it appeared unlikely one would be caught and the potential reward made the risks acceptable ones.
No doubt Bertillon was a dedicated pioneer whose legacy lives on in all precincts, but something about him strikes me as very Inspector Javert (from Les Misérables who became obsessed with capture and punishment of Jean Valjean) especially considering his growing eccentricities and loss of credibility when he claimed that there was a mathematical infallibility to his technique (when there demonstrably was not) and his false testimony was used to sentence Alfred Dreyfus (of the divisive Dreyfus Affair, a study in anti-Semitism and grave miscarriage of justice in which a captain was incorrectly accused of treason whilst his superiors, the real culprits, deflected the blame) to exile and imprisonment. Eventually Bertillion’s comprehensive system of markers was collapsed into the complementary but competing method of dactyloscopy, once the inspector himself perfected a way to retrieve latent fingerprints from smooth surfaces.