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Systematic Methods of Identification


The first real method of identification was the artist’s rendering. Drawing a picture of what was seen by another individual is not an easy task. The challenge has always been to relay the information in such a way that it is understandable to the person who is doing the sketch. There have always been those individuals who have used their creativity to generate a likeness of an individual. As standardized terminology and descriptors were developed, the quality of the sketch was remarkably improved. Today, we commonly refer to this method as a police artist sketch. The problem that has always existed with an artist’s rendering is the ability of the artist to put onto paper what one individual has put into words to describe another individual. An artist’s rendering is never going to produce or replicate an exact likeness of an individual. That is why, even today, the police sketch is, at best, a very close likeness of an individual. Coming in a close second, due to the lateness of its development, is the photograph. A photograph, as we know, will produce an exact likeness of an individual. The first such device for photography was the Daguerreotype that was first used in Brussels around 1843. A photograph was developed on a light-sensitive silver-coated metallic plate. Later, a glass plate was used. This method, to say the least, was extremely cumbersome as the photographs that were taken were not extremely high quality, and the equipment associated with the task made it difficult at best to take photographs in a less than controlled environment. As time has evolved, these techniques or processes were replaced with cellulose acetate, commonly referred to as camera film. As with all inventions or technology, photographic technolog)' has become very sophisticated, easy to use, and for the most part, inexpensive. That is why the portable camera has made the job of photographic documentation so much easier and desirable. However, with film, there was still one major drawback: one could not instantly see the photograph one was trying to capture. Newer technology, such as Polaroid instant cameras, soon filled the void of immediacy. However, with immediacy of the photograph, certain sacrifices had to be made such as quality and longevity. The photos taken with the Polaroid-type cameras could not capture quality depth of field and the photos were not long-lasting. As the technology evolved, so too have the types of cameras, to the point that today we have good-quality digital cameras that allow us to immediately view that we have just photographed. If the photograph does not capture sufficient information, another photograph can be immediately taken. The quality and affordability of the digital camera are attainable by most law enforcement and governmental agencies today. It is also said that film, as we know it today, will be replaced with digital photography due to cost, dependability, usability, and storage. However, cameras are not always present during the commission of crimes, although that is changing with the advent of the mini-cam or the video/digital recorder, as well as the ubiquitous digital phone. An ideal systematic method of identification combines the features of a sketch, a photograph, and other methodology to document the specificity of an individual, a location, or an event.

The first such documented system, which combined the photograph and physical description, was a system developed by Alphonse Bertillon, circa 1883 (Figure 2.1). This system became known as Bertillonage or anthropometry. The system consisted of four parts: anthropometry (body measurements), portrait parle (spoken picture or verbal description), photographs, and fingerprints.

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