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U. S. NAVAL INSTITUTE, ANNAPOLIS, MD. March I, 1890.
DESERTION, AND THE BERTILLON SYSTEM FOR THE IDENTIFICATION OF PERSONS.
By Lieutenant Alexander Mccrackin, U. S. Navy.
The subject of desertion from the army and navy has been discussed by many persons, and the causes assigned for desertion, with the methods proposed for its prevention and punishment, have been almost as numerous as the number of writers.
It may be taken as an axiom that desertions will always occur. Cases are on record of officers deserting, and the writer has questioned an enlisted man apprehended for desertion, who admitted that he had been well fed and clothed, well treated, had received plenty of liberty, that he had no real cause' of discontent, and that he had previously deserted from the Marine Corps! No doubt there will always be such men.
It is idle to write of the evils of desertion and its punishment when wholesale amnesties to deserters are made, and when such principles are promulgated as these by a Senator who lately wrote of desertion as being "an offense which evidences no lack of patriotism and involves the least possible moral turpitude"!
If desertion ended a man's connection with the navy the latter would be the gainer, but unfortunately the deserter thinks it is quite the proper thing to go to another ship, re-enlist under a different alias, stay in the new ship long enough to once more become a factor of discontent and disorganization, and then desert again, and so on. Men who have been dishonorably discharged adopt the same course.
As, probably, no humanitarian would desire to thus burden the service, the only question now left of the whole subject of desertion is, how shall the Government be protected from such frauds?
The plan which has been repeatedly recommended officially in the army as the best remedial measure is prohibited in the navy by the 49th Article for the Government of the Navy, which forbids the "branding, marking or tattooing on the body."
There exists, however, a method to which the most fastidious humanitarian cannot possibly raise any objection, viz. the use of photography, and a more exact system of measurements and personal description in the enlistment records than that now in vogue.
There is one system for identifying persons that was inaugurated in Paris in 1882, and which has given such excellent results that it is now used throughout France and is being generally adopted in Europe and the United States, viz. the Anihropometrical System of M. Alphonse Bertillon.
The Navy " Descriptive List" gives a man's name, age, place of birth (the foregoing being furnished by the man himself), height, weight, color of eyes and hair, complexion, and permanent marks or scars. The defectiveness of such a description is shown from the personal measurements and observations made in Paris by M. Bertillon with over 10,000 subjects; he found that among a hundred persons of the same height, 87 had what is commonly called "brown hair," 10 had blonde hair, 2.7 black, and 0.3 had red hair; one-third had hazel eyes, one-fourth gray, one-seventh blue, and one-fourth of indistinct color.
The identification of a person by the Bertillon system rests on the following measurements:
1. The length and width of the head.
The length of the left middle and little fingers.
The length of the left foot.
The length of the left forearm.
The length of the right ear.
6. The height of the figure.
7. The length of the outstretched arms.
8. The length of the trunk. Perhaps the best concise description of the Bertillon system is that
which first appeared in the Pall Mall Gazette, and is by the inventor himself. During the last Paris Exhibition the Gazette correspondent went to the measurement and identification department in Paris, which is in the Palais de Justice, where he found M. Bertillon "operating in a large square room. There were shelves on one side containing thousands of cards, with the photographs and records of criminals. Several assistants were busy taking measurements to add to the collection.
"My system for identifying criminals, said M. Bertillon .... is now in operation throughout the whole of France. It was found that many old offenders escaped detection. The classification of criminals under their names was not satisfactory. It is in their interest to keep their antecedents hidden and to give false names. The Paris police had amassed in ten years 100,000 photographs, but it was impossible to search this collection every time an arrest was made. Now, the search can be made in a few minutes. We now classify our photographs and cards giving the antecedents of prisoners, under measurements based on a system of anthropometrical descriptions. This system is simple and certain. Identification does not depend on the uncertainty of a name or the doubtfulness of a photograph. We take no notice of names, and photographs might be dispensed with. Criminals are classified under measurements of certain bony parts of the human frame. We have here 60,000 photographs and cards with the record of adult male prisoners who have passed through the hands of the police. We begin our classification with the measurement of the length of the head. We found by experience that it was better to begin with the head than the stature. The size of the skull cannot be changed, but prisoners refuse to stand up straight when their height is being taken. The exact height could not be obtained except to within three centimeters, while the length of the head can be measured to a millimeter. We divide the length of the head into three classes—short, medium, and long—which reduces our collection to 20,000. Then we take the width of the head, and making three subdivisions—of narrow, medium, and wide—we have 6000 left. Next, we take the length of the middle finger, and again making the three classes, as we do with all our measurements, we have 2000 left. We continue on the same system with the measurement of the foot, the forearm, the height, etc., until we reduce our collection of 60,000 photographs to 6. But you will see the system in operation.
"Call in that man who was arrested on the race-course yesterday, said M. Bertillon to an assistant. The charge against the man was watch-stealing, but he swore it was all a mistake.
"Have you ever been here before? Mon Dieu, no.
"Never been measured here? Certainly not.
"Where did you come from? Geneva.
"Where did you reside last? Brussels.
"A peculiarity of the international thief, remarked M. Bertfllon. The prisoner submitted calmly to be measured. He was placed on a Stoo! and the length of his head taken with a special compass made for the purpose. One leg of it was placed in the hoi.ow above the bridge of the nose and the other moved round to find the greatest length behind. The compass shows the length to a millimeter. Next, the breadth of the head was taken from one parietai bone to the other. Another instrument was used for taking the length of the middle finger. These three are the surest measurements, said M. Bertiiicn, and give the best results. The measurement of the left loot was next taken. The prisoner was barefooted, and was made to stand on the left foot when its measurement was being taken. The process continued with the length of the ear, of the forearm, length of the arms extended, the height, and the color of the eyes. The color of the eye is registered according to the intensity of the pigmentation of the iris, but it requires some experience to record this description accurately. It is used most in classification of young persons who have not reached maturity. After the man was measured, a search of five minutes showed that he was an old thief who had been expelled from France and was now liable to a very heavy punishment."
It will be observed that the primary object of the measures taken is for the purpose of classification—small, wudium, and large, or their equivalents, being the divisions used throughout a classification or file—and their principal benefit is in eliminating from a collection of descriptions all except what are in the division of the description sought for; the minute description of features, color of eyes and hair, permanent marks and scars, and photographs, being relied upon to establish the identity of the subject in hand, after the number of descriptions to be considered has been reduced to a minimum by the previous eliminations.
The sketches show the instruments used, also the manner of taking the measurements and recording them. For the purpose of uniformity the metric system is used, and for the same reason the small book of simple instructions should be followed strictly.
The following measurements of Mr. Geo. M. Portius, of the American Bertillon Prison Bureau, Chicago, 111., taken at different times and places, give an idea of the extreme accuracy of the system: