“Crimes, enquêtes et police scientifique” Evening exhibition at the Musée de la Préfecture de Police on the occasion of the Long Night of Museums on May 13, 2023 – Camélia Derahmoune

Official poster of the Long Night of Museums of May 13, 2023.

On the occasion of the Long Night of Museums, the Musée de la Préfecture de Police was open on May 13, 2023, from 3:30 pm to 11 pm and offered many activities and exhibitions on the theme of technical and scientific police. Starting at 8 pm, the exhibition “Crimes, enquêtes et police scientifique” allowed to discover an exhibition on the history of technical and scientific police and to meet the journalist Patricia Tourancheau, the historians Amos Frappa, Pierre Piazza and Marc Renneville, the former crime scene technician Gilles Reix and the filmmaker Hervé Colombani. During this evening, visitors could talk with these specialists in the history of criminology and criminal cases and buy their autographed books.


A caliper from the 19th century presented at the exhibition.

This exhibition shed light onto the work of the French archivist and inspector Alphonse Bertillon, who in the 19th century developed an anthropometric identification technique. He invented the anthropometric face-profile photograph, the precise photographic grid of crime scenes and the archiving of files that list recidivist criminals. His identification system, called “bertillonage” was quickly adopted throughout Europe and then in the United States. It was used in France until 1970 [1]. Tools, registers, and photographs dating from the end of the 19th century are exhibited, such as this caliper which Alphonse Bertillon used to precisely measure the diameter of the heads of defendants. Indeed, the bones of adults do not change in size and listing these unique elements that correspond to each person allowed the identification of recidivists. This was the beginning of forensic science and the reporting of dangerous individuals[2]. Moreover, at that time, the identity papers did not exist, and the vocabulary was not completely standardized on the whole French territory. The identification of recidivist criminals allowed the French authorities to reassess reporting and to use fingerprinting, photography, and anthropometry. Therefore, a few years later, in 1921, the French identity card was established[3].


Tableau synoptique des traits physionomiques presented at the exhibition, Alphonse Bertillon (1909).


Letter from the Illinois State Police which was addressed to the Prefect of Police in Paris exposed at the exhibition (1898).

Bertillonage” is a method of identification that has also inspired other countries to create files that keep track of recidivists, allowing authorities and police in these countries to communicate with each other. Indeed, criminals sometimes flee to other countries to escape the police and disappear. For example, this letter from the Illinois State Police in 1898 was addressed to the Prefect of Police in Paris and is an example of international police cooperation in identifying criminals. In 1923, the International Criminal Police Organization was created, the forerunner of Interpol, the international police organization that allows authorities from all countries to work together. In 1893, Alphonse Bertillon directed the judicial identity service in Paris and trained police officers in his methods of identifying and recording the population.

Throughout the 20th century, Alphonse Bertillon’s identification methods influenced the work of the technical and scientific police. Later, his methods were abandoned in favor of scientific progress. Indeed, in 1987, fingerprints were recorded in the Fichier automatisé des empreintes digitales (FAED), and police work was facilitated by the digitization of files that record the identification elements of recidivists. Then, the technique of identifying criminals by DNA has revolutionized the technical and scientific police. In 1998, the Fichier national automatisé des empreintes génétiques (FNAEG) was created following the arrest of serial killer Guy Georges who was foiled by his DNA[4]. The FNAEG has allowed the resolution of many cold cases such as the case of Angélique Dumetz who was killed in 1996 and whose murderer was arrested 15 years later, in 2011[5].

The exhibition ends with a presentation on the work of the French technical and scientific police nowadays. Since 2016, the technical and scientific police is still working to find even more precise and reliable methods to identify and arrest criminals. Although DNA is an almost infallible proof, the French police also collects odors at a crime scene because the olfactory signature of a person is unique. This method from Hungary is based on the collection of odors from bodies or objects and allows them to be preserved in sealed jars for 19 years. Dogs are also used to confirm or invalidate identification results.

Alphonse Bertillon is a pioneer of the scientific and technical police, and his work has allowed the police to develop their methods to the point of working with DNA and solving cold cases. Thanks to the identification of criminals, the families of victims can know the truth and mourn.


Camélia Derahmoune – Master 2 Etudes anglophones

[1] Le Musée de La Préfecture de Police | Préfecture de Police. https://www.prefecturedepolice.interieur.gouv.fr/musee. Accessed 15 May 2023.

[2] Alphonse Bertillon – Comment Reconnaître et Identifier Un Récidiviste ? Directed by Préfecture de Police, 2021. YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qFDkMrxRhGw.

[3] Piazza, Pierre. “Septembre 1921 : la première « carte d’identité de Français » et ses enjeux.” Genèses, vol. 54, no. 1, 2004, pp. 76–89. Cairn.info, https://doi.org/10.3917/gen.054.0076.

[4] “Aux origines du Fichier d’empreintes génétiques, Guy Georges, « le tueur de l’Est parisien ».” Le Figaro, 17 Aug. 2018, https://www.lefigaro.fr/actualite-france/2018/08/17/01016-20180817ARTFIG00008-aux-origines-du-fichier-d-empreintes-genetiques-guy-georges-le-tueur-de-l-est-parisien.php.

[5] “Assassinat d’Angélique Dumetz : le tueur au groupe sanguin B.” www.rtl.fr, 7 Feb. 2023, https://www.rtl.fr/actu/justice-faits-divers/assassinat-d-angelique-dumetz-le-tueur-au-groupe-sanguin-b-7900233423.


OpenEdition vous propose de citer ce billet de la manière suivante :
mastersfdl (13 juillet 2023). “Crimes, enquêtes et police scientifique” Evening exhibition at the Musée de la Préfecture de Police on the occasion of the Long Night of Museums on May 13, 2023 – Camélia Derahmoune. Investigatio. Consulté le 15 juillet 2024 à l’adresse https://doi.org/10.58079/ra94

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