Prior to the adoption of fingerprinting, a system of measurements, or, anthropometry, was widely used in law enforcement. Developed by French criminologist Alphonse Bertillon, the system, known as Bertillonage, used photographs and detailed body measurements to identify and classify individuals. Police departments in the U.S. and Europe implemented Bertillon’s system during the last two decades of the 19th century. But the system had its flaws. Measurements were often inconsistent due to imprecise instruments, the person taking the measurements, or a change in the suspect’s body due to age or injury. Although Bertillon incorporated fingerprints into his system, by 1920 the preciseness of fingerprinting had displaced Bertillon’s anthropometric measurement system.
Automating the Fingerprint System
In 1924, the FBI created its Identification Division to be a centralized repository of fingerprint data. The initial database of 810,000 records grew to over 75 million criminal and military records during the next four decades. In the early 1970s, the FBI automated its storage and matching processes. Today, the Automated Fingerprint Identification System contains 120 million fingerprint records. The FBI performs over 10,000 latent print searches per month for law enforcement agencies throughout the country.