Laxity Of The London Police

In the days before fingerprinting became an established method for identifying perpetrators of crimes, anthropometry was the scientific system used by police to identify criminals.

Prior to that, criminals could only be identified by name or photograph.

A man on a ladder looking at files of fingerprints.
The Finger Print Bureau At Scotland Yard, 1912.


On Thursday, 23rd August 1900, the St James’s Gazette carried the following interview with a leading proponent of the system, Dr Garson, who was not impressed by the fact that the London Metropolitan Police were not as enthused by the system as some of their provincial counterparts:-

“A representative of the St. James’s Gazette yesterday saw Dr. Garson, whose anthropometric system in regard to criminals has now been adopted for some few years by the Government.

Questioned as to what success the system was meeting with, Dr. Garson stated that his elaboration of the system at present adopted in England was an absolutely reliable one, and if the measurements were adequately carried out, there would be nothing to say against its success.


Unfortunately, the London police almost absolutely taboo the system, while it is only the provincial police who carry it on properly. The consequence of this is that many criminals are lost sight of.

The provincial police may or may not get hold of a London criminal, but they rarely know definitely whether he is from London or not.

They take the measurements of those criminals within their ken, and they, of course, know them again, but owing to the almost complete tabooing of the system by the London police, the same men may have done a good deal of crime in London without the provincial police being aware of the fact.


“Why should the London police not take the matter up as thoroughly as provincial police?”

“I do not know; although when the system is once used it is always resorted to.

The London police have practically never tried it, but the provincial police, who have fresher ideas and are not too stereotyped, took it up with a certain enthusiasm, and, as I assert, when once it is taken properly, the system is so unique and simple withal, that it appeals to any police official who wants to save himself an infinity of trouble.”


“But is it not compulsory on the London police to take the matter up?”

“It is, and it is not.

I hold that it is at least morally compulsory on them to take the matter up.

The London police, however, have wide discretionary powers, and the system, when begun, was merely a recommendation to them.”


“Can you explain briefly the methods used in your system to check errors of measurement?”

“Yes, it is very simple.

There are two officials; one measures the criminal, while the other puts the measurements down on paper.

Then the two officials change places, and the one who puts down the measurements in the first place measures the same criminal, while his colleague puts it down on paper.

If the measurements of both are the same it is all right. If they differ they go into the matter again together, and remedy it.


This system goes on throughout the provincial towns, and I visit all in their turn.

When I am in a certain town, without the police officials knowing whom I am going to select, I myself measure afresh a criminal here and there.

In the great majority of cases, I find the two officials who previously measured the man are correct. If not they are immediately suspended from the work and the case inquired into.”


“Do you find any glaring discrepancies?”

“Oh, no, the great thing that has to be guarded against, and a thing I am constantly looking after and advising upon, is alternate slackness and tightness in measuring.

If a criminal has been measured too slack on his first crime, and too tight on his second, a size is often lost, and with it the identity.

So you see, with the two officials at first checking each other, and my own chance checking, the system is kept right – at least, so far as the provinces go.”