Eugène-François Vidocq, the founder of the French Criminal Police

Eugène-François Vidocq, the founder of the French security police, was born on 4 June 1775.

Until the age of 35, Vidocq led a chaotic, adventurous life. The son of a baker from Arras, he was a circus performer, street vendor, soldier, sailor, card sharp. Several times he was behind barsfor various crimes (forgery, fraud, theft), made escapes… In 1809, having settled in Paris, he decided to change his occupation and offered the authorities his services in crime-fighting – in exchange for personal freedom and guarantees of inviolability.

The chief of the Prefecture of Police, Baron Pasquier, after a little reflection, agreed to Vidocq’s terms – and did not lose. In a short time, Vidocq cleared Paris of thieves, swindlers, fences and other ‘criminal elements,’ for which the grateful Emperor Napoleon organized a new department for him – the Sûreté nationale (national security police) and appointed the former criminal as its head. Vidocq had been the head of this department for twenty years. Often, at the risk of his life, he would sneak into the dens himself to arrest a criminal. He was a master of the art of changing his appearance – once even his own chief, the Minister of Police, Joseph Fouché, did not recognize him. A close acquaintance with the criminal world, patience, intuition and the ability to get into character, a rare visual memory and an archive that collected detailed information about Parisian criminal authorities provided Vidocq with the success of his enterprise.

In 1833, after a quarrel with the new Minister of Police, Vidocq resigned and created a private detective bureau (probably the first one in the world). He had to deal with everything from investigating murders to collecting old debts and ‘confidential information.’ Vidocq earned up to six million francs a year.

Famous in France and abroad, he was friends with the famous writers Victor Hugo, Honoré de Balzac, Alexandre Dumaspère and Eugène Sue, served as the prototype of Balzac’s Vautrin and Jean Valjean from Hugo’s novel ‘Les Miserables.’ Indirectly, Vidocq can also be considered the ancestor of the detective genre in literature: it is known that the American writer Edgar Poe began to compose the cycle of crime novels that later made him famous under the impression of the ‘Memoirs’ of the Sûreté ex-chief that he read.

Based on Wikipedia

President of the Union of Criminalists and Criminologists

Igor M. Matskevich

Translated by Elizaveta O. Ovchinnikova 

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