Police Sketch vs. Positive ID Evidence. How About Both?

Over the last 3-5 years, videos and DNA have greatly impacted forensic artists. In my opinion, it’s because investigators have less confidence in eyewitness identification as they become more reliant on positive ID evidence.

It also doesn’t help that many police officers are leaving the profession and in their hasted to leave, they don’t always leave behind a list of investigative resources, not to mention their ‘favorite’ forensic artist.

Let’s assume for the moment, you are tasked with investigating a crime with blurry video and DNA evidence. From the video you can’t identify details in the suspect’s facial appearance and there isn’t a matching DNA profile any databases.

Maybe the suspect’s never been arrested, or the DNA evidence was improperly entered into the database. With no way to identify your suspect, he’s left on the street to pursue other victims.

In July of 2002, I experienced a similar scenario, minus the blurry video. In this instance, a stranger approached two five-year old females. After a brief conversation he grabbed one of them and drove away. With no available evidence, investigators requested I interview the victim’s playmate to create a composite sketch of the suspect. Sadly, the victim’s body was found the next day. She was the victim of a brutal homicide.

Although crime scene investigators found an abundance of evidence, including DNA there was no database matches. Within 48 hours from the time the sketch was released to the public, investigators had a name. They located and detained the suspect collecting his DNA which was a positive match to DNA collected from the crime scene and the victim’s body. Thanks to her playmate and a stellar job by everyone involved in the investigation, the suspect is in prison.

In many departments, especially the larger law enforcement agencies, evidence can take months to process and examine.

Even with available evidence, it’s been my experience that investigators will request a composite sketch anyway. They know it will be much faster if they identify a suspect using the sketch and later order a one-to-one analysis of the evidence.

Regarding eyewitness errors. A well-trained, experienced investigator knows that the sketch is only a tool. False identifications are usually the result of something that goes wrong during the identification process, such as the photo array, or in-person line-ups. Better training and working with a well-trained, experienced police sketch artist will help minimize some errors.

Investigators are encouraged to use the best resources for the crime they’re investigating. There’s no one size fits all. If you need a police sketch, keep in mind that a well-trained person can create a police sketch that’s every bit as effective as one created by a police sketch artist. Although a sketch is only one piece of the investigative puzzle, sometimes it may become the most important piece. A piece that when the time comes, you don’t want to be without. This is because in many cases, it becomes the key that unlocks the door that leads to other evidence.

Our goal at the SketchCop® Online Academy is to create products and training that address your facial identification needs. Keep an eye out over the next couple of months as we make some critical announcements will greatly increase our reach and training opportunities.

In the meantime, sign up for some courses, become a member of the SketchCop® family and keep on sketching!