Psychology of the Sketch Interview

Understanding how each technique deals with the mind

In my last blog I introduced to you to the pillars of forensic art: The application of Art; the Psychology of the interview eyewitness; and the exercise of Collaboration with Law Enforcement.  I gave you a brief background about my perspective so that you could see how I developed my technique called Compositure™.   As I detailed the aspects of the methodologies and the fundamental differences between each technique it occurred to me that even though the reference images are a unique variable with all of them––they all stand firmly on these pillars.  For instance each technique: Standard Methodology ; Advanced Methodology ; and Compositure™ Methodology, requires a skilled artist to create the sketch; all of the techniques require that the interview be mindful of the eyewitness and build some rapport; and all three techniques require the forensic artist to work with law enforcement to publish the sketch to generate leads.

Each of the methodologies acknowledge the fact that a crime occurred and that the eyewitness may have been affected psychologically, emotionally, or even physically. Each methodology takes steps to build rapport before the actual interview and they all understand the need to create a calm and safe environment. 

The Standard Methodology relies on coaching and reference images

In the Standard Methodology the forensic artist builds on this rapport by collaborating with the eyewitness to select reference images from the FBI Facial Identification Catalog. This “coaching” technique helps to strengthen the bond between forensic artist and eyewitness.  This “coaching” may also give a false sense of reliability to the eyewitness about the selection process. By offering the catalog as a model for building the suspect archetype, the eyewitness gains confidence in believing that the feature types of the suspect are present in the catalog.  In my opinion, this is dangerous and is a cause for concern. I call this exercise: comparative recollection. The eyewitness is being asked to compare their recollection of the suspect’s face to a series of facial features. Each time the eyewitness is comparing these features to their memory of the suspect the reliability of sketch is jeopardized. Just as the cognitive interview technique changed the philosophy in how investigators interview eyewitness by eliminating the use of leading questions, I believe the use of reference images may also be “leading” the eyewitness to create a sketch that is less than reliable.

Advanced Methodology relies on the dynamic process to generate the sketch

In the Advanced Methodology, the forensic artist makes an effort to build rapport and also to offer recollection techniques to help the eyewitness. For instance, at the beginning of the interview, the eyewitness is asked to look down or away so as to not be focused on a visual object. This technique helps to bring about focus to the task at hand. Many of the eyewitness’s close their eyes during this period of the interview. As the eyewitness describes the face of the suspect the artist is drawing and listening intently. This “dynamic process” is vital to the success of the interview. You need to be an exceptional listener when utilizing this technique. Using your active listening skills is paramount in gathering important information. In this methodology, you are mindful of the contamination of the memory and so you introduce the mug book to the eyewitness after you have a tough sketch face of the suspect. The difference in these reference images is that they are displayed holistically. By showing the reference images at this stage of the sketch interview you take the steps to build confidence in the eyewitness about their recollection of the suspect’s face and you rely on their recognition skills to discriminate between the reference images. This rough sketch will only be refined from this stage after the forensic artist analyzes the reference images selected by the eyewitness. Only after the refinements have been made will the
eyewitness view the sketch and be able to offer any changes. The forensic artist now has the ability to confidently make changes to the sketch without varying outside of the essence of the original sketch. For instance, if the eyewitness was having trouble describing the hair style of the suspect and now finds a reference image with a similar hair style, the forensic artist can make the changes with great confidence. The forensic artist is refining the drawn sketch to confirm the recognition of the hair style located by the eyewitness. The sketch becomes more reliable in that the distinctive feature has been reaffirmed from the initial interview and by the comparative recognition phase of the interview. The eyewitness is recognizing the feature types that are similar to their memory after bringing about the memory of the suspect through the sketch interview. The memory contamination is reduced, to a lesser degree, in that the forensic artist now has an idea about the face of the suspect (from the rough sketch). This
methodology relies on the forensic artist to differentiate between: refining the sketch with reference images that are similar to the rough sketch, or discounting the reference image as unreliable when deviating greatly to the rough sketch. (Part 2, and Compositure® to follow)