Serendipitous Sketch ID, part 2.


In my last blog I talked about using a sketch to identifying a suspect. We can see, in the Artus Bandit robbery case, how a reliable sketch can be used to identify a suspect. I’d like to share more video clips with you about the symbiotic nature between the detective and the patrol officers on the street as they go about utilizing the cognitive sketch. Over the years I‘ve had people criticize the sketches they’ve seen in the media, and many of these critics have asked me to comment on the sketch. I tell them that I’m more concerned about how the artist gathered their information for the sketch than the portrait quality displayed. I feel strongly that the integrity of the interview for the cognitive sketch (CS) is crucial to the successful implementation for the investigation.  As retired detective Sgt. Overstreet says, “the sketches are the most important investigative tool for the department,” and when your lead detective understands the philosophy behind your interview technique, he/she will accept the limitations of the sketch and employ it with more confidence. This presumption is reinforced each time an identification is made and the sketch bares a remarkable resemblance to the suspect. The use of a cognitive sketch in a “whodunit” case is highly effective when applied under the best practices.

I was fortunate to work with an agency that had years of implementing sketches into the investigative process. Investigations that involved an unknown suspect were often on the verge of being solved anytime we had a reliable eyewitness. My experience in being a part of this investigative process has been priceless and it brings me great satisfaction in knowing I’m helping a victim find justice. When I mentor a sketch artist in my program I offer them and the agency some valuable insight into how to integrate the cognitive sketch into their investigative procedures. The Artus Bandit case exemplifies the value and respect the detective and patrol officer has in utilizing the sketch for identification.

There is no more important role than the lead detective on a “whodunit” case. The detective must decide early on whether their case will benefit from a cognitive sketch. The decision, to create the sketch, can be made within hours when they learn they have not identified a suspect and they have a reliable eyewitness. I have counseled many detectives on understanding the need to vet the eyewitness with the following question: if you saw the suspect again would you recognize him? Locating the best eyewitness can enhance the investigation, and making sure that your eyewitness is cooperative, rested, and able to articulate the features for the sketch interview is very important. Sgt. Overstreet says in his interview, “send your best witness.” Sometimes it may not be the victim, it may be a witness that happened to be in the area. The detective should also understand the sketch interview technique so they have a better understanding of their cognitive sketch evidence. I have always welcomed detectives to sit in on my sketch interviews to help them understand my methodology. Once the detectives observe my sketch interview they can inform future eyewitnesses about the process with greater confidence.

In my opinion, the patrol officer has always been a constant variable in whether they can locate or identify the suspect. I remember patrolling the streets, as a uniformed officer, and I never made an identification after viewing a sketch. I have always been amazed with the comments I hear from patrol officers when they speak to me about what they saw in the sketch. In the Artus Bandit case, Officer Ashe was able to make the connection even though the suspect had dark hair. Both officers, Ashe and Grogan, spoke about their perception of the suspect and how they saw similarities in the sketch. They used the sketch as a checklist together with the details about Sgt. Overstreet’s BOL to convince them they had the right guy. Their experience in making the identification in this case reinforced their belief in the use of the sketch for future investigations.

Finally, the sketch artist needs to be a skilled portrait artist and an exceptional interviewer. She needs to be cognizant of the rules of evidence and mindful of the limitations of the eyewitness’ memory. She needs to be empathetic about the crime and methodical about her inquiry. Interviewing an eyewitness about the crime can be filled with tears or laced with uncomfortable silence. Through it all the sketch artist must find a way to glean the features of the suspect from the memory of the eyewitness. Each sketch artist must create a sketch that is reliable for the investigation and withstands scrutiny in the court of law. I always offer the detective my objective analysis of the sketch interview and produce a sketch that embodies the details from the memory of the eyewitness.

When you watch the video clips keep in mind the valuable resource the reliable sketch brings to the investigation.

My apologies to Det. Sgt. Overstreet (retired) for the audio mixing on his clips. I had an annoying sound in the background of the original videos and I had to manipulate the sound to keep his important information in tact---totally my fault. Once again thank you to Ofcrs. Ashe and Grogan for taking the time to speak to me about their experiences and for Sgt. Overstreet for sharing his thoughts about utilizing a sketch on a very important case.

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