How Police Sketches Work

How Police Sketches Work: Author’s Note

Cristen Conger, Staff Writer
Cristen Conger, Staff Writer
hsw 2009

Though they're quite common, police sketches are one of the most controversial criminology techniques, since they rarely result in a spitting-image representation of a criminal suspect. For that reason, I wanted to get to the bottom of whether police sketches serve any useful law enforcement purpose and whether advanced technology holds any promise for fine-tuning the portraiture process. The U.S. Department of Justice is funding preliminary research into DNA phenotyping, which could potentially offer clues to criminals' appearances based on DNA samples of hair or blood collected from crime scenes. But in the meantime, forensic artists must rely on a combination of strategic interview tactics and portraiture skills to cobble together suspects' physical features. For all of the high-tech forensics techniques showcased today in crime dramas on TV, tracking down a criminal's face remains a surprisingly primitive practice at most law enforcement outposts.


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