It is rare for law enforcement units to have forensic sketch artists on staff. In fact, New York City has only three full-time forensic artists and the Los Angeles Police Department has two. Out of the entire FBI, only 11 agents are known as “visual information specialists.” Even in large cities like San Diego and crime ridden Washington D.C., no full-time forensic sketch artists are employed.
In many precincts, software programs are used to help police officers “sketch” victim-led descriptions of perpetrators. Unfortunately, at this time, such software lacks the capability to produce accurate imaging. They only make pre-loaded facial features available for an officer to piece together an image based on a victim’s direction. For instance, by clicking on a predetermined eye color and shape, it is added to a larger composite.
The Advent of Digital Forensic Art
Even though we live in the age of digital art, forensic software leaves something to be desired. Still, forensic artists are underemployed. Throughout the United States there are less than 100 full-time police designated sketch artists. The high costs of training and annual salaries seem to be the reason why this art form is becoming increasingly rare.
However, the artists who sketch robbers and vandals aren’t convinced that software will be an adequate replacement. Carrie Stuart Parks is a forensic sketch artist from Idaho. She claims that “[People have] been calling this a dying art for years… It may be changing, but with what we do, you don’t need to worry about technology and having computers and programs that go outdated within a year.”
Still, the bigger problem is lack of accuracy in software programs. When a new born baby was taken from a hospital in Texas, a digital composite of the thief was put on display in public. The only problem was that the woman, who was clearly black in the surveillance video, appeared white in the image. Fans of software programs like SketchCop tout how surveillance cameras should be enough, but surveillance cameras are notorious for capturing the big picture and leaving out critical details.
The battle between forensic software and forensic sketch artists might wage for years to come but forensic art will always play an important role in crime and rescue. As for the art behind the lifesaving technique, it might become obsolete. At the very least it will remain possibly the rarest art form.
Read more Segmation blog posts about sketch artists:
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