Drawing police sketches of suspects is an art

  • Article by: AMANDA VOSS
  • Associated Press
  • February 3, 2014 - 12:05 AM

WEST BEND, Wis. — For more than 100 years, law enforcement agencies have asked forensic police artists to create sketches of suspects to find them or get information about the case that could lead to an arrest, but with advancements in technology it's a tool that isn't used as often.

When Tim Ewing was 9 years old, his goal in life was to draw Superman comics. While he didn't become a comic book artist, Ewing used his talent to become the forensic police artist for the Washington County Sheriff's Department.

Ewing is retired, but for nearly 16 of his 27 years at the Washington County Sheriff's Department, he created sketches of suspects that lead to arrests.

"I was a patrolman. I started doing humorous caricatures of the people I worked with," Ewing told the Daily News. "Finally, a supervisor came up to me and said 'Would you mind going to a forensic police artist inservice?'" Ewing took a forensic police artist course at Waukesha County Technical College and attended an advanced course to become a forensic police artist.

Sitting in the kitchen of his West Bend home in front of a brief case filled his sketches, Ewing explained how he completed drawings.

When Ewing was asked to create a sketch, he would meet the witness or victim in the first 24 hours. Memory starts to fade after 24 to 48 hours, he said.

"There are basically six facial types. Wide, square, oval, et cetera, and what I would do is lay them out and they would pick one, and then I would simply put this under a sheet of paper and I would just trace out the outline of the face. It facilitates the drawing and makes the size uniform," Ewing said.

Then he would use the FBI Facial Identification Catalog, which is a series of mug shots, including Al Capone's mug, as Ewing pointed out, to have the witness or victim pick out the features that most resembled the suspect's.

"I always liked to start with the eyes. There are nine different types of eyes from squinty eyes, deep set eyes, to raised iris or heavy or overhanging lids. I would have them look at all these eyes and pick the nearest one to what they recall, and I would draw them freehand and I would do that in pencil. After the eyes we would go to the nose," Ewing said.

The process can be intimidating for the victim or witness, so to put them at ease, Ewing would tell them facts about facial features to get them interested in the development and completion of the drawing.

"If you would take a tape measure and measure from the top of your forehead to your chin, your eyes are exactly in the middle of your face. The width of your eye determines how far apart your eyes are," Ewing said.

Once he had a completed sketch, he put a case number on it and outlined the nature of the complaint. It took about three hours to complete a sketch.

Ewing doesn t recall how many of his sketches led to an arrest, but one sketch that did was a drawing of Douglas Davidson in the early 1990s.

Lt. Martin Schulteis of the Washington County Sheriff s Department said Davidson was a suspect in several thefts from businesses in Washington County.

Schulteis was the deputy who located Davidson's car and recalled seeing Ewing's sketch. Based on the sketch, he was able to make an arrest and with that arrest, the sheriff's department cleared several open cases.

Ewing is the only forensic police artist the Washington County Sheriff's Department has had. The last time the department used a forensic police artist was to find a suspect who allegedly attacked a woman in the Richfield Historical Park in July.

Hanna Mueller, corrections officer for the Dodge County Sheriff's Department, created the sketch for the Washington County Sheriff's Department.

Sheriff Dale Schmidt said Mueller's sketch was very accurate and confirmed the identity of the suspect, 19-year-old Daniel Bartelt of Hubertus, which led to Bartelt being charged with attempted first-degree homicide, along with other charges, for the incident.

For the sheriff's department to involve a forensic police artist, Schmidt said it depends on the seriousness of the crime and the ability of the witness to describe the suspect.

"Sketches can be very useful and sometimes nobody recognizes them," Schmidt said.

Ewing sees police sketches as a dying art with surveillance video. Schmidt agreed.

"Internally, we do see some drawings from time to time," Schmidt said, but if the sheriff's department has a video of the suspect, he said, it's as good as any sketch.

As Mueller continues her training and education as a forensic police artist, she connects with many forensic police artists around the country and around the world. She said people would be amazed how many forensic police artists there are.

"It s pretty strong. Agencies don't realize we're here for them. They don't realize they have access to us," Mueller said.

An AP Member Exchange Feature shared by Daily News

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