Software vs. The Artistic Touch
Law enforcement investigators often rely on some means of preparing a “likeness” of a suspect. The two most popular methods are using the services of a sketch artist or employing one of several different computer programs available on the market today.
Long before the digital age began, the freehand sketching was king. And many highly skilled sketch artists evolved over time, but in the late 1960’s a new method of facial identification came on the scene.
A Brief History of Photo*Fit
A psychologist/amateur photographer calling himself Jacques Penry developed a kit consisting of actual black and white photos that had been cut into individual pieces such as hairlines, eyes, noses, mouths and chins. Penry (his real name was Bill Ryan) convinced the British Home Office of the value of such a kit, since it could be produced rather inexpensively, and many British police departments didn’t have a sketch artist readily available.
The Home Office agreed and gave Penry access to criminal “mugshots” collected from files of Scotland Yard. By the early 1970s, Photo*Fit was a popular police tool throughout the British Isles.
At the time of Penry’s development of Photo-Fit, the only other method of composite construction other than hand-drawn sketches was Smith & Wesson’s Identi-Kit. The development of a “Computerized” Version. Several years later, Penry now approaching the age of 80, decided to sell Photo*Fit to an American company, Sirchie Finger Print Laboratories. Sirchie bought full manufacturing rights and in the mid-1980s, began working on a software version, which they called ComPHOTOfit.
Also during the mid-1980s the Electronic Facial Identification Technique (E-FIT) was developed in Great Britain. Like comPHOTOfit, ir began as a black and white computer program, but eventually evolved into a color version.
The original Sirchie version was in black and white but ComPHOTOfit II + Color switched over to all color components. The company recently released ComPHOTOfit III.[db1]
Any method of gaining an accurate description of a suspect from victims and witnesses has its challenges. In recent years a collection of psychologists and FBI agents developed a method that actually helps to produce better recall. This technique, cognitive interviewing, works like this: The witness/victim is asked to recall the events several hours prior to the crime. The witness is then led hour by hour up to the moment of confrontation.
The witness has two visual aids when selecting facial components:
1. A printed manual containing photos of every component in the software and,
2. Is also given the opportunity to see these components on the computer’s monitor.
The software package includes a comprehensive, printed User’s Manual that provides step-by-step instructions for the investigator. The method taught by Sirchie’s technical support group suggests that the first step in building a composite is to get the basic facial outline, namely the forehead (hair) and the chin.
From this point on, and based on the information given by the witness, the investigator begins placing the eyes, nose and mouth. Accessories such as a hat, eyeglasses mustaches and beards may be added as needed.
The software includes a complete set of retouching tools that permit eliminating the “puzzle lines” between the various components and each component can be adjusted for symmetry of skin colors of each component. Scars, moles and other facial characteristics can be added using the retouch tools.
The finished composite may then be used to create a “Wanted Poster.”
Over the intervening years, supplements and updates to the software include male and female Caucasian, black, Latin-American, oriental and middle-eastern (Arabic) features.
Besides being a front line tool in the war against crime, ComPHOTOfit is now in the computer labs of many major colleges and universities that offer criminal justice programs.