Police sketch artists help solve crimes, with the help of good witnesses

Orange County Sheriff's Office sketch artist tells how you can be a better witness

Author: Paul Giorgio, Special Projects Producer, pgiorgio@wkmg.com
Published On: May 21 2013 11:31:24 PM EDT   Updated On: May 22 2013 06:23:18 AM EDT

When crime happens in Central Florida, one of the first questions police have is, "who did it?" Many times that answer comes from a witness to the event or the victims themselves. 

Detective Steve Fusco with the Orange County Sheriff's Office has made a career of turning the memories of those witnesses into life like sketches used to identify and catch suspects on the run.

Fusco's process takes the identifying features of a suspects face, one-by-one assembling them like a puzzle to create the images that will eventually make their way onto wanted posters or the evening news.  

The talented artist first sketches these features on paper before eventually finishing the process by adding details with his computer.

"Everybody has eyes, a nose and a mouth," he says, "but there are certain things that stand out about those features."

Fusco's work has helped in cases throughout the state and country. 

Robbery Detective Jason Sams with the Orange County Sheriff’s Office knows all to well the importance of composite sketches. 

“Without a good description it’s nearly impossible to do my job,” Sams says. 

When a violent robbery happened at a Metro PCS on University Boulevard, the surveillance video from the store was useless. A composite was created based on the victim’s description. Within minutes a call came in from someone who recognized the person. 

“It looked like the sketch artist nearly drew his drivers license photo,” Sams says as he compares the rendering to a photo of the person who eventually confessed to the crime.

Fusco says the biggest challenge for a witness to overcome is the feeling that their description will identify the wrong person.

“Witnesses, they come in here, they are traumatized," Fusco said. "They are apprehensive about this whole process of doing a composite because they don’t want to get the wrong person arrested.” 

On the contrary, composites are used to eliminate everyone who doesn’t fit the description. 

“This is an investigative tool. It helps us eliminate people. It focuses the investigation to an individual and there has to be evidence to support that," he said. "Nobody makes an arrest on a composite alone.”

Whether you are a victim or a bystander there are some tips you can follow to be a better witness.

Your detail perception and degree of recall can be improved with practice. Try making a game of noting license plate numbers while driving. After passing someone on the street, wait a moment and then list everything you can remember about them.  

The biggest boost to your recall memory may be the simplest to achieve and that’s  simply paying attention to your surroundings. People are spending more time looking down at their phone and tuning out the world around them. Not paying attention can also make you more likely to be a victim of crime yourself.