Computer-generated sketches help police solve crimes

Murder suspect Markeith Loyd caught after digitally altered sketch released

The morning of Jan. 17, Orlando police distributed a digitally-altered sketch of murder suspect Markeith Loyd showing what he would look like with a shaved head.

Hours later, Loyd was in police custody, captured after climbing out of an abandoned home.

The Orlando Police Department is one of at least seven law enforcement agencies in Central Florida using computers to alter or generate sketches.

FaceLogics, a Jacksonville-based company founded by part-time St. John's County Sheriff's deputy Vinnie Russo, creates sketches over the phone for the Cocoa Beach Police Department, Daytona Beach Police Department, Gainesville Police Department, Polk County Sheriff's Office, Sumter County Sheriff's Office and Titusville Police Department.

Detectives can contact a Facelogics sketch artist 24 hours a day, even at the scene of the crime, and put the victim on the phone to describe the suspect.

"Historically we have to get a hold of a police sketch artist, that could be days later," Titusville Police Chief John Lau said. "We're able to do it while we're on scene right then and there when it's fresh in their memory." 

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Lau said some smaller agencies cannot afford to staff a full-time sketch artist. Titusville police recently arrested a suspected armed robber solely because a patrol officer recognized the suspect from the computer-generated sketch.

"It was an armed robbery and the victim was able to get on the phone and speak to one of the FaceLogics reps and that sketch was emailed to detectives in 45 minutes," Lau said. "And it was done literally an hour or two after the crime so it was very fresh in the victim's mind. That sketch went to detectives, that then was emailed to all of our sworn officers in the surrounding area."

To demonstrate the process, Russo, also a part-time police sketch artist, drew a sketch of News 6 anchor Erik von Ancken, as described to him over the phone by News 6 Executive Producer Tara Evans.

Russo started by asking Evan a series of specific questions about von Ancken that he calls "memory triggers," such as the age that von Ancken appears (not his actual age), his height and weight (for neck and jaw line), his skin complexion, hair and eye color.

Russo said typically a victim only encounters a suspect for a short period of time so it's important that the victim recall an image of the suspect in the victim's head. Evans then went through every detail of von Ancken's face - eyebrows, lips, ears, nose, eyes - all choosing from dozens of different types, sizes, positions, even distance apart (such as eyes and eyebrows).

Once Evans and Russo were satisfied, Russo used Photoshop to tweak the sketch, adding color and texture, and emailed the sketch to News 6 (you can see the result in the video clip embedded into this story). The entire process took a little more than an hour.

At first, Evans didn't think the sketch was a match but agreed that it would be good enough to provide witnesses with a good idea of what von Ancken looks like. Russo said his FaceLogics composite sketches have helped solve hundreds of crimes across Florida.

FaceLogics currently partners with 72 law enforcement agencies, most of them in Florida. FaceLogics also creates photo line-ups for police departments using a database of stock mugshots.

Russo said within minutes, FaceLogics can compile a group of similar-looking individuals and even add details like tattoos so the line-ups are consistent. 

Russo said the more consistent photo line-ups are, the better they hold up in court. Also, using mugshots to generate photo line-ups saves agencies time.

Agencies can buy year-long packages from FaceLogics and the creation of a single composite sketch costs around $100.


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