Being a police composite sketch artist

Tuesday, March 11th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

The News on 6 frequently shows you composite sketches in order to help police zero-in on crime suspects.

News on 6 crime reporter Lori Fullbright meets the man behind those sketches and talked to him about how the process works.

During our interview, I asked OSBI sketch artist, Harvey Pratt to sketch a person I would describe. So, just like he would with any witness or victim, he spent the first 15 minutes or so, asking questions. Harvey Pratt: "Did you see lenses? Lori: "No." Harvey: "Eyes?" Lori: "Dark."

Harvey has always drawn and painted. He started his career as a police officer. Then 30 years ago, a fellow officer asked if Harvey could sketch a suspect. He did, the man was caught and a new career was born. "When I do aging on missing children and we find them, that's good. When we find a rapist or murderer, that's good. I have a lot of job satisfaction." Harvey prefers using a facial feature guide to the new computer programs. He says most people, especially those who've been traumatized, don't believe they can accurately describe someone, but in the end, they always come up with something useable.

“It’s in here, in your mind, I just have to bring it out. So, once we do the drawing and I explain it's not a portrait, it's close, I show you the sketch and you tell me what's wrong with it." Sure enough, despite my unsure answers and second-guessing, Harvey produces a sketch. And, I can see where changes are needed. Harvey: "Are we in the ballpark?" Lori: "I think so."

The sketch Harvey did for us was Channel 6 News Director Ron Harig. It's not supposed to be an exact likeness, but a close enough likeness that if police were showing it at a workplace or in a neighborhood, it would narrow in on the target.

And, that's often the first step toward solving an otherwise who-done-it case. The process generally takes about an hour.

Harvey told Lori the hardest part comes about when people are lying to throw police off the trail. Like Susan Smith, who drove her children into a South Carolina lake and drowned them, but helped create a sketch of a suspect before detectives realized she had committed the crime.