Richard Ramirez. Timothy McVeigh. Theodore Kaczynski. Before the public knew the names of these criminals, they knew their faces.
Composite drawings of the “Night Stalker,” the Oklahoma City terrorist and the Unabomber were distributed nationwide at the time of their crimes, and played an important role in their eventual arrests.
In Scottsdale, the practice of sketching suspected criminals remains a critical part of investigating a case.
“It’s used quite extensively when we have a suspect in mind,” said detective Sam Bailey, police spokesman. “If we don’t know who it is, we hope the sketch will be of some help to us.”
The Scottsdale Police Department employs two sketch artists to help them with identifying suspected criminals. The artists typically see just a handful of cases every month, but that soon could change.
A new office devoted entirely to forensic art opened this week at the Family Advocacy Center, 10225 E. Via Linda. There, in a facility already set up for victims of crime, the artists will be able to interview witnesses and victims in a peaceful environment instead of a bustling police station.
The new location also will allow the artists to conduct interviews sooner after a crime occurs, as many victims and witnesses already go to the center for police interviews.
Timing is essential to a quality composite drawing, said Jim Schubert, who works for Scottsdale Police Crisis Intervention Services and has been a sketch artist for six years.
“The quicker you do the drawing to the event, the better,” he said. “After 72 hours, you start to lose the picture in your head.”
The office also will be used for training new detectives in forensic art.
Schubert said a few Scottsdale detectives have showed interest in learning how to do composite drawings, and two already have started learning under the sketch artist’s expertise.
Interest in the field has been growing dramatically, said Karen Taylor, who worked for 18 years as a forensic artist at the Texas Department of Public Safety.
Taylor said the general public has shown a greater interest in forensic science lately, thanks to popular TV shows. “It’s called ‘The CSI Effect,’ “ she said.
Taylor, a resident of Austin, Texas, is in her 20th year of teaching two weeks of forensic art classes at the Scottsdale Artists’ School. Classes start Monday, and Taylor will give a public lecture, “When Art Meets Crime,” on Tuesday night.
Each year, there is a waiting list to get into the classes, said Kathy Duley, Scottsdale Artists’ School marketing director. The school is one of the only places in the country that offers expertise in forensic art, aside from the FBI academy in Quantico, Va.
Taylor said the students come from a variety of fields, not just law enforcement: TV and film special effects artists, anthropologists, dentists, art teachers and even a doll maker.
Schubert was one of Taylor’s students when he first began. As he nears retirement, he will try to pass on some of the skills he has learned, he said.
“It’s a very, very nonconcrete business,” he said. “You are given the privilege of dipping your feet into the stream of somebody else’s life. You might see them one or two times, and you have no idea of the impact you’ve had.”