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Suspect identification: See like an artist

Can sketching faces improve your observational skills? Trainer John Demand Jr. thinks so. In his courses on Rapid Recognition, which aim at strengthening officers’ visual perception, he points out that “the average person, including cops, doesn’t recognize faces very well, while caricaturists and portrait artists tend to be quite good at it.”

He has tested hundreds of officers by showing them, one at a time, “target” photographs of various individuals and then having them try to quickly identify those same subjects when they are disguised or mingled with persons who have similar facial features.

“Initially,” he says, “officers usually score quite low, making accurate matches only 20 to 50 per cent of the time. In contrast, artists I’ve tested tend to score 70, 80, even 100 per cent from the start.”

After the pre-test, Demand has his police trainees practice drawing faces from photographs, paying close attention to the configuration of features, unusual characteristics, and other details. They’re encouraged to note the general shape of the head first and then to study the face in three levels from pate to neck and to sketch accordingly.

“This exercise gets them to start seeing a face differently, distinguishing and remembering the various elements the way an artist would,” he explains.

Polished drawing skill, he points out, is not important. It’s studying and attempting to draw accurately that imprint distinctive characteristics of the face in memory.

On retesting, officers “average at least 30 percent better, with some showing 70 to 80 per cent improvement,” he says. “If they continue practicing, their accuracy only increases. If you’re thinking, ‘How would I draw that face,’ you pick up on things you might not notice otherwise.”

Facial recognition can play an important role in policing, from recognizing wanted lawbreakers you may see on the street to identifying missing or abducted children you might encounter on a traffic stop.

“People of interest are often seen by officers who don’t recognize them, even though they’ve been shown photos of them at roll call,” says Demand, himself a former cop who now conducts training independently through his organization Observation on Demand.

“Making a hobby of sketching faces is a motor activity that puts your brain in a different mode. It forces you to look at details that can’t be disguised and sharpens your observational skills significantly.

“An easy place to start is by drawing celebrities from photos you see in magazines,” he says.

For training information and to contact Demand, email: jdemandjr@aol.com

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