In this episode of Security Radio Guy, Chuck Harold & guests discuss the issues surrounding fighting crime through the use of sketch artists. Our featured guest speaker, Michael W. Streed, Owner of SketchCop Solutions, is an internationally-recognized police sketch artist with over 30 years of experience assisting law enforcement with some of their most difficult cases. He describes how he connects with, and empowers, courageous victims and eyewitnesses, from all walks of life. Michael also discusses his new book, SketchCop – Drawing A Line Against Crime provides readers a glimpse at some of Michael W. Streed’s career cases and the significant role he plays in the criminal justice system.
Chuck Harold & Guests
Full text of radio show
Please forgive any typos, this podcast was transcribed by my typing pool comprised of volunteer stalkers.
Chuck Harold: Welcome. Is it welcome? Is my voice on? There we go. Welcome to a sketchy version of Security Guy Radio. That’s appropriate isn’t it?
Cherise Gutierrez: You guys look a little sketchy over there.
Chuck: We do, don’t we.
Cherise: We’re all in black!
Eve Cerda: Yes.
Chuck: Yeah, look at that! How interesting. We all go the memo. Well, my special co-host, Miss Eve Cerda.
Chuck: And, of course, CyberGirl from Houston.
Cherise: Hello everybody.
Chuck: Cherise, what’s going on in the cyber world today. What’s our update? Give me something a little happier than last week. The world’s biggest cyber heist and power plants going down. Is there anything cheerful in the cyber world? Probably not…
Cherise: You know… These cyber criminals they just keep giving me a lot to talk about. It seems like every week there’s something new and I would say ransomware is hitting the streets again with a new flavor.
Chuck: Oh, I thought that was over. That’s back now?
Cherise: No, you know, I think it just keeps morphing. This time…
Chuck: Explain to people what that is, though, not everybody knows what that is.
Cherise: Ransomware is basically a malware, a virus, that gets downloaded onto your computer either through spam fishing email or some, you know, malicious link that you may be unaware of that you click on, and what it does is that it encrypts your files and it literally hold you ransom to the cyber criminals until you pay them a ransom fee. Now, speaking of paying the ransom fee, this particular variant of ransomware called Locky targeted a Kentucky hospital. Unfortunately, the ransom was to the tune of, you know, a small amount, sixteen hundred dollars, but the time that it took the computer systems offline, for a hospital, was relatively lengthy. And it turns out that the attack lasted for five days, starting on March 18th and just ended yesterday.
Chuck: Their computers were down for five days?
Cherise: Their computers were not down for five days but most systems were down for several hours. In an ongoing, active hospital, hundreds of thousands of patients, you know.
Chuck: Well, it took them five days to write a memo about it, cause there’s a big bureaucracy, I’m sure that’s why it took them so long to pay. Did they end up paying in the end?
Cherise: There was no comment when it came to paying.
Chuck: Oh, well that seems pretty cheap, sixteen hundred bucks.
Cherise: Yeah, it does. Usually we see other, you know, amounts, a hundred thousand dollars, or depending on the data that they’re holding ransom. So, in other news, this is a little bit bigger, Verizon Enterprise customers, they’re not too happy right now. A few days ago, it was reported on March 25th, that Verizon, and actually the department in Verizon which oversees the security and data breaches for its customers, the whole department got hacked. 1,5 million users compromised.
Chuck: Oh, is that why my phone went off. I’m not kidding, by the way. No, we lost a lot of connectivity for several hours a few days ago.
Cherise: You know, if you’re considered an Enterprise customer, probably so.
Chuck: Well, we’re Security Guy Radio, of course we’re an Enterprise customer. That’s disturbing,
Cherise: There you go.
Chuck: So let me get this straight. The only people who seem to be winning all of these things are the hackers. Because a hacker can break into your system, it’s not really decrypting, but you’re being sloppy with your cyber keys right? And he’s also smart enough to encrypt your computers so you can’t encrypt them. So apparently the end user can’t do any of this stuff, right. This is very disturbing.
Cherise: You know, your information, you private information is being shopped on the black marked to the tune of a hundred thousand dollars, for the database that contains the 1,5 million users.
Chuck: That’s all? That seems pretty cheap to me. I’m only half kidding. Are things going down in price now because more people are able to hack? Is that’s what’s going on?
Cherise: You know, again, it really depends on what type of information. I suspect that if there were social security numbers involved the price would be a lot higher. They haven’t disclosed all the information. Of course, Verizon is trying to get out in front of this mess and say that the information isn’t your social security number. It’s more like your name, maybe an account number, not necessarily your personal information, so..
Chuck: Do you think they’re doing a better job handling it than Target did? PR wise?
Cherise: You know, it’s a real big PR mess for them because it’s the department that offers cyber security services to its clients, and now they’re being hacked based on their lack of counter measures.
Chuck: Smells like an inside job to me.
Cherise: You know, they haven’t really released how the breach occurred yet, but I’m sure that that information will come out to see the daylight to you soon.
Chuck: What was I saying right before the show? We should all get tin cans and wires, right?
Chuck: It’s very safe. Somebody’ll find a way to hack that as well. Anyway, what’s going on in the terrorist world? Anything?
Cherise: Oh wow, you know, it’s such a horrible, horrible unfortunate thing that happened in Brussels. You know, one of the things, latest, that’s going on, and I won’t, you know, dwell on all the facts as we are all very aware of. But most recently they released the third bomber suspect named Fayçal Cheffou, and I’m not sure, hopefully I pronounced that right.
Chuck: Wait, they released him? That’s the guy in the white jacked in the picture?
Cherise: In that grainy video they show? Yes. They released him because they said they didn’t have enough evidence and it’s the wrong person. So, you know, if you’re looking at that image, as any American is doing on their TV, it’s really hard to see and get a good image of that person. So, if I’m a bystander trying to help identify the suspect there certainly needs to be a better image of that individual, don’t you think?
Chuck: It’s funny you should say that. It’s always interesting, we happen to have people, when you mention these things, right in the studio to answer your question. Isn’t that another coincidence? It’s amazing. Security Guy was right up on it. There’s the guy in the picture right there. This is the guy Cherice said they released. So they knew enough to find him and capture him, but they didn’t know enough to keep him. Something’s not right there.
Cherise: Exactly, they’re claiming that the third bomber is still at large.
Chuck: I think we should use a sketch artist for that. Wouldn’t you think that’s a good idea, Miss Eve?
Chuck: We happen to have one right in the studio. We happen to have one sitting right next to you. Look to your right. There he is!
Michael Streed: Hi!
Chuck: There he is! Michael Streed, welcome!
Michael: Thank you. Glad to be here.
Chuck: Michael Streed is the author of Sketch Cop. Could we see that? Am I getting a good shot of that right there? That’s his new book. And this is really a fascinating subject. Just out recently and we’re going to talk about his career as a sketch artist for multiple agencies around the world actually. It’s a fascinating subject, so welcome to the show. Here’s what I remember about sketch artist from when I was a cop. We had a little box and they had little cells in them, and they were little clear cells that had, like, here’s a picture of a nose, here’s a picture of hair, and you put them all together and that became a sketch, so to speak. Like a do it yourself thing. Kind of like building a Mr. Potato Head. Right, you put all those pictures together and those pictures were kind of wacky looking, I’ve got to say, some of them came out not looking like humans. That was high technology back in the day, though, back in the 80s. But you’ve been drawing since then, right?
Michael: Yes, sir. Yes, I have been.
Chuck: So tell us a little of how you got into this work and how it works.
Michael: Well, I started out like most kids, just doodling in class and drawing. I just had a love of art and my goal was to be a Disney animator and by the time I reached High School, having to think about what I was going to do for a living, I figured I’d starve as an artist because it’s hard to make a living as an artist. And my father was a police officer and there were, literally, dozens of police officers at the house always, and so I thought, what a great career to have. Being able to help people, being outside, being the first one on the scene, just kind of action packed, adrenaline packed career. So I went into that and one night I was watching TV, watching the news, and was a composite sketch come on the news and I had that aha moment. That’s how I can combine and merge the two. And I enjoyed the car chases, the foot chases and just being a cop, and I wanted to be able to stretch myself and maybe find another way to catch crooks. And so, I trained with the LAPD sketch artists, a very famous artist named Fernando Ponce.
Chuck: Oh yeah, he was the guy.
Michael: He was there for years and he was known around the country, around the world. And we became great friends and he trained me and one thing led to another and here I am.
Chuck: Now, you are sworn to do this.
Chuck: Are all sketch artists sworn?
Michael: Not necessarily. In most police departments they start out as officers and they take it on as an auxiliary duty. You know, they have the same background I do. They enjoy art. They’ve always enjoyed drawing and they take it on as a secondary role.
Chuck: It’s funny you should say that. I submitted all my portfolios and drawings to Disney back in the day. I wanted to do the same thing. What I couldn’t get was the animation part, the movement. I could draw, but that movement was just a whole different discipline.
Michael: I used to do the bouncing ball one at Disney Land. When I’d take my family there, they’d have the animation area there and they’d have the old fashioned wheel and they’d have you draw pictures and put it in there and spin it around. I’d always do the bouncing ball where it would bounce and squish down and bounce up, and I’d always draw a crowd and my wife would say ‘You’re just being a show off.’ It’s not. I just love animating. It’s just fun. It’s a cool thing to see and be able to create and make.
Chuck: So the name of your book is ‘Drawing A Line Against Crime‘, very clever title, by the way.
Michael: Thank you.
Chuck: And that photo on there, people recognize it. It’s a pretty famous case. I remember that, Orange County. Child molester?
Michael: It was a stranger rape abduction murder of a five year old girl.
Chuck: Yeah, I remember that case. And that photo, if you look at that on the book and the actual photograph, that‘s very, very close. Talk about how you make the connection somebody describing somebody to you and getting it right on paper. That’s a very specific discipline. I mean, I could sit here and draw a picture of you, but I’m not sure if you described something to me I could do it. It’s all different talent, really.
Michael: You know, I tell people that it helps to be able to draw. Because if you can’t draw then you’re going to get noticed for something that’s not really going to be helpful. But if you can draw really well, sometimes it’s hard not to get ego invested and not be able to draw that line between what you’re doing, which is creating a piece of evidence versus a piece of art. The real key to being successful in this businesses actually being a good communicator, being able to connect quickly with people, because you only have so much time because people are busy, they have short attention span, so you have to quickly build rapport with these people. And once they trust you and they get that good feeling about you then they open up and it just kind of goes that you create this kind of synergy and I always used to tell them ‘Your eyes, my hands, and together we’ll create something useful and beautiful.’
Chuck: So drawing is secondary, really, to the skill.
Michael: Absolutely. If I were choosing a sketch artist, I would choose somebody with better communication skills and maybe a little bit less drawing skills over someone who’s a beautiful artist but just couldn’t connect with people. Because being able to communicate with people sometimes is a more natural gift than being able to be trained to draw.
Chuck: Right, makes a lot of sense. Walk us through a typical interview. Somebody comes in here and steals Jarvis’… do you have anything to steal Jarvis? Your phone, they steal your cell phone, you you’re going to describe the suspect. How would you go about approaching him? What would you ask him? How long would it take? That kind of thing.
Michael: First of all I’d make the introduction and connect with him. Shake hands, make the eye contact, introduce myself, make him comfortable so he has a good feeling about me. Because people are averse to talking to people and authorities and coming to a police station, presuming that’s where we’re at. And I would look at him and I would quickly try to assess him and try to figure out what he might be interested in based upon what he’s wearing, artifacts or jewelry, a tattoo maybe. Find some commonality that we can strike that chord and make that connection and just talk about it. Just talk about interest in sports or whatever they’re interested in. And you see the body start to relax, you see the people start to settle in.
Chuck: So people are nervous because even though they’re a victim it sounds like they feel they’re being interrogated maybe. Something like that.
Michael: Yeah. It’s like going into a doctor’s office and you know there’s something wrong with you, but you don’t know what’s wrong. And the doctor starts asking a bunch of questions, but you’re not sure why he’s asking them, what direction he’s going in. And all of a sudden you think you’re dying or something, Same thing with people. They’re in a police station. They’re sitting in front of who they presume is a police officer, a person in position of authority. And some people, they’ve never been in trouble, they’re just naturally nervous around police. Other people, they live high risk lifestyles become victims of crimes, and they just don’t like cops, period. So you have to bring them to center.
Chuck: They could have been a suspect last week.
Michael: They could have been. And I’ve had a lot of cases where that is the case. So once we establish that connection I start asking them to walk me through the crime. After they walk me through the crime I’ll ask them detailed questions about the face. Describe the face to me. Describe the nose. Describe the mouth. I’m taking mental notes while they’re doing that. Once we conclude with that part, I’ll show them a book of facial features. Then they’ll pick out…
Chuck: That’s interesting. I didn’t know that.
Michael: What happens is, in memory you’ve got two parts, the recall part and the recognition. The recall is verbal and recognition is obviously visual. Recognition’s always stronger so when somebody tells you ‘I can’t tell you but I can show you.’, that’s where the visual aid comes in, the facial component catalog. They’ll take a look and we’ll ask them to pick out the facial feature that most closely resembles what they remember. And when they do that, you’ve got something to build the framework of the face with. And once you build a framework it’s like building a house, you’re laying the foundation for the final sketch. They look at that, they, you know ‘Nose longer/shorter, lips fuller, eyes closer together.’ Once you make those refinements and are happy then you render it in, and then once they’re happy with the final version then that’s it. You shake their hand and walk them out and make them feel good about what they did because you want to keep them engaged, because that’s just part of the investigative criminal justice, you want to keep them happy as a victim or an eye witness so you can them into the courtroom at some point.
Chuck: Now I’d figured that this would be a long drawn out process where you draw the nose and then he doesn’t like it so you erase it and you go back again. It sounds like once you get to matching the different memory parts, you kind of go with that one. That’s it. Not too much refining at the end. Is that fair?
Michael: It sounds a lot longer the way I described it but it’s not. The thing is, the danger is getting set in a certain style of interview. Like, I have my own style of interviewing somebody that’s different than somebody else’s, but realizing that not one size fits all, that all victims are different, cause we’re dealing with people. I may start off with a certain type of interview style but I may have to switch it up in the middle just because. For example I was doing one case, and everything was really going along well, like you’re describing, and I’m drawing and all of a sudden I look up and this girl, this young college girl, who was the victim of a sexual assault and carjacking. She had brought her mother with her for support. So at one point I look up and she’s sitting in her mother’s lap and her mother is cradling her like a baby and I’m thinking, ‘Um, uh oh, how do I respond to this?’. And I responded by not responding at all. I kept drawing and by the time I looked up again she was seated by her mother again. We finished off and she was happy they caught the suspect. He looked like the sketch. Everything was good.
Chuck: So give us some cases that you’ve cracked that we might know about.
Michael: Of course, the Samantha Runnion murder in Orange County in 2002. Then there was the case of Anthony Martinez in Beaumont, California, Riverside County in 1997.
Chuck: I remember that one.
Michael: Ten year old boy.
Chuck: They had billboards of him for years.
Chuck: I wasn’t even sure that was cracked.
Michael: It was. I think it was in 2005 when the suspect went into a home in Idaho and slaughtered a family and kidnapped the children, killed one of them and kept one of them alive. And he took her into a Denny’s one night and the waitress recognizes her from the news report and called the police, and once they arrested him that’s when Pandora’s box, essentially, opened up and they tied him to the murder of two girls in Seattle and a couple of other ones besides that family. Just a horrible, horrible suspect. I was also involved in the Baton Rouge serial killer back in the early 90s. I was involved in the case of the DEA agent in Rica, Camarena, who was tortured and buried on a ranch in Mexico.
Chuck: I remember that one.
Michael: It’s just a whole bunch of them that are either nationally known or just notorious locally. And of course I did three years in Baltimore, that’s a whole other story that I did four hundred sketches while I was there and some of those were violent crimes that probably never made it out of the pages of the Baltimore Sun but they’re no less important or horrible than the ones that did make the news.
Chuck: How many do you think you have done all together? Did you ever count them all?
Michael: Thousands. I’ve lost count. After a thousand it’s like… And really, somebody will come along and say ‘I’ve done twelve thousand sketches in my career.’ And that’s great but it doesn’t make them any more successful than the person who does five a year. Because when you’re called to do it you only have one bite at the apple, one chance to get it right.
Cherise: So, Michael, speaking of that one chance at getting it right, how do you gauge accuracy for someone depicting someone’s description?
Michael: Visceral reactions. When I say that it’s people are going to look at the end result, they smile and they shake their head and they’re nodding their head. I’ve had victims get up and go run to the next room and throw up in a trash can. They start crying and trembling. They jump up and point at the drawing and start uttering expletives at it, thinks like ‘I got you!’. They tend to react and the stronger the reaction tells me that I’ve got it, I’m there.
Chuck: Have you ever gotten any cases where it was a false report? In other words, it’s a fake case, they’re trying to describe somebody. Can you kind of tell if they’re not really describing a real person?
Chuck: How do you do that?
Michael: There was a case in Riverside County where a deputy sheriff was murdered while responding to a home invasion robbery and when I talked to the victim she’s a grandmotherly type and she was looking at the pictures and she was just going through the catalog, saying ‘Yeah, more or less like that.’ And I got the feeling that she was just kind of going through the motions and I told the deputies, the investigators, I said ‘I just have a gut feeling. I wouldn’t go with this. I’d wait.’ And it turns out that she was describing multiple suspects when in fact the suspect was her grandson. He was killed by police before the sketch so we didn’t let her know that the suspect was killed and kind of played it through and it turned out she was lying. I had another case where a young girl was reporting a sexual assault in the bathroom of a school, and they locked the school down. And of course, you can imagine the community went crazy. And near the end of the sketches this fourteen year old girl is flirting with me and is acting kind of, just, very adult like. I thought the behavior was inappropriate and strange so I talked to the detectives and said ‘There’s something really wrong with this.’ And it turns out that she reported a similar crime two years before only in that case it was an African American suspect versus a white suspect but she described the tattoo on the same place on the chest in both cases.
Chuck: That’s interesting.
Michael: I have detectives ask me when they come out, they say ‘Do you think the person was lying?’ And I say ‘Well, I’m not a human lie detector and if you thought they were lying I shouldn’t be here in the first place, but since you asked I’ll give my gut reaction.’ Because I come from this with a thirty plus long law enforcement background, ten years as a detective, working a variety of assignments, and they always tell you to trust your gut. Same thing when I come out of a sketch session. But I’m not in there trying to determine truth or not.
Chuck: You’re not there as a detective.
Michael: I’m not in there as a detective.
Chuck: Let me ask you about that. You were a detective concurrently as you were doing your sketches and developed them or were you a detective ten years then you start drawing?
Michael: No, I started out as a police sketch artist near the beginning of my career, so they were concurrent. I did them on my own cases sometimes. I worked patrol, all the fun stuff.
Chuck: I was always wondering if it was that’s your assignment, that’s it, you’re sworn, that’s what you do. Back in the day it was somebody that, ‘Hey, Joe can draw. Come over here, Joe. Start drawing something.’ You know, it wasn’t really a science like it is now.
Michael: They grabbed whoever they could. Back in the 1920s and 30s when it really first started being used consistently there was no training and they just grabbed whatever, like a newspaper cartoonist or whoever could draw, and have them draw. So there wasn’t that whole science of interviewing and cognitive skills and things like that, and memory and studies and things that they’ve got now.
Chuck: We’re showing some pictures here on the screen. Maybe we can pause on a couple so that we can describe what that case is and take a look at them. This is a famous one.
Michael: This is the Samantha Runnion abduction and murder, and this was in Orange County, California.
Chuck: Here’s what I say about this photograph, if we were going to hire a professional artist to draw him, like a movie poster, it would look closer to him. But what I’m going to say about all of your photos is it captures the… What’s the word, Eve? It captures the essence of the guy.
Eve: Yeah, he looks angry.
Chuck: Yeah. Does the nose match? It doesn’t exactly match but it IS the guy. Am I describing that properly?
Michael: It’s not meant to be a one to one match like a fingerprint.
Chuck: No, but it’s so close because it just gives you the whole feel that that’s the guy, even though it’s not exactly the guy.
Michael: You’re right. You’re capturing the essence of the person’s appearance and sometimes the witnesses remember something that stands out to them, a facial feature. Like in this particular case here. This one was an aggravated assault in Baltimore where this guy assaulted and severely beat a pregnant woman. And she tried to tell him that she was pregnant but he didn’t care. And when I finished the composite and emailed it to the detective, as soon as he received it he knew the name of the suspect. He recognized him as the person on the right and they were able to get a positive ID.
Chuck: That’s interesting
Michael: This person was another Baltimore case. He actually got in a dispute on a commuter bus and the bus stopped in front of the police station downtown and he actually had the nerve to shoot this guy right in front of the police station then flee.
Chuck: Yeah, I see the guy’s eyes. I see his eyes jumping out at me, matching immediately. So that’s what you’re describing, like he said he had this Irish hook nose or something, you would emphasize that.
Michael: I would focus on that, because that’s their best memory, and build around that. There are sometimes I’ll come in to an interview and say ‘OK, what was it that stood out on this person that differentiates him from the next person on the screen.’ If they said that Irish hook nose, I’d start with that and focus on that and build the face around that.
Chuck: And that may be the thing that cracks it because that guy had something so unique to his face, different to other people. What’s this next one here?
Michael: This was, again, a Baltimore murder case. This was really interesting because the eye witness had been introduced to this suspect a couple of times. It was a gay lover type of thing, where the victim was gay and he dated this guy and invited him into his home. The witness, who was heterosexual, was just hanging out. He was his buddy. So he was able to provide a really good description. The previous one, the Asian suspect, and this one, when they paraded him through the detective area the detectives immediately recognized him from the sketch. They were able to connect it right away.
Chuck: Interesting. By the way, if you’re listening to the podcast or to the live show you can go to YouTube to see all these sketched as we play them.
Eve: I wanted to mention something. If you look at the picture right now that’s on the screen, if you look at his eyes, it’s a little feminine. It’s interesting to see that.
Chuck: It does pop out. It does.
Eve: The eyelashes are accentuated, so it’s nice to see that as well.
Chuck: Let’s talk about the science, Mike, behind this stuff. Are all sketches in all jurisdictions pretty much accepted as probable cause, or does some jurisdictions say ‘No, you need more than that.’ How does that work.
Michael: My knowledge is that it’s going to be probably cause across the board. In other words, it’s going to give an officer who has a flyer, a wanted bulletin, cause to stop the person and request identification. And it may not be probable cause for arrest but it could be certainly be probable cause for a detention and obtaining their identification and maybe their photograph or their inclusion in a photographic lineup.
Chuck: I guess if it was really really good it could be probable cause for an arrest but you better go to court the next day with something else, otherwise you don’t have a case.
Michael: It’s like the Belgian bomber, that we referred to in the beginning of the show, that Cherise was talking about. You see the photo, even though it’s not a great photo, and the idea of it is for someone to provide a name and then back it up with either an impersonal lineup or a photo array. And if someone can’t positively ID him you can’t necessarily keep him based upon that video photo, because absent DNA you can’t really say for sure it’s him. So even with the ID you’ve got to go out and get corroborating evidence to back up that ID and if you can’t get that then it’s really hard to prosecute the case. On the flipside, as much success as we have with the sketches and such, eye witness ID has been called into question and has been shown to be faulty in some cases.
Chuck: So your sketch could be shown to be faulty, not because of you but because the witness wasn’t right in the first place.
Michael: You know, the thing is that even if the victim was off and the wrong person was IDed, it’s not so much the victim’s fault or the sketch’s fault. The sketch is just kind of gets the party started, so to speak. So then it’s up to the detective whether they get an ID or not to back that up by finding other evidence. And then, of course, if they don’t, then it’s up to the district attorney to see if they want to file charges and put on the best case that they can.
Chuck: I remember a couple of cases I had. On patrol we’d get a sketch and we’d go look for somebody, and I remember once we stopped somebody that looked a lot like the drawing. But, let’s say, and I don’t remember this for a fact, let’s say the sketch was of a Hispanic guy but I stopped a white guy, and we made an arrest on something and we got challenged to court and says, ‘Well, here it says he’s Hispanic. You stopped a white guy.’ Well, so? It looked like the guy, right? Are those things challenged legally? When you have a drawing, do they hold you to that in court? As far as I would describe as race and that kind of thing? In this day and age I could see that could be problematic.
Michael: They can try. This is why with my company’s software, for example, SketchCop Facette face design system, a lot of clients will ask me ‘Do you have an African American database? Do you have an Asian database?’ We don’t, because I don’t like to engage in any sort of profiling and stereotyping. You’re going to have people from Spain and areas of Mexico who are going to have very fair skin, like a Caucasian. You’re going to have someone who’s described as a male African American who might be Dominican or Cuban, or maybe a Brazilian. So you really get in on a slippery slope when you start trying to nail people down to races versus maybe skin tone or skin color.
Chuck: Yeah, I’m one third American Indian, would you guess that? So if you described it that way you’d be losing by not making it a broader description.
Michael: And once you go to court it’s gotten really silly because the media’s afraid to name a race in the paper. They’re just going to say ‘The police is looking for a male, 5’8’’, 60 pounds, whatever, blue shirt, blue jeans ‘ Well, could you at least put maybe, dark complexion or light complexion or something, so you’re not out stopping everybody? I mean, when you start talking about, like people saying ‘I’m being harassed by the police.’ Well, if the police we allowed to drill down a description like that it would be more helpful in terms of finding a suspect. But because, on the flipside, stereotyping and stuff, you just have to be really careful. In this world we’re living in — it’s tough.
Chuck: I read up an article where for about fourteen or fifteen years there was a systematic rape of twelve to thirteen year old girls. This was in England, in a small town, and they were all by a little Muslim enclave. I read this whole story about it, about the rapes and the kids and the victims, and not one time did anybody mention that these were all Muslim Pakistanis. Is that important? I think it might be. Because everybody is afraid. So I can see where it’s better to just be broad and we can just say, if someone says to you they were African American, that doesn’t mean anything to you as the artist, all you care about is the color, the tone, the reflection, the shape. It’s just that kind of thing. The race is just unimportant to you.
Michael: In the way I prefer to do it, with the software and when I’m drawing freehand, I like to have any manifestation of any type of racial characteristics take place organically. It’s just basically what the victim is describing, what the victim is seeing, what they’re picking out of the facial component catalog. So they may mention the race to the police officer and the detective who arrive at the scene. They may even do it to me. But my catalog is going to show multiple races. Say for example that someone says that the person has a broad nose. On that page of broad noses there is going to be whites, Hispanics, African Americans, all with a variety of wide noses. So I just tell people to disregard the race, disregard the age, focus on the form and shape of the particular feature. The rest will occur organically. If it happens to look like an African American in the end, if it happens to look like an Asian in the end, it’s just basically how it’s developed, not that we led them to it.
Chuck: Those samples, of the noses and things like that, are they all clear? No color to them?
Michael: There’s no colors to them. They’re black and white.
Chuck: That’s interesting. Very interesting. So that makes it even better.
Michael: It does. Because the thing is, you’ll find most sketch artists don’t draw on color. I stay away from color because it’s hard enough for people to remember facial features fully when these crimes happen.
Eve: That’s what I wanted to ask you about. Because I’m looking at your pictures right now and they’re extremely accurate but then my question is, how do they remember? How do these people remember this?
Michael: They do. A lot of the professors and a lot of the people who are graduate students who are studying memory studies and such, they’re doing the best that they can to recreate high level stress incidents that occur in the streets in the classroom or the laboratory, and it’s just not the same. It’s like apples to oranges and such. But what we do is that we use their studies in the things that they recommend in the field and what works and what doesn’t work. And people always come in saying that it happened quickly and it was dark. Of course, that’s just the way criminals operate. They don’t want to get caught. Get in, get out, do it under the cover of darkness, you’re going to reduce your chance of getting caught. But, again, a lot of it has to do with, that’s why you’re seeing these accurate images, is because people took the time, whether it was the software operator who might be a detective or police officer or someone like myself who’s a freehand sketch artist. We’ve taken the time. We totally understand the process. We understand people and we’re able to get past those barriers that prevent people from remembering things accurately. We use the science in the field. We use the classroom study and we apply it.
Chuck: So let’s talk about the science now, because you have sketchcop.com and you’re digitizing. You’re able to have somebody log into you through skype and do a session. Tell us a little of how that works.
Michael: It’s the same as if you work in the interview room with the person. All you’re doing is that you’re using technology to put yourself in different places that you normally wouldn’t be able to go. So if you get someone who’s not comfortable being in a police station, you get someone who doesn’t have the time to go to a police station, they can stay home and I can call them on the phone and connect my screen to theirs and go through the same process I described to you, only over the phone. I go through the same process. I build rapport with them on the telephone. I get them comfortable. They see my screen. We’re connected. They’re seeing the pictures and the catalogs. They’re picking out the noses and the eyes and things. I’m drawing and they’re seeing the drawing develop on their screen and they’re guiding me through it. Then we do the rendering and when they’re satisfied then sometimes I’ll have them rate it. On a scale from one to ten, one looking nothing like him, ten being exactly like him. Just to kind of get a feel.
Chuck: Is that because you’re not there to see the visceral reaction up close? To see them physically respond to the photo? It is a little bit different, right?
Michael: No. It is a little bit different but the thing is that I can hear them, you know. I don’t necessarily do Skype because I don’t need to see them and they don’t need to see me, but I’ve actually had them where you can hear them actually whimpering a little bit or kind of laughing, that little nervous laugh.
Chuck: Oh, I would have thought you’d had to be face to face with them. But not necessarily though.
Eve: That’s what I thought you were doing as well. I thought you were doing some sort of Skype session.
Chuck: That might actually be better. They might be less nervous.
Michael: They’re actually amazed at how well it works. Because, I guess if it was an online dating solution it would be nice to be able to see them but since we have that relationship or artist and victim it’s not important. What’s important is that they feel comfortable with me and that I use my voice, so to speak, my mannerisms and my personality just to connect with them. In the end they’re very relieved and, again, if I don’t hear that little laugh or that little whimper, hear them start to cry, then I can switch back to the numbering system of one to ten. One looking nothing like him and ten looking exactly like him. And just to get a feeling of how useful the drawing is going to be in terms of feedback for the detectives.
Cherise: In terms of lee time after a crime has happened or an attack what do you say is the minimum or even maximum time that you’ve seen or have experienced with people coming forward to try to identify someone?
Michael: That’s a great question. Obviously we want to get the eye witness in front of the artist sooner rather than later because memory does degrade over time. I mean, memory starts degrading from the time that the crime occurs. What happens is that they’re exposed to other faces and other stimuli and people making suggestions to them that alters that memory. So the key for us is to be able to retrieve that and I’ve had them in front of me just minutes after the crime, within fifteen minutes of the crime, and in some cases I’ve had them six months after the crime. The Unabomber case, that drawing was completed eight years after. There had been a couple of other drawings in between but the final one that was considered to be the most successful one was eight years after the fact.
Chuck: That was very accurate. I remember that.
Cherise: I’m just thinking back to the Belgium attacks now that they’re claiming that the third bomber is still at large and you probably have people in the city that may have seen him and may be coming forward to identify him. Or they are scared. How do you feel in those situations where the individual is scared to communicate what they saw and try to identify them?
Michael: The police will have to decide in terms of their value as a witness. It may be one of those things where they bring the person down to the police station maybe an hour at a time where they’re not going to be seen or exposed to a lot of people. The DEA case I did they had me come in after five oclock to the FBI office and they brought the victim in up the backstairs so that nobody could see them and have him maintain a degree of anonymity which he wanted. Or it may be that they have to go to the person’s house where they are going to feel more comfortable. Or they do a situation like me, where they call on the phone and do a phone session. It’s just that eye witness, whoever’s identifying, has to feel comfortable and has to trust the police. So this whole thing of, like, everyone has to come down to the police station for an interview, that’s old school. That stuff is out the window. You have to be flexible enough to accommodate the eye witness.
Chuck: Now, Jarvis, show us those bottom three you were playing with just a minute ago. These look like they’re a different sort of sketch. Is this the new digitized type of sketching you’re talking about?
Michael: No. This is a product that we have, ForensicaGPS, that takes surveillance photos and it normalizes the pose if the head is turned in any direction up to 45 degrees. If you go back one there was a mugshot. This one is a prison mugshot of one of the Anglin brothers who escaped from Alcatraz prison in 1962. What happened is they brought up a photo from the 70s who they thought might be this person in the mugshot. The problem is they couldn’t overlay that angle because the mugshot is taken in 1962 and the picture reported to be him in Brazil was in the 70s but he was standing with his head at a three quarter angle. So what I had to do was to take the facial recognition pose normalizing software which takes a 2D photo, that one on the right, and turns it into a 3D avatar so I was able to rotate it three quarter view, then save it as a 2D image and put it in Photoshop and overlay it.
Chuck: That looks exactly like him.
Michael: Well, it is him. That’s because it is him. So what happened was, when I put this three quarter view over the picture of the alleged escapee it fit like a glove. But I wouldn’t have been able to do that without that pose normalizing facial recognition software.
Chuck: That’s amazing.
Michael: So what you could really do with this type of software is take robbery surveillance photos that may be kind of grainy and turned at a different angle and turn them frontally and create composite sketches from that with the detail that’s provided by the algorithm.
Chuck: You mentioned some biometric stuff on your website too. What’s going on with that?
Michael: We have ForensicaGPS which does the pose normalization because you’ll find with most facial recognition software they’re dealing with databases of mugshots or driver’s license full frontal poses. So if you have a shot like some of these surveillance pictures where the camera is up in the corner of the room and the person is looking down and looking to the right, there’s an algorithm within ForensicaGPS that will take that photo and turn it into 3D, and you can turn it frontally then save it, and that can be entered into one of the FBI’s facial recognition software systems, and because you’ve now created a full frontal photo it’ll now be able to be searched in the database of millions and millions of photos and come up with possible candidates.
Chuck: Where are we on facial recognition like we see in the movies? Is it there yet? It’s getting close but it’s really not there like the movies, right?
Michael: It’s getting there. I think that the biggest failure was shown during the Tampa Super Bowl a few years ago when they tried to photograph people coming through the turnstiles and such. The problem was the software wasn’t ready and the algorithms weren’t ready to deal with full motion type of capture. I think that they’re getting better but I still think that it does better against static databases of mugshots, driver’s licensing photos and things like that. Because you can control the lighting better. You can control the angle, the pose and such, the contrast. You get more accurate proportions when you do a frontal.
Chuck: So tell us about your book. I’m sure we have great stories in here of cases but walk us through how it’s laid out. Is it laid out in technical sections? Is it case studies? How is it laid out?
Eve: what inspired you to write this book as well? That’s what I want to know.
Michael: Well, first of all, I was doing cases for years. I’d been involved in a number of high profile cases and you get busy, you do them and you move on to another case, but one day my late wife was looking at my filing drawer and said ‘You should write a book.’ And I kind of go ‘What am I going to write about?’ and she says ‘All these cases you worked that made news that really fascinated people.’ And so I said ‘Ah, OK.’. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002 and she passed away in 2002. So I write the book while she was undergoing chemotherapy and I was with a really horrible publisher at the time and I just let the contract run out and didn’t do anything with the book for several more years. I got remarried. My current wife is an avid reader she’s a professional marketer and she said ‘You know, you should resurrect that book and make another run at it because you’ve got some great stories.’ So I approached WildBlue Press and they’re a very, very good publishing company, and they signed me a contract and an editor looked at the book and said ‘Great stories, but we need to touch it up.’ And so I start out by introducing myself briefly and how I got into it. I tell some stories because people love crime stories, but also in between the stories I interject chapters that talk about the technical aspects of what I do, in terms of memory and in terms of the history of forensic art but in a non-technical way. It’s not so much dumbed down as I just don’t use big words and I tell the stories in a way that people can relate to and understand.
Chuck: We call that a dumbing down on Security Guy Radio. We do that all the time. For ourselves because we don’t understand half of the things we’re talking about.
Michael: Well, in the industry I was in for a number of years and when I first started out it was hard to string a sentence together, but nowadays you’re getting police officers with doctorate’s and master’s degrees and stuff like that. Towards the end of my career I’ve been really upping my game, let me tell you. But I scaled it back for the book because it wasn’t a technical book. It’s not designed to be a technical manual as much as it kind of is to peel back the veil and show people when they see these sketches what went into them. Because every time I do a sketch there’s a different story behind it, a backstory in terms of a challenging victim or eye witness or a challenging set of circumstances I had to overcome to become somewhat successful in this case. Of course I end the book by talking about some safety things, some safety tips for people, just recommendations and such. Just to try to give a finish that’s inspiring to people because crime does affect so many people. I talk about some of my own personal experiences with crime as a non-police officer. When we put on a uniform every day and we go out as police officers we are going to be the victim of crime hundreds or thousands of times during our career. I’ve been shot at. I’ve been stabbed at. I’ve been assaulted. I’ve been hit with beer bottles. Whatever. But in my off duty life, in my non-police life, I’ve been the victim of a crime. I talk about it there in the book about how I decided to stop by a Starbucks one day on the way home from work in Baltimore and while I was enjoying my coffee there was an armed robbery ransacking my apartment. My neighbor saw him come in, tuck the gun in his waistband in the back and adjust his gun, and go up to my apartment and disappear. You know, if not for that cup of coffee… I remember coming home and seeing the apartment and having that raw sinking feeling. I wouldn’t even try to compare it to some of the stuff that people experience in the book but just for something that simple as burglary ransacking, that violation that you feel.
Chuck: The only time I’ve ever been the victim of a crime has been when I had a brand new Saab Turbo, a 1984, and I park it and I come out the next morning and it’s windshield wipers are gone. And I was devastated by that. How dare somebody steal my windshield wipers! It’s a terrible feeling. That’s just a silly part of a car, right, but the feeling I think may be the same for most victims. Not, certainly, of a violent crime, but it’s the sinking ‘Wow, how did that happen? What did I do wrong? I’m going to get that guy.’ feeling. I looked for that guy, because I was a cop at the time in the city, and I drove around looking for that guy for years just in case. You’re lucky you got away but I’ll find you one day, you bastard. So I know what you’re saying. It makes people feel victimized. It’s great to have books like this that inspire people. The police are doing a good job. Despite all the crap you see on TV, everybody. These are still the best police officers in the world, OK? We do have a good police and we do get a lot of bad press, and I always like to see inspired books like this that really put the real facts out there about what’s really going on. What’s your favorite case? I want to ask you what your most difficult case was, but what a case that just made you say ‘Wow, I’m so glad we got that guy.’? You know what I’m saying? Is there one that’s special?
Michael: I would say any case involving children. I would say that the Samantha Runnion case and the Anthony Martinez case, they run parallel and they’re very close because the children unable to defend themselves. They were vulnerable and it was not only a crime that affected the families but also affected large communities.
Chuck: I remember driving up Palm Springs and seeing that billboard for him for ten years, at least. It wasn’t solved for, what, ten or fifteen years?
Michael: Yeah, about eight years. Fifteen thousand leads. The Samantha Runnion case was similar. They had tens of thousands of leads and such but it changed the way I did things. It changed a lot of people. There were so many people involved in that case and they can remember what they were doing that day and they can remember when they got the call. Police can be very territorial, especially when it comes to large scale investigations and notorious ones and ones that make big news. I remember in both cases, the Samantha Runnion case and the Anthony Martinez case, I remember walking into the room and seeing uniformed police men from every agency in the region lining the room. Everybody working together, nobody trying to steal the thunder, nobody trying to steal the glory – everybody working together trying to find these children. Everyone checked their ego at the door. It was great. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. That’s the way it should be. You’re right. I’m a big fan of cops and I was one for thirty one years and I still work with them. You’re right. There’s a small percentage that do bad things but there are so many more that do things, and I wanted to make this book as well, not so much about me but to talk about the hard working detectives and the people that really dedicate themselves – because I’m but one person. I’m part of this whole team and I’m glad to be part of this team and be able to help out. It’s an awesome feeling. It’s just something I wanted to share with everyone.
Chuck: Do you have a funny case? Something that kind of worked out really odd or was funny in the long run?
Michael: I had a woman one time in Baltimore.
Chuck: Baltimore is a pretty interesting place. They have a lot of cases there.
Michael: This was a very interesting case. I fell in love with that city when I was there and I always enjoy going back and connecting with my friends and associates back there. I still work for them. I’m a contract forensic artist for them and of course I work online. But one time I asked a sexual assault victim to recreate what happened. I was having trouble understanding the way she explained so I asked her to walk me through it and act it out. Before I knew it she was on top of me, choking me. Strangling me. Because the crook, the rapist, got on top of her and started strangling her, choking her. I guess I kind of let it go too far. She got the jump on me, so to speak, and I started to see, like, purple spots before my eyes. So I knocked her hands and said ‘OK, just sit down. We’ll do this another way.’ Sometimes you like to roleplay a little bit and it gets out of control but you feel bad for these people.
Chuck: Do you work for any non-profits?
Michael: Yes and no. Years ago I did some age progression cases on missing kids for some child finding agencies and such. Most of the work I do now is criminal.
Chuck: How do you do an age progression? We see a lot of things on TV that look like computer generated enhancements but how do you do it by hand?
Michael: I don’t do it by hand. I actually use the photographs. I think what happens is, a lot of artists are very proud of what they do. They love what they do. They love to draw. I enjoy drawing too but from a technical standpoint it’s very hard to take a picture and redraw it and keep that image integrity, as I like to call it. To keep that look. So I actually use the photograph and I morph other photograph elements from family members and people who look similar into it.
Chuck: That’s interesting.
Michael: So I can get that age of the parents but keep that gleam or that look in that persons eye, or keep that nuance that you might lose when you try to draw it on another piece of paper.
Chuck: That’s still art. Compiling different components is still art.
Michael: It is. It’s a little more technical and I think sometimes people who are artists are afraid to kind of let go and use that. Not have something that’s recognizable to other people that they actually created it. To me it doesn’t matter. All I care about is that either the children are found or the crook is caught.
Chuck: Where do you think the business is going now with all this high tech digital stuff? You saw the promo I did for you today?
Michael: I loved it. It was fun.
Chuck: You can see it on Facebook and our social media. I just took Mike’s photo, his headshot, and I just put it through something on my phone, literally. It was called Pencil Sketch or something, and that sent me a drawing that looks like a pencil sketch. It’s kind of cool. With all this high technology these days, are we getting to the point where we can have computers draw photos through algorithms and descriptions? I think if we do that we’re going to lose that connection you’re talking about with the person. But I could see us going that way.
Michael: There’s always going to be a human element involved. For example, there’s a company back East that’s actually creating composite sketching from DNA samples. They get in a sample from a criminal, an unknown criminal, and they’ll use that DNA profile to build a face. The elements of the face that doesn’t come through in the DNA profile they have a forensic artist on staff that fills that in. I don’t know what criteria he uses to fill it in but, again, you still have a human involved.
Chuck: So, I’m going to look kind of like all my brothers and sisters? That doesn’t work because I’m the suspect. You don’t know who my brothers and sisters are.
Michael: Exactly. Apparently there’s things in the strands of your DNA that can tell them what your familial background is. If you’re Swedish or German or something like that. Hair color, eye color, nose projection, different things like that.
Chuck: So if the suspect gets the eyes wrong the DNA can get it right.
Michael: Well, it’s going to get it right in that it may tell what color eye you have, but it’s not going to tell the angle or opening of the eye. So there’s going to be things that, like, it’s not going to tell how your hairstyle is. It’s going to say he’s got gray hair, white hair, whatever.
Eve: And you could dye your hair.
Michael: You could dye your hair. You could shave your head. So you’re always going to have a human element because you’re always going to be dealing with eye witnesses because in those cases you don’t have DNA. So what I like to say is what’s going to happen is that I think it’s going to be driven for more of an artistic type of situation. We’ll have the software to an analyst type of position. You’re gonna have somebody who is really good at interviewing people. They’re not an artist but they’re going to use our software to make sketches. They have an eye for detail so they’re going to be able to do a one to one facial comparison using the Forensica software and other types of analyzing software. You’ll still need forensic artists to do age progressions and or facial reconstructions from skulls because there’s no push-button type of software to do that. You’ll always have an artist, an analyst, a technician, using those advanced tools, but as we go further forward you’re not going to necessarily need to be an artist to do those.
Chuck: Is this an art that’s going away? Did you have somebody apprentice under you and replace you at the BD as you left or was it just whoever happens to walk in who wants to do it?
Michael: No. Actually what they did was they eliminated the position and they created another in the crime lab for something that they would need. Because forensic artists are obviously very useful but they’re not necessarily needed on a daily basis, even at large police departments. LAPD contracts out. A lot of big agencies contract out. Baltimore PD is contracted out to me rather than hire someone else. Some agencies have gone to the software. Because if you have one person and that person is out and they’re the forensic artist, you’re done. You have to hire somebody from another agency or a freelance artist. But if you buy a piece of software, like our software SketchCop Facette, you can train a whole police department how to use it, so you’re never without somebody. You may not use it every day but when you do need it you’ve got somebody available on staff. It’s there to use and you’ve got people to use it and it’s easy to use and catch those crooks.
Chuck: would you ever use this for a private application?
Chuck: So maybe I had a lost sister and here’s the last thing I know about her. Maybe it’s not even an official police report because she was adopted or something.
Michael: This is when the non-profits come in with private investigators and professional security organizations and such. Because police budgets being what they are they are dealing with much higher caseloads, less detectives, less cops. So a lot of families go out and hire private investigators to commission age progressions or composite sketches or things that the police haven’t done or can’t do. And so the security agency or the private investigator works with the family and with the police. Of course the police is always going to accept evidence somebody else digs up.
Chuck: I was wondering of that’s considered the best evidence, by the best evidence rule. If I contract it up because the police can’t, which is OK, you know, maybe they can’t. It still works in court the same way.
Michael: I believe it does. I think that as we move forward there’s going to be more collaborative than anything else. So yeah, private agencies, private individuals can contact me to do work as long as we’re all working together with the police department. That we’re not cutting them out. Otherwise I won’t work like that. I just won’t.
Chuck: Michael W. Streed, Sketchcop.com. Fascinating,
Michael: Thank you.
Chuck: This is really, really interesting and we’ve only touched the surface. We told all the best stories before the show because we forgot. I’m just kidding.
Michael: They’ll be other books out that tell other stories in the future.
Chuck: ‘Drawing A Line Against Crime‘, and it’s published by what publisher?
Michael: WildBlue Press.
Chuck: And where can we find it? Amazon, all those places?
Michael: You can find the book on amazon.com
Chuck: And probably Sketchcop.com.
Michael: Sketchcop.com. Go to the website. Look at the book. Look at what I do and if I can help, if you’re a police officer out there, give me a call.
Chuck: Michael, I appreciate you coming. It’s been great.
Michael: Thanks for having me.
Chuck: Tune in next week on Security Guy Radio. Cherise, goodnight from Texas. Thanks for coming in. Goodnight everybody.
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