I’m frequently asked which case was my most difficult and why?
My answer? Any case that involves children, both as a victim or eyewitness.
Anytime a child is the victim of a crime, the pressure to solve the case can be tremendous. As adults, especially parents, we are given the awesome responsibility of protecting children, even those who are not ours. Children are the future. They should be nurtured and protected. Often defenseless, they can be easy prey for those who wish to commit predatory acts. As a society, we have an obligation to see them safely to adulthood.
Now, let me jump off my soapbox and tell you how this applies to my work as a police sketch artist. Listening to stories about child victims can be horrific. To successfully interview a child eyewitness, or someone who witnessed a crime against them, I must always find a way to detach.
Sometimes the pressure can be suffocating, especially when the sketch I’m being asked to produce is the only lead in the case. But, when you’re a professional, you step up. Any emotion I might feel is saved for when the sketch is completed. Later, when the day is over and I’m away from the scene, I can find a quiet place to re-energize.
As eyewitnesses, children feel similar pressure. They may not verbalize their feelings, but they can feel when all eyes are upon them.
In cases where I’ve had to rely on child eyewitnesses, I’m thankful they rose to the occasion. Many times, they helped make the case.
My most successful sketch, using a child eyewitness, occurred in 2002, when 5-year old Samantha Runnion was abducted by a stranger. The only witness to the crime was her best friend, also 5-years old. We worked together to produce a composite sketch that helped solve the case.
If you would like to read more about the case and the effectiveness of child eyewitnesses, click on the link.
So, whether the time is ticking for a kidnapped child whose life is in the balance, or you’re sitting in front of a doe-eyed child who experienced an event no one should have to endure, the police sketch artist must remain the consummate professional. These cases can be high-energy and emotionally taxing. All your energy should be directed to supporting the victim. My advice is to check your emotion at the door. That will help keep your stylus, or pencil, steady so you can do the best job possible. The rest, you can deal with later.
Reflecting on my career, I’ve been fortunate to establish great relationships with the people I’m asked to help. I especially enjoy working with my law enforcement partners.
To learn more about the special relationship I share with the Baltimore, MD Police Department, please watch the video.