The World’s “Most Successful” Police Sketch Artist is Right Here in Houston

August 1st, 2012

Lois Gibson, who works in Houston, is the “top-ranked” sketch artist int eh world. From Huffington Post:

Gibson is the world’s most successful police sketch artist — and she’s got a citation from Guinness to prove it. Her composite drawings have helped police in Texas track down hundreds of murderers, rapists and kidnappers. But a deft hand doesn’t guarantee success, it’s her good ear and supportive tone of voice that gets victims and witnesses to open up.

“One hundred percent of all the witnesses say they can’t remember well enough to do a sketch,” Gibson, said. “It’s getting them to remember the last thing they want to remember … I’m sitting there with somebody who’s been through the worst thing of their life.”

Eyewitnesses tend generally tend to be quite unreliable, and their answers are often shaded and guided by suggestive questions. I wonder, to what extent, Gibson’s questions and prodding may nudge eyewitnesses to describe certain types of people–perhaps those Gibson has experiences with as being a criminal.

I mean, the numbers are totally inconclusive.

It’s hard to say how many suspects were apprehended because of her sketches. When the fact-checkers at Guinness World Records crowned her for having the “most criminals positively identified due to the composites of one artist,” they counted up 523 people arrested, or at least identified, helping solve more than 1,000 crimes. But that was back in 2007 and the numbers have only gone up.

By her estimate, she cranks out 100 composities a year — down from more than 300 in the crime-ridden days of the early 1990s. One out of three drawings results in an arrest, Gibson said, but the number could be higher according to officials with the Houston Police Department.

Over the course of 30 years, lets assume she averaged 200 composites a year (the number is probably higher). That is a total of 6,000 composites. Let’s assume that the 6,000 composites resulted in 500 arrests. That is about a 10% accuracy rate. But what exactly does that mean? In order for an identification to even happen, police would have to apprehend the suspect to bring him or her in for a lineup. How much of the credit for that 10% rate goes to the artist, and how much to the police work. And after the perp is located, is the sketch relevant?

It seems the sketch initially to give the police something to look for. So, the police, armed with nothing but a vague sketch of a person, are supposed to canvas the area. From a Fourth Amendment perspective, can a person be detained because they look like a sketch? I doubt it. There must be something more. And invariably, if the police are focusing in on someone, and are about to detain them, it would seem that a sketch is of minimal importance. Maybe this made more sense before surveillance cameras and DNA evidence.

What is more interesting is the 1,000 crimes. Are those separate from the IDs. If the identification was not accurate, how could the composite possibly be useful?

I don’t know. Maybe someone can tell me I’m wrong.

H/T ABA Journal