Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Police Sketches

The Gaffney SC serial killer was just shot and killed, supposedly putting an end to a killing spree that has been going on in a small town of only 13,000. The man identified as the serial killer is Patrick Burris.

However, the police sketch which had been released the day before looks absolutely nothing like Burris. Burris has a piggy nose, a round, flabby, oval face, and deep-set eyes. The sketch shows a man that looks more like Billy Bob Thornton (the actor).

The police claim that the gun recovered from Patrick Burris is the same gun which killed all of the victims. I am now old enough to know that police aren't always right, or honest, and I question the great discrepancy between the photo and the sketch of the killer.

Of course that isn't to say that Patrick Burris isn't the serial killer: He very well may be. But if he is, what does this say about the police sketch artist?

Why do we even bother with sketch artists? As Fox News reported, "Several studies have shown sketches are unreliable when it comes to identifying suspects, but many departments nationwide still use them." And we know that a sketch is only as good as the witness(es) who contributed to it.

Perhaps it's time for the South Carolina police to rethink their sketch artist. Maybe his or her salary would be better used toward something that will actually make a difference.


Ed Abbey said...

I can't remember seeing any sketch that looked like the captured person anytime in recent memory. A classic example would be the sketch of the Unibomber compared to the photo of Ted Kazynski.

The Lazy Iguana said...

Sketches are based on witnesses. The witnesses say what the person looked like, and an artist has nothing to go on but that info.

And when the witness looks at the sketch and says "YES! That is the dude!!" - what would you do?

Now ballistics matching is much more accurate. A bullet recovered from a crime scene can be matched to a gun with a very high degree of accuracy. Barrels leave marks on the soft lead. Each barrel will leave slightly different marks.

Even the shell casing cab be matched. Brass is a soft metal. When fired, the shell is stressed. Machine marks from the parts of the gun that touch the case leave marks and can be matched.

daveawayfromhome said...

I had something to say, but Lazy said it already.

Alexander said...

I'd pay for them to draw me, just to see what would come out. Actually I think there was a seinfeld episode on that same thing.