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To become a police sketch artist, people need to receive art education, along with training in interview techniques so they can interact with witnesses and other people who can provide information to help with identifications. Some people may choose to pursue professional certification, in which case they will need to meet very specific training requirements, in addition to passing an examination. People with an interest in this career may want to consider attending colleges and universities known for their forensics programs, as they can offer more training opportunities to someone who plans to become a police sketch artist.
The classic task of a police sketch artist involves interviewing a witness to generate a composite drawing, approximating the appearance of a suspect. People can use this drawing in an investigation and publicize it in appeals for information. The work can also include things like documenting crime scenes, helping people turn skeletal remains into composite drawings of what a person might have looked like in life, and age progression to show what someone might look like as an older person.
Historically, people needed excellent drawing skills to work in this field. Today, a person who wants to become a police sketch artist needs to be good with computers. While some artists do continue to sketch traditionally, many more use computer programs for their work. People have to be comfortable with using drawing tablets and similar tools to use a program to generate a credible likeness of a person.
This work also involves good communication skills. A person who wants to become a police sketch artist needs to be able to elicit identifying details from a subject without pressuring the person into making inaccurate or false statements. This includes learning how to question people without creating leading questions, and working with people who may be emotionally distraught. Taking psychology and communications classes can help with this aspect of the work.
A person in training to become a police sketch artist may want to pursue internship opportunities to get a chance to work on actual cases under the guidance of a professional. This can provide a chance to learn from people with years of experience, in addition to helping an artist start to build up a portfolio. The portfolio is critical for job applications, where law enforcement agencies want to see a record of someone's work, with a special focus on drawings that have led to successful case closures, whether they are facial reconstructions from remains or classic composites of suspects and persons of interest.
As a composite/forensic artist since 1981, I don't agree with all of the above statements. There are no college degrees and very few college level classes. Training is through short classes and practice.
Every major case where a composite sketch resulted in an identification has been through a free-hand sketch. The idea that computers in the hands of people untrained in faces and unable to draw is like saying you don't need to know English, spelling, grammar, or proper writing skills to write a novel -- the computer does all the work. The computer is a tool: a $2000 pencil prone to becoming obsolete within a year.
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