Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Guest Michael Streed talks about SketchCop

by Andrea Campbell 

There is so much involved with being a forensic artist and it is a small community. Today we have an interview with Michael Streed, artist extraordinaire. 

Q.: Michael, thank you for being my interview guest. Can you tell WCI readers something about your background?

M.: I began my career as a ‘street cop’ and retired 31 years later as “The SketchCop.” During that time, I worked several investigative assignments that helped me learn a lot about eyewitnesses. It also helped hone my interviewing skills. Shortly after becoming a police officer, I trained as a police composite artist with the Los Angeles Police Department. My career as a forensic artist paralleled my work as a police officer and took me throughout the country to train with the best forensic artists of that era. I blended my forensic art training with college courses in life drawing and was privileged to become trusted to work on some of the country’s worst cases including the torture murder of a DEA agent in Mexico, The Baton Rouge Serial Killer, The Samantha Runnion Abduction/Murder and the Anthony Martinez Abduction/Murder. In addition, I have logged over 600 hours of forensic art training, 1,300 hours of law enforcement training to supplement the casework I have done. 

Q.: Eyewitness drawings are more difficult than the average person thinks. I was trained for forensic art but never pursued it because I am an alpha type, have a tendency to ask leading questions, and haven’t learned the proper interview techniques. Can you speak to that?

M.: To become a successful forensic artist, you must be an active listener. A successful interviewer guides an eyewitness versus leading them. Most important is that the eyewitness must trust you immediately, from the moment you walk into the room. Interviewing is an art that is often overlooked in favor of an aesthetically pleasing sketch. Luckily, interviewing is a skill that can be taught. Without it, you’ll sketch nothing but a useless, but ‘pretty’ picture. The good news is, you can become a good interviewer as long as you know when to hide the alpha. 

Q.: We’re here today to talk about a software program called SketchCop Facette Design, can you explain what that is?

M.: SketchCop Facette Face Design System is a software program that allows law enforcement personnel the ability to create digital composite images that appear as if they were prepared by a skilled forensic artist.

Q.: Two-part question here: What was your impetus for designing this program?

M.: My motivation for creating the software was to provide a viable tool for law enforcement agencies that did not have access to a qualified forensic artist and if they did, I wanted them to have a reliable backup tool to use when their artist wasn’t available.
And how is yours different or better than what’s out there currently?

M.: SketchCop Facette Face Design System creates an image that appears as if sketched by an artist even though it was created by computer using a software solution. Our program is intuitive, portable and easy to use with modification tools that can create subtle changes similar to those a forensic artist would make. We also support the software and it’s users by offering online training. No other company can boast having software that was developed and supported by an experienced forensic artist still working in the field.

Q.: What are the actual problems inherent with designing a program such as this?

M.: I think the most difficult part of conceiving such a program is not allowing it to get away from you and become too complicated. The software must have a low learning curve and be easy to use; otherwise, you’ll frighten away potential users. As a forensic artist there is a natural tendency to want to the software to be perfect and do everything. I have always had the mindset that like a forensic artist, it is only a tool, albeit a valuable one. With that in mind, we are creating a legion of officers who can turn out high-quality images without the burden of feeling like they have to become artists themselves. Luckily, I found a software company with a strong architecture that we were able to combine with our database and wealth of experience to create SketchCop Facette Face Design System Software. 

Q.: How did you even know where to begin?

M.: From the day I began my career as a forensic artist, I knew there would always be a technology solution looming on the horizon. Several companies had already developed such a program hoping that pencils would soon be replaced by pixels. I had done consulting work for a couple of these companies, hoping that input from an experienced police detective/forensic artist would help advance their products. It didn’t. So, it wasn’t long before I figured out that it would be better to help drive the technology train rather than be left behind at the station. 

Q.: Can you explain briefly how the program works and who it is for?

M.: SketchCop Facette Face Design System Software is for law enforcement/military and select investigative personnel, both sworn and civilian support staff. No artistic skills are required. This allows us to focus on the importance of the interview process. The process for interviewing and building the composite closely mimics that of a forensic artist. During the interview, the eyewitness selects various facial components to create the suspect’s face. With a few clicks of the mouse, the user can complete the composite image and easily make the necessary modifications.

Q.: Would you like to talk about one case you are particularly proud of?

M.: My most challenging case to date and the one that is most personal is the abduction/rape/murder of 5-year-old Samantha Runnion in 2002. My witness in that case was her 5-year-0ld playmate who witnessed the abduction. We worked together to create a composite image of the suspect who was identified in two days. I could not have done it without her.

At the time of the incident, my wife of 25 years had been diagnosed with cancer and was undergoing treatment. I had one son in the police academy and another at war in Iraq. By the time the suspect was convicted and sentenced to death, my wife had passed away, my son had graduated the police academy, my other son was still at war, and forensic art became my salvation.

Q.: Is there anything else you care to tell WIC readers?

M.: I am happy to say that my career has come full circle, yet it is far from being complete. I am currently a forensic artist with the Los Angeles Police Department, right back where my forensic art career began. My services are also in demand from many other police agencies throughout the Southern California area. SketchCop Facette Face Design System is gaining traction in law enforcement circles and the feedback has been fantastic. Many police officers have commented that it is the best digital composite imaging software they’ve experienced.

Over the years I have been blessed with many opportunities to help victims overcome their experiences while trying to figure out new ways to help cops catch crooks. I have a fascinating career, balanced by a loving, supportive family, that should keep me going for years to come.

Note: To contact Michael or try out a demo, click here.

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