Captured by their victim's memories

NEW technology is set to give police the power to make E-FITS more accurate to the memory of a witness or victim. Features editor TRACEY SPARLING finds out more - and challenges one of the top cops in the country when it comes to producing E-FITS, to test his own memory.

By Tracey Sparling

NEW technology is set to give police the power to make E-FITS more accurate to the memory of a witness or victim. Features editor TRACEY SPARLING finds out more - and challenges one of the top cops in the country when it comes to producing E-FITS, to test his own memory.

PEOPLE-watching is a pastime many of us enjoy - but would you be able to recall the face of a slightly dodgy man who walked past you on Ipswich Cornhill last week?

When DC Clifford Clark invites victims and witnesses to describe the face of the criminal they saw, he knows it's a big ask.

“When did you last remember the component parts of a face?” he said.

“You recognise your people you know by component parts, not studying the shape of their eyebrows or ears!”

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However, if it's possible to produce an image of a suspect, that can help bring an offender to justice. DC Clark cites the recent case of a London DJ who committed rapes in Southend - and was found after police issued an E-FIT.

There was also the Ipswich distraction burglary suspect, who was found and questioned last month after somebody recognised the E-FIT.

DC Clark's been interviewing witness and victims to produce E-FITS since the early 1990s, sits on a national working group and also the Association of Chief Police Officers' facial identification group, regularly representing the six counties of Suffolk, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire - and was until recently, chairman of the national E-FIT User Group. Before joining the police, DC Clark studied for a degree in fine art, so has an eye for detail and composition which are put to good use in his current role.

He said: “There is a stage you get to when you have to take on artistic work that does require some skill - for example blending the skin tone to cover the joins between features - although you don't have to be a fine artist.”

At Suffolk Police ten officers are qualified to compile E-FITs.

“We don't really do as many as we should,” DC Clark admitted. “There is a need for more enlightenment and resources. E-FITs are a means to find a suspect, but I think they are used as a last resort sometimes.”

E-FITs are not evidence that a suspect did the crime, but they are investigative tools to help find a suspect.

DC Clark said: “One of the biggest things people need to understand is that an E-FIT is not a picture of the offender. It is actually a representation of the memory of the victim or witness. It's never going to be a photo of an offender but it is the best likeness we can hope to get.”

The police officer who interviews the victim or witness had to carefully unlock their memory, so the details unfold naturally, rather than using a set series of questions.

He said: “We use the way memory works to extract information. It's been shown to be one of the best, if not the top way to interview witnesses in the world.”

Taking notes, then working on the computer programme can take up to one and half hours.

The computer offers the Aberdeen index of facial features, originally designed by psychologists at Aberdeen University and Home Office.

Starting with a blank oval face like the game 'Mr Potato Head,' DC Clark can import eyes, nose, mouth, hair, eyebrows etc. even hats, glasses, moustaches and beards, and shoulders to give a hint of collar and tie or other clothing.

The victim doesn't have to trawl through all the computer's thousands of options, but just a selection matching their initial description.

The detective has to be extremely careful not to lead the witness towards any description. Instead they must faithfully follow the details which are described -even if they sound ridiculous!

Dc Clark said: “If they say put the eyes in the wrong place, even if it's not physically possible, we have to oblige on the E-FIT according to what we are told. People enlarge the eyes for example, because that's what they remember but in reality there are certain restrictions to the maximum size.

“The image stays very flexible all the way along. There are lots of chances to make sure the emerging face is what the witness wants, not what we want it to be.”

The last stage is for the detective to use a 'blending' tool in Photoshop, to blur any confusing edges where the features join.

DC Clark said: “It can be extremely difficult for the victim of a crime to see the face of the man who raped her for example, on the screen. But a lot of people will go through that to help the investigation and the chances of finding an offender.

“They sign the E-FIT and it becomes a piece of evidence - a pictorial statement which can be produced in court, and can't be changed by us.”

He added: “If I have a certain suspect in mind I wouldn't go to interview the witness for an E-FIT.”

Sometimes there several witnesses can produce different E-FITS based on their varying memories, but Clifford would never merge the two descriptions. He said: “I'd rather end up with two different faces from two different witnesses, because the second person's may be more accurate.”

Technology is moving on apace as software companies produce ever more sophisticated photo-fit systems. E-FITS came into being in the 1980s and early 90s, but back then computers were not able to cope with complicated graphics.

DC Clark said: “Now we have hundred of eyes to choose from, hundreds of noses, hairstyles etc. They can also be produced in colour but we stick to grey scale as its faster - unless there's a distinctive colouring we need to publicise, like a tattoo or colourful birthmark.”

EVOFIT is the fast new system developed by Sterling University and ProFIT (a software company) being tested in Yorkshire which DC Clark said will be used in Suffolk soon. It offers you typical faces and you choose the most similar to the offender. Each choice leads to its own 'generation' of faces, to fine-tune the likeness.

It shaves half an hour off the compilation process and DC Clark said it is probably the best system in the world.

Yet E-FITS are not the only way to produce pictures of a suspect. The FBI in America still prefer to rely on freehand artists, which brings a subjective element into the process. DC Clark studied on a course there a few years ago, where police artists sketched faces. He said the drawings turned out well - but then they were all trained artists. “Each method has its merits,” he said, but he remains committed to E-FITS helping solve Suffolk crimes.

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DC Simon Bendall of Suffolk Constabulary will be the new ACPO rep and deputy chairman at the E-FIT User Group.

I SPENT 50 minutes interviewing DC Clifford Clark as a national expert on E-FITs.

So after leaving Martlesham police headquarters I hit him with a challenge - to create an E-FIT based on what he could remember of my face.

Victims and witnesses of crimes have to rack their memory to help police create E-FITs, often after just seeing the offender for a few seconds. So what could a trained artist and one of the country's top experts recall, after seeing me for nearly an hour?

DC Clark said: “The key test would be to have it displayed with the question 'who is this person?' If you get one correct response then it will have done it's job. It is only supposed to be a likeness which can then identify a potential suspect and then the real investigation starts to identify usable evidence to prove or disprove the 'suspect's' involvement.”

Here is the result for you to judge - would you recognise me in the street from this e-fit?

EVER since Jack The Ripper launched his unparalleled reign of terror on the streets of London in1888, his identity has remained a mystery.

But if the techniques of modern policing been available to the detectives working on the Ripper case in the 1880s, there may have been enough information for the man who killed and mutilated five London prostitutes, to be caught.

Head of analysis for Scotland Yard's Violent Crime Command Laura Richards, who studied serial killer Fred West and Soham murderer Ian Huntley, used modern techniques to revisit the case for a Channel 5 documentary called Jack The Ripper: the First Serial Killer by Atlantic Productions.

She brought together a team of experts, including pathologists, historians and a geographical profiler, to study descriptions of him, given at the time by 13 witnesses.

An E-Fit was produced, and former Metropolitan Police commander John Grieve believes the killer would have been caught if officers at the time had the image. "This is further than anyone else has got," he said. “It would have been enough for coppers to get out and start knocking on doors... they would have got him."

He added: “It's a popular misconception that nobody ever saw the murderer, that he just vanished into the fog of London. Well that's just not right. There were witnesses at the time who were highly thought of by the police.”

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