A facial composites is a graphical presentation of an eyewitness's memory of a face, as recorded by a composite artist. Facial composites are used mainly by police in their investigation of (usually serious) crimes.
Methods of facial composite construction
Construction of the composite was originally performed by a trained artist, through drawing sketching or painting, in consultation with a witness or crime victim. In the 1960s
techniques were devised for use by those less artistic, employing interchangeable templates of separate facial features, such as "Photofit" in the UK
and Smith & Wesson
's "Identi-Kit" in the U.S.
. More recently, computer generated imaging systems have been developed, such as Smith & Wesson's "Identi-Kit 2000". In the U.S. the FBI
maintains that hand-drawing is still the correct method for constructing a facial composite. Many police agencies, however, use software, since developed artistic talent is often not available. The most popular software in the U.S. is FACES
, although other popular products are "CompuSketch", "Mac-a-Mug" and "SuspectID". In the UK E-FIT
has been widely used, and more recently "PRO-fit".
For a general review of research into the evaluation of mechanical template techniques see Davies and Valetine (2006)
The systems used in the UK have been subjected to a number of formal examinations, which have typically shown that E-FIT and PRO-fit produce composites that are correctly named, either immediately or a few hours after construction, only about 20% of the time (see Brace et al (2000) Bruce et al (2002) and Davies et al (2000)) . When witnesses are required to wait two days before constructing a composite, which matches real use more closely, however, naming falls to just a few percent at best (e.g. Frowde et al (2005))
Use of facial composites
While the classic use of the facial composite is the citizen recognizing the face as an acquaintance, there are other ways where a facial composite can prove useful. The facial composite can contribute in law enforcement in the following ways:
- Identifying the suspect in a wanted poster.
- Additional evidence against a suspect.
- Assisting investigation in checking leads.
- Warning vulnerable population against serial offenders.
Facial composites of various types have been used extensively in those television programmes which aim to reconstruct major unsolved crimes with a view to gaining information from the members of the public, such as "America's Most Wanted" in the US and "Crimewatch" in the UK.
Some important criminal cases where facial composites have assisted in identifying the perpetrator:
- The Oklahoma Bomber Timothy McVeigh.
- Hagamannen, a serial sexual assaulter in Sweden.
- The Baton Rouge Serial Killer Derrick Todd Lee.