'You've just gotta be a good artist, draw really well.'
Like there's nothin' else going on. Like I don't have to lead people to what they saw. Like I don't have to politely push against your every unconscious prejudice. Do you know the statistic on how often a witness describes a shadowed figure as black?
... Well neither do I, but it's gotta be pretty goddamn high.
Everybody wearing a hoodie-- black.
Anybody with their jeans low-- black.
I'm offended, and I'm the whitest guy in glasses you'll ever see.
Take this one I did yesterday.
Pretty standard mugging gone bad. Witness was going by the alley and booked it when there was a shot.
My procedure's pretty straightforward; I go from big to small.
What time of day was it, what kind of lighting was there? That'll inform the shadows, the way colors would have looked to you. I've gotta take into account that if the person you're describing is under institutional fluorescent lighting, brown hair will look black to you. A fair skinned person is going to look pale.
So when I ask you what kind of lighting was around, don't shrug your shoulders and say 'Electric'!
Anyway, this case we've got night time, street lighting.
Are you sure? (See what I tell you?)
"I think so."
Okay, how about clothes.
"Jeans and a button down shirt, glasses."
You sure about the glasses? (Really, you're going the thug route even when he's wearing a button down and glasses?)
Glasses or sunglasses?
Ok. Describe them.
"Round, black rims."
How about the nose?
"Thick, a little crooked."
"No, a bit thicker."
The street lighting would have cast a bigger shadow, so probably a bit thinner than you saw.
What about his mouth, did you get a look at his mouth?
"Not really. It was dark. In shadow."
Now in this particular case, there was a shot. Did you see the figure when the gun fired? The flash may have illuminated more of his features.
"No, I closed my eyes when the shot went off."
I just nod. (Of course you did.)
So I'm pretty sure we've got a Caucasian, blond or brown hair, circular glasses with dark rims, medium crooked nose. I bring the sketch closer to what I'm pretty sure they actually saw. Finish it up, hold it in front of the witness. They nod slowly. I thank them, they get up, eager to be done, go home.
I put the sketch in my outbox, just like usual. Later I'll turn in my official piece to the Captain.
Black, short dark hair, beefy nose, sunglasses.
Was that witness unreliable you ask? That's a pretty different picture than what we agreed on at the end, you'd think, nobody can remember a face that badly.
Well, you'd be right. They were pretty accurate as far as most people go, at least, once I showed them the final sketch.
But that's the thing that bugs me the most, but makes me laugh at the same time.
Nine out of ten witnesses can't recognize the person they saw if they're sitting right in front of 'em, sketching away.