Not every case warrants calling in a police sketch artist. It’s not because the victim of that particular crime isn’t important, and there’s no grand conspiracy plan in place either.
It’s just that there’s an awful lot of crime out there, and budgets and manpower are limited. Time is always a factor since most forensic artists do this work as a collateral duty within their agency. Is it worth it to the agency to send out a forensic artist, whose primary duty may be a homicide detective, out to do composite for a minor theft? Maybe, if there have been a rash of them, and they think it might be a serial offender and there’s been a big public outcry to get something done. But, if the only forensic artist is the detective with a full caseload, then probably not. If it were a child abduction case, then there’s no question; that detective will be out there doing a drawing if they have a good witness.Even if every agency in the United States had a forensic artist on staff, it would be tough to keep up with it all.
The other reason for considering whether to do a composite is information overload; there are only so many composite drawings you can release every week and expect the public to pay attention each time. Every artist wants to get out there and do as many drawings as they can, but agencies have to pick their battles when it comes to doing a composite.
The opposite end of the spectrum isn’t always the best approach either. “If there’s a case, there’s a face” has become the motto in some large agencies. Somewhere along the line, public opinion dictated that the agency needed to prove it was doing all it could to combat crime by having a composite done any time there was a witness who saw anything that looked remotely human. I’m being a bit facetious here, but attempting to do a composite when there isn’t anything of value to draw isn’t the wisest use of anyone’s time.
Many artists don’t have the say in whether or not a composite is done, either. The witness can tell the artist that they didn’t see a thing: it was midnight, the robber was wearing a ski mask, dark glasses, and standing behind a tree. But if it’s a hot case and their agency wants it, guess what, there’s going to be drawing.
As a colleague of mine once wisely offered, “the last two words you’ll hear me say in situations like this is “yes, sir.”