Do forensic artists conduct image comparisons?

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Some do….but they probably shouldn’t.

If you are currently doing image comparisons, and the only background you have is your experience as a forensic artist, please check out the following website for the “Facial Identification Scientific Working Group” (FISWG). This will soon change the landscape for many people currently doing, or contemplating doing, image comparsions.

Here it is straight from the horse’s mouth: “The mission of FISWG is to develop consensus standards, guidelines and best practices for the discipline of image-based comparisons of human features, primarily face, as well as to provide recommendations for research and development activities necessary to advance the state of the science in this field.”

Once these guidelines are published, and you venture into the realm of comparing one mug shot to another, you must be prepared to defend that in court against people that will likely much more experience and credentials in this area than you. Otherwise, you could seriously jeopardize the case, and cause you and your agency some major embarrassment.

To do this work properly, you should have the the minimum training and experience that FISWG guidelines recommend. At just the basic level you must (and this is not the entire list verbatim, just some of the highlights):

…be familiar with the history of facial analysis and principles of individuality; be able to distinguish between class and individual characteristics, as well as stable and transient characteristics; have knowledge of automated biometric systems; have an understanding of the principles of comparison; be able to assess facial image quality, know process of analysis , comparison, methods of comparison, effects of cognitive and comfirmation bias; knowledge of photography principles and hardware and settings inluding perspective, angle of view; understand digital images and compression; knowledge of facial anatomy, bone structure and musculature; be aware of judicial decisions that govern admittance of scientific evidence in court, chain of custody…”

Again, this is just a portion of the BASIC requirements; the list just keeps going on. I can’t even begin to cover the advanced requirements, because it is making my head swim, and you can read it all for yourself at http://www.fiswg.org, Look under Documents: “Guidelines and Recommendations for Facial Comparison Training to Competency” 

If you are a forensic artist, and qualify under the upcoming FISWG guidelines, then fine, no problem, and hats off to you. But if you don’t, and you do image analysis with only “forensic artist” or a 40-hour class on your resume, please understand the risks you are taking. Not just to the reputation of forensic art as a whole, but more importantly to the outcome of the case itself.

Photo Credit: Mirko Tobias Schäfer. CC 2.0 via Flickr.