New technology helping police 'unmask' suspects

Posted at 11:23 PM, Aug 10, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-11 00:37:19-04

If you are a witness to a violent crime, would you be able to identify the suspect?

That’s the challenge police officers and detectives across the country face every day.

Fortunately, software called “SketchCop” is helping law enforcement agencies unmask criminals faster, without having to use a pen and paper.

There’s a story to be told behind the yellow tape at every crime scene and identifying a suspect is just as important as collecting evidence.

“The face (of the suspect) is what matters,” Milwaukee Police Detective Tammy Tramel-McClain said.

Part of Tramel-McClain’s job is to help sexual assault victims create a composite sketch of their attackers.

“When you have a street rape, the perpetrator usually becomes a serial rapist and we want to prevent that as fast as possible and get the sketch out there,” she said.

Milwaukee police generate about 30 sketches a year using “SketchCop”.

With the click of a mouse, the victim and detective work together on the computer to pick out different facial features of their attacker.

“I would say it’s probably 70-percent accurate,” Tramel-McClain said. “It (the drawing) is based on what the person saw at the time the crime was being committed against them.”

“SketchCop” allow detectives the flexibility to fine-tune features like mustaches and hair lines.

Recently, Milwaukee Police used the program to identify serial rapist Robert Brown. Brown was convicted of assaulting 5 women.

“The beard and the mustache are spot on so that’s a really good eyewitness account,” Tramel-McClain says.

Thanks to the sketch, eyewitness accounts and DNA evidence, Brown is serving 155 years in prison.

A month after police released a sketch of an attempted homicide suspect, Jose Dancel was identified as the man who shot a woman as she waited for a hair salon to open up.

Det. Tramel-McClain says there is only one open case in which a sketch has been released, but no identification has been made.

Right now, victims of sexual assaults come into the Sojourner Peace Center to give detectives a description of their attacker.

However, Milwaukee Police are working to get the software program installed on a laptop so the detective can travel to the victim.

We reached out the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office to see if they had a similar sketch program, but were told they do not have the capability to generate suspect sketches in-house.

“Should the need arise, we would reach out to our law enforcement partners for assistance,” Captain Daniel Hughes told TODAY’S TMJ4 in an email. “Specifically, (we would reach out to) MPD who maintains the capability through their Sensitive Crimes Division. Another option would be through the State of Wisconsin Division of Criminal Investigation."

Det. Tramel-McClain says while sketches do help with identifying a suspect, they are also meant to bring awareness to community members living in an area where a violent crime occurred.

Tramel-McClain says sketches can be drawn in 30 minutes to an hour, depending upon how much detail the crime victim provides.

You can read more about the “SketchCop” program here.