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Sketching the Face of crime

Thursday, 8 November 2012 - 10:00am IST | Agency: dna

Although the police’s dependence on sketch artists is slowly fading, they rely on sketches to nab culprits. It’s a challenge for artists to deliver accuracy on the basis of witnesses’ description. Although sources say only 20% of cases are cracked with the help of sketches, artists face threats to their life.

When Nitin Jadhav was asked to sketch the face of the accused who raped a Spanish woman in Bandra recently, he braced himself for the challenge.

On Monday morning, the robber scaled the building of the posh Bandra locality to steal but seeing the 27-year-old Spanish woman alone, he raped her and escaped.

The police’s breakthrough in the case mainly depended on the sketch. 
Jadhav, 45, who has been drawing profiles of the accused for 25 years, says: “The accuracy of my sketches range between 75% and 100%.”

He drew the accused’s face from the description of residents and the security guard of the neighbouring bungalow.  

But when the Spaniard saw the sketch and exclaimed ‘perfect’, Jadhav felt rewarded.
Sure enough the accused’s sketch, which matched 65% of the real face, helped the police zero in on 30-year-old Mohammad Ismail Ansari.  “My sketches vary in their accuracy as they depend on the description given by witnesses,” said Jadhav, who has also sketched the killer of advocate Shahid Azmi.

Jadhav might have got accolades for his work but, like him, the sketch artists who help the police live in fear as they become targets of gangsters. Getting threats from anonymous callers are common.

Calling it quits
Naresh Korde, 28, was popular in the police department for his life-like computerised sketches. In 2004 when an infant was kidnapped from Ghatkopar, he was asked to sketch the accused’s face.

The police arrested the culprit and the child was reunited with his parents. 
An reliable artist for the police now wields a pair of scissors instead of a pencil.

The incessant threats calls forced him to shift base and profession. For almost a decade he ignored the ‘kaat dalunga’ calls. But later when the threats extended to his wife and one- years-old son, Korde had had enough. 

At his salon in Ahmednagar, he is not doing what he likes but at least he and his family are safe. “The police were very nice to me. They assured me that I would be safe. But I couldn’t rely on their assurances. There were men keeping an eye on me. I was being followed. I didn’t know if my pregnant wife I left behind at home would be safe till I returned. I packed my bags and left. I have not regretted the decision,” said Korde.
Jadhav, who also lives in fear because of threat, has chosen to stay put.

“Had I not hung on to the profession, I would not have got the opportunity to help the Spanish woman in getting justice. My country and the police are not left red-faced,” he said.

Artists’ identity
So should the sketch artists hired by the police be anonymous?
Some policemen say the details of informers and sketch artists should be kept a secret.

“The main reason is that they are the ones who immediately come in the hit-list of those against whom they are working. However, sooner or later, their identity gets disclosed and poses a risk to their lives,” said a police officer.

The artist’s identity leaks out, especially when he is working with the police for a long time. Korde’s stint with the police department started in 1997 when he was only 14 years.

A neighbour’s son went missing and the police sought his help to prepare the boy’s sketch.

Soon, Korde became instrumental in the arrest of many hardcore criminals accused in murders, bomb blasts, robberies, dacoities and extortions in Mumbai, Thane and Navi-Mumbai.

In Ahmednagar, too, he helps the police. “I helped the police crack the case of murder of a Hyderabadi hotelier in Shirdi,” said Korde.

The police say security is a priority for all those who help them. “We are committed to providing security to all who assist in the fight against crime,” said Himanshu Roy, joint commissioner of police (crime).

Case clue
The police seek help from sketch artists in most of the important crime cases.
After a baby was stolen from Wadia hospital on October 24, the police got a sketch made and circulated it. The accused is still at large.

A seven-month-old baby was stolen by a middle-aged woman from Cama Hospital on March 27. Without a CCTV camera, the police had to rely on sketch artist. The case is still unsolved.

Between October 2011 and January 2012 , the police released a sketch of the man suspected of rape and murder of three minor girls but he has not been nabbed.

Roy said that sketches play an important role in narrowing down the search for an accused. “We can always filter the on-record accused’s picture and match it with a sketch. However, sketches can be misleading at times as the witness does not always give the best description.”

Had the police solely depended on the sketch for nabbing culprits, they would fail. Police sources on condition of anonymity said that only 20% cases are detected on basis of the sketch. “Getting a near-perfect face of the accused is a skillful job. In many cases, the artist is given only one description and he makes several sketches of the suspect -- one with beard and one with moustache and so on,” said a police officer, requesting anonymity.

“The reason is the suspect changes his looks to avoid police suspicion,” he added.

Machine over man
The police today do not depend only on sketch artists. With CCTV cameras installed at almost all important locations, public places, schools, colleges as well as many residential premises, the police usually take the help of video footage.

The police prefer machine over man as the footage gives better clarity and makes it easy to identify culprits unlike sketches. “A CCTV footage always has an edge over a sketch. In the CCTV footage, there is no confusion over the identity of the accused. The CCTV has facilitated investigation to a great extent,” said Chandrakant Bhosle, senior police inspector of BKC police station.

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