- Associated Press - Sunday, July 20, 2014

DALLAS (AP) - Daniel Town knows his way around a face. He’s an artist. His tools are a cluster of pencils of different weights and textures, a ruler, a lumpy gray eraser and a sketchpad.

It’s his subjects who are unusual. Town, 56, is the forensic artist for the Dallas Police Department. The faces he draws are a sinister collection of serial rapists, robbers and murderers.

“This gentleman I’m gonna draw, height and weight, approximately?” he asks, preparing to start a sketch.

Next, he asks about facial tattoos and piercings. Then he’s on to nose, eyes, eyebrows and mouth. He asks the person’s age. He asks about facial hair.

As he draws, he uses his fingertip to shade some bits, adding darkness to the forehead, some detail to the eyes and lips.

“Anything you want me to tweak and change? Anything that jumps out that you want to change at all?”

Town has been doing this for five years, which is only a fraction of the 33 years he’s been a police officer. With 43 sketches on the books, he plans to retire next year. That could leave the Dallas police without a sketch artist.

In fact, many police departments no longer have someone like Town. They’ve gone high-tech, producing digital composite sketches on computers, using software that any officer can be trained to operate.

In an interview with The Dallas Morning News (https://bit.ly/1tSAy0L ), even Town acknowledges that the computer programs sometimes yield more detailed likenesses than a hand-drawn sketch.

Still, as a rare talent, he’s developed a reputation. He’s sometimes called on to do drawings for suburban police departments that don’t have forensic artists.

Town begins a sketch by giving a crime victim a catalog of black-and-white mug shots to leaf through. The victim selects faces that reflect different features of the assailant. Each face in the catalog has a letter-number combination.

“The witness will go through all these pictures and will say, ‘Oh God, his eyes were just like C-38, except squintier, closer together,’” Town said. “Sometimes they’ll say, ‘Hey man, no, forget that, forget that. It looks more like this guy . except his cheeks are rounder.’”

He said the victims deserve the credit for any help his drawings have been in solving cases. They will often spend hours with him, working to put a composite together.

As a veteran detective, Town understands victims’ trauma and fear. Most of the cases he works on are sexual assaults. Many times, he said, the victims are so distraught that they have trouble talking him through descriptions of their attackers.

So he’ll talk about other things: Their families, where they’re from, where they’re going to school. He asks just about anything to get their mind off the events that brought them to his drawing room.

He remembers one case in which a man had invaded a victim’s home and abused her for hours.

The woman was so traumatized that Town didn’t think he’d ever get the information he needed to complete a sketch. But she stayed with it. She wanted to finish the drawing.

“I’ll never forget that young lady,” Town said.

“They hang in there, they hang in there tough. They’ve got to relive it and go over it with a case detective, with me. It’s excruciating for them.”

Before working with a witness, Town will thoroughly research the case file, focusing on any description of ethnicity, height, weight and so forth. Then it’s up to the witness to fill in the defining details.

The workload runs hot and cold. Sometimes he’ll produce one sketch a week, and sometimes he won’t have anyone to draw for several months. When Town’s not sketching, he’s a full-time crime scene detective.

As he leafs through his book of sketches, he has a memorable story for each.

There’s a man with a “7” tattooed between his eyes, three dots inked onto his cheek, and a long, fiery orange goatee. Another is clean-cut, with dark hair and dark-rimmed glasses, which Town said were probably a prop to throw officers off the trail.

Sometimes, when a suspect is finally booked, Town will learn that his sketch didn’t precisely hit the mark.

“I’ve seen some appallingly bad composites,” he said. “They were horrible drawings as far as fine art is concerned. But we’re not doing fine art, anyway.”

Town has no formal training as an artist, but sketching faces is something he’s been doing his whole life. He did attend a 19-day FBI academy in the fall of 2009 to become certified to do forensic drawings.

When he retires next year, he won’t put down his sketch pad. He intends to continue doing forensic art part time as a member of the police reserve. He’s in the police choir, too.

“I’m not going anywhere,” he said.


Information from: The Dallas Morning News, https://www.dallasnews.com

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