Gallery: How the police piece together the face of wanted criminals

The Ipswich Star's James Marston learns about E Fit identification at Martlesham Police HQ

The Ipswich Star's James Marston learns about E Fit identification at Martlesham Police HQ - Credit: Archant

THE E-FIT has proven a vital crime fighting tool for police in recent years, and this week James Marston has been finding out how they put the images together.

The first step was to create an E-FIT of James but when photographer Lucy Taylor was asked to describe her colleague to Nicola Amey, she found it was harder than it looks.

“He’s got a round, oval shaped face, more hair at the sides than on the top. Fair hair and blue eyes – at least I think he has.”

Nicola, 27, is a PCSO with Suffolk police and she is one of a team of officers in the county trained in Electronic Facial Identification Technique E-FIT to you and me.

Born out of photofit techniques of the 1970s, E-FIT is a computerised method of piecing together a likeness of a suspect in a criminal investigation.

Where no photograph exists, E-FIT is a way of helping identify offenders and bring them to justice.

As part of his remit, Detective Inspector Darrell Skuse oversees identification in investigations across Suffolk focusing on E-FIT and a second computerised identification system called CIMWEB.

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He said: “Generally we use E-FIT when we have no idea who the offender could be. It is a process we go through with the witness who may have seen the person in question for just a few moments.

“We ask a lot of questions and take them back to where they were and what they were doing. We use a number of techniques to enhance their memory recall.”

Witnesses are asked to go through the process as soon as possible while the memories remain clear.

Det Insp Skuse said: “We start by taking a statement from the witness which includes a description.”

Once the E-FIT is prepared it is released to the media, such as The Star, for publication to a wider audience.

Det Insp Skuse said: “The aim is to prompt other people’s memories and find out if anyone recognises the offender. It is part of the information we gather which could lead to later arrest.

“If we put an E-FIT into the press we usually have no idea who it is in the hope that the public come forward with more information and or names of possible suspects. It goes into the public domain and it has helped us on numerous occasions over the years. If it didn’t work we wouldn’t do it.”

Det Insp Skuse, 47, said E-FIT images are one part of the wider investigation undertaken by police.

He added: “E-FIT is one aspect of what we would be doing at the time. We have to be careful though and sure it will benefit the investigation. If the image is too obscure we could be flooded with names and information which isn’t helpful.”

Civilian police worker Paul Grimwood is also a retired inspector who joined Suffolk police aged just 16.

He has seen the methods of identification develop and advance into a highly computerised technology.

He said: “If we have no idea who it could be then we use E-FIT but if we do have an idea of who it might be we tend to use the CIMWEB system.”

A computerised album of offenders, CIMWEB allows police to search through a number of criteria such as type of crime, sex of offender, post code, age and offenders with similar looks to provide a page of photos of possible suspects to present to the witness. CIMWEB is having positive results when it comes to identifying suspects, says Det Insp Skuse.

Once a suspect is arrested a formal identification is used again using latest technology.

The force uses a computerised parade of video clips of offenders.

Paul added: “We use video clips of nine people and call the witnesses in one at a time to make the formal identification.

“We show the videos drawn from a UK-wide database of offenders so that they can identify the person in question.”

Det Insp Skuse added: “Technology has advanced hugely in recent years and there is potential for more developments in fields such as facial mapping which measures features on the face.

“We are currently investing in training more officers in identification techniques such as E-FIT across Suffolk.”

But E-FIT and other forms of identification are not infallible.

Det Insp Skuse said: “People can get it wrong and that’s why we don’t rely solely on the evidence of witness identification. It is part of a wider investigation and a wider jigsaw.”

For 27-year-old Nicola working with Lucy and putting together an E-FIT of me takes some time.

Nicola said: “It usually takes around an hour-and-a-half to two hours. We start with a basic face shape and the computer generates images that we change as we go along. It can change throughout the process and it isn’t an exact science, the aim is to provide a likeness of the suspect. It is never going to be a perfect match.”

Det Insp Skuse pointed out that much depends on the circumstances witnesses see the suspect.

He said: “If they are holding a gun or a knife or in a situation that is clearly wrong then the brain remembers more clearly but if it is something like a distraction burglary and someone is in your home and the situation feels right then it is often much harder to remember what they looked like.”

And then the E-FIT of me is ready.

Nicola added: “Lucy was a good witness but it isn’t as easy as you might think. She has known you for some time but some witnesses see a suspect for just a short time. I think it was harder than she thought.”

And Lucy’s verdict?

“I could have given you more wrinkles.”