TIPS & TRICKS - INTERVIEWING TIPS
Benefits of Computerized Composites
composites have some key advantages over traditional sketch
artists. These are some of the benefits:
Most police departments don’t have the resources to
maintain a staff composite artist, and the cost of bringing
in a professional artist is usually prohibitive. As a result,
composite sketches are often reserved for few high profile
All serious offences deserve rigorous and effective investigation.
Investigations can significantly benefit from composite
evidence when no other evidence (such as fingerprints) are
available to identify the suspect. Computerized composite
technology allows any investigator to produce composites
quickly and effectively – and use in a wider range
The quality and style of professional sketches can vary
widely. Using a computer composite system establishes a
common standard across jurisdictions, making it easier for
police agencies to collaborate on cases.
Traditional sketches are difficult to transmit to other
police agencies. Detail is lost when faxing the image: scanning
and sending a traditional composite electronically can also
result in loss of detail, as well as overloading telecommunications
networks because image files are very large.
The FACES composite system automatically generates a 56-digit
alphanumeric code for each composite. Each code is unique
and provides a “fingerprint” of the composite.
The codes are small – less than 1KB in size –
and so can be transmitted easily by email or even by phone
or radio. When received, the code is entered into the receiver’s
FACES system and the composite recreated in exact detail.
FACES composites are be easily exported as JPEG files to
add to police bulletins and websites. Also, they can be
archived and managed in standard mugshot database systems,
and used with facial recognition technology to search and
find potential matches to develop a “virtual lineup”
Setting Up a Composite Interview
interview environment will have a real impact on the success
of your composite. Here are some basic points on setting
up a composite interview:
Composite interviews should be done after the initial detective’s
interview and report.
Unless the circumstances absolutely require it, don’t
attempt a composite interview with a traumatized victim
or witness immediately after the event. You’ll get
better information the next day, when the V/W is calm and
able to focus.
Allow two hours for the composite interview so the V/W doesn’t
feel rushed or pressured. But in most cases, any longer
than that can be counter productive. If a composite interview
isn’t successful in two hours, it’s unlikely
to be successful at all.
Minimize any distractions during the interview that can
interfere with the V/W’s concentration. Only the FACES
operator and the V/W should be in the room: anyone else
can observe through a one-way mirror or video monitor.
If the V/W is a child and needs a parent to attend, or a
traumatized V/W wants a friend for support, make it clear
to them that they should NOT interrupt the composite process.
Set up the interview room so that the V/W sits beside you
and see the FACES screen as the composite is being developed.
Building Rapport with Composite Witnesses
good communications with the victim/witness is essential
to encouraging memory recall and getting the information
you need to build the composite. Although it’s important
to develop your own interview style, here are some basic
First impressions are lasting so try to establish rapport
early, from your first meeting with the V/W.
Be on time and be prepared for the interview and arrange
the interview to promote the best possible environment for
communication (see Tip #1 – Setting Up a Composite
The V/W will expect you to take charge of the interview,
but do so in a positive, non-aggressive way that emphasizes
your patience and commitment to support them in the composite
Keep in mind that the V/W may need some reassurance. It
can be as simple as asking “How are you doing?”
at the start of the interview, checking whether they want
something to drink, assuring them that they can take a break
at any time.
Be an “active” listener. Respond to what the
V/W is saying by nodding your head, adding a word or two.
Try to speak less, and listen more, and never interrupt.
Every V/W will be anxious and worried that they won’t
do a good job. Give them encouragement at every step of
the composite process. Tell them they’re doing a great
There may be long pauses while the V/W considers different
features. Try to use phrases such as “It’s okay,
take your time,” or “We’ll work on this
together to get this right.” Never show frustration
or impatience – it will make the work slower.
Improving Recall During a Composite Interview
use a number of techniques to improve victim/witness recall
in a composite interview. Try them and see which ones work
Ask some general questions about the suspect at the start,
to help both you and the V/W start to get a mental picture
of appearance. What was the suspect’s race? Was he
heavy or thin? What was his approximate age? Did he have
a full or narrow face? Did he have any peculiar or distinguishing
When you start to focus on the facial features, ask the
V/W to close their eyes, bring the suspect’s face
to mind, and then, when they’re ready, describe it
to you. It’s important not to interrupt while they’re
bringing up this mental picture.
If the V/W discusses details of the incident it may upset
them and interfere with recall. A good idea is to suggest
to the V/W that what you both need to focus on during this
session is what the suspect looked like, and not what he
Here are five simple phrases you can use in composite interviews
to relax and encourage the victim/witness and improve the
Building the Suspect Composite
composite artist has their own sequence for developing a
facial image. Here is a standard approach:
In building a composite, start with the general shape of
the face (thin, round, pointed, square), and then the basic
features (eyes, nose and mouth).
Demonstrate some of the features of the software at the
start of the interview – that you can make features
bigger or smaller, or move it up or down etc – so
the V/W understands how you can fine tune them.
At every step of the process, encourage the V/W, telling
them they’re doing a good job. As the composite is
developed, the V/W will naturally gain confidence and a
sense of accomplishment, and be able to offer further information
Be careful not to inadvertently lead the V/W by suggesting
modifications. When you add a feature you can just say “How
does that look? I can make it bigger or smaller.”
Some interviewers find it useful to let the V/W look through
the FACES Q-cards of thumbnail facial features during the
composite process. Other V/Ws will prefer to look at the
Some V/W will want to use FACES themselves to scroll through
and select features. This can be very effective, as long
as you make note of any features that the V/W select themselves.
If you’re asked by the V/W to make the composite darker,
explain that a copy machine can be used later to darken
the skin tone. (FACES uses a neutral, universal skin tone
because it’s more effective to focus on facial features
when both describing, and identifying, a suspect.)
Composite Interviews with Multiple and Child Witnesses
incident may involve multiple victim/witnesses or child
witnesses. Here are some basic guidelines:
Witnesses should be interviewed individually. It’s
strongly recommended that you develop a single composite,
with notes on which witness provided which facial detail.
Releasing multiple composites confuses the identification
With multiple V/W, you might interview women first. Many
investigators find that female V/Ws have better recall for
details on facial features.
Children are also extremely good at recalling details, and
may be a good first interview. But as investigators know,
child interviews have special challenges – most importantly,
they can be easily influenced by your behavior in the interview.
Simplify the language you use with children, and be particularly
careful not to inadvertently encourage them to fabricate
information in an effort to please you.
For example, asking a question a second time may be a cue
for a child that the interviewer was unhappy with his or
her first response. Asking “Is that all you can remember?”
may suggest to a child that they need to add more detail.
Legal Issues Regarding Composite Evidence
following is some general advice to anticipate and avoid
legal issues relating to your composite:
The first composite out of the printer is evidence (original)
and should be added to the case file.
The officer who created the composite should sign the front
of the original copy/ The back of the composite should have
the time, date, case number and V/W signature.
A Computer Image Report should be attached to the composite.
FACES software includes a template report that you can use.
Its key elements are:
If a photo line-up or live line-up is planned, it’s
usually better to do the composite first to avoid potential
At the end of the composite process, ask the V/W how confident
they are that the image is a correct likeness of the suspect.
If they express doubt, you may want to recommend against
publicizing the image. A weak composite can result in wasted
effort with law enforcement looking for the wrong person.
Improving your Composite Skills
are a few ways you can practice and improve your composite
FACES 4.0 has an observation game. A composite image generated
by FACES is displayed for a few minutes. Then it disappears
and you try to reproduce it as accurately as possible. It’s
an excellent way to improve skill and become more familiar
with the FACES database of features.
Developing FACES composites from arrest photos is also good
practice. When you’re doing your first ones, try laying
a ruler on the photo to see how features line up with each
other, and basic face proportions.
The ruler exercise (above) will help you to avoid two of
the most common composite errors: