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July 31, 2014

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Law Enforcement:

Metro sketch artist hopes works ‘spark an interest’

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Leila Navidi

Detective David Prichard, a police sketch artist, works on an example sketch of a nonexistent subject in his office at Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department Headquarters in Las Vegas on Wednesday, September 5, 2012.

Mock Suspect Sketch by Metro Artist

Metro Police sketch artist Detective David Prichard demonstrates his technique by drawing a mock suspect for the camera.

Metro Sketch Artist

Detective David Prichard, a police sketch artist, works on an example sketch of a nonexistent subject in his office at Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department Headquarters in Las Vegas on Wednesday, September 5, 2012. Launch slideshow »
Metro Police have released this composite sketch of a man suspected of sexually assaulting a woman on Aug. 28.

Metro Police have released this composite sketch of a man suspected of sexually assaulting a woman on Aug. 28.

    Anyone with information about the sexual assault that occurred Aug. 28 should contact Metro’s sexual assault section at 702-828-3421. To remain anonymous, contact Crime Stoppers at 702-385-5555 or visit crimestoppersofnv.com.

It was the day after a violent sexual assault. The victim, a young woman, sat slumped in a chair next to Detective David Prichard’s desk.

Although emotionally drained, the victim meticulously described her attacker: He was a white man with blue eyes and a military-style haircut. His reddish complexion bore pockmarks. He was older but not elderly.

As she spoke, Prichard said he listened and sketched. And sketched some more.

“I want it to be perfect for them,” said Prichard, a composite sketch artist for Metro Police. “I want them to be able to look at it and go, ‘Yeah, I feel good about that.’”

Several hours later, a man bearing the suspect’s resemblance appeared in a 4-by-6 box on paper, Prichard said. That was Aug. 29.

On Wednesday, police released the suspect sketch to the public, asking for assistance identifying the man who allegedly coaxed the woman into his car Aug. 28 near Russell Road and Decatur Boulevard. The armed suspect then transported her to a desert area, where he sexually assaulted her, police said.

Now it’s a waiting game. Will someone — maybe a co-worker, neighbor or family member — see the sketch and identify a possible suspect?

“It’s not meant to be a portrait,” said Prichard, who works in Metro’s sexual assault section. “It’s the likeness of a person. It’s something put out to spark an interest.”

In an era driven by technology, Prichard, an almost 14-year veteran of the department, stands by his pencil-and-paper investigative work. Since becoming a detective five years ago, Prichard has drawn more than 40 suspect sketches.

“I feel like it’s just so much more personal sitting down with a pencil and paper instead of using a computer,” Prichard said, referring to computerized sketching programs.

Prichard grew up doodling. That morphed into an early career as an elementary art teacher. But there was something missing.

“I had actually wanted to be a police officer for a lot of years,” he said.

By age 35, he switched careers and made clear his intention to become a sketch artist — a role bridging his two interests of police work and art.

“It’s not only the drawing aspect,” Prichard said. “You really have to be a good listener.”

The listening and drawing, however, comes after what he said was the hardest part of his job: making victims and witnesses feel comfortable enough to recall minute details.

“Sometimes my witnesses might be people who saw (suspects) from 15, 20 feet away,” he said. “What people don’t realize is that if they have that image in their mind, they can sit down and convey it to someone. A lot of people feel like they can’t.”

One time, Prichard encouraged an especially nervous woman to recite her poetry as they talked. He also keeps a box of tissues handy.

“Some people break down and cry,” he said.

To that end, Prichard, a natural conversationalist, does his best to keep the mood light. He asks victims and witnesses about their hobbies, their places of birth — anything to put them at ease.

But don’t expect his office to mirror a therapist’s. There are two desks and a few chairs. No wall hangings.

“I don’t like distractions,” he said. “I don’t want them walking in and looking at something else and thinking about something else.”

After all, it’s still detective work, and the more details, the better. A book full of facial feature shapes helps guide the process. Victims and witnesses identify feature shapes while Prichard continuously draws and tweaks.

Prichard’s quest for perfection is what makes suspect sketches such a valuable investigative tool, said Lt. Daniel McGrath of Metro’s sexual assault section.

“The more narrow and specific we are, the better the results we might get back,” McGrath said. “He’s pretty modest, but he’s considered a big asset to the unit.”

Prichard is the only Metro detective who serves as a sketch artist, but a civilian employee also draws some sketches for the department.

In June, police released a sketch of a man suspected of sexually assaulting children. By mid-August, officers arrested a 27-year-old man who bears a strikingly similar resemblance to the suspect Prichard sketched.

Prichard admits it’s “kind of neat” when his sketches match the person arrested, but he doesn’t take full credit.

“Not only is it a sense of satisfaction for us, but it’s for that person who sat down and assisted,” he said, referring to victims and witnesses. “It's due to them that we have (a sketch).”

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