Piecing Together an Identity

To help solve more crimes, one sheriff's office overhauled its forensics unit and brought a new technology on board


Teaming with artists

     Broward County Sheriff's Office cooperates with the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale in an effort to combine the latest in graphic design with best of forensics technology. Some might consider this to be an unorthodox pairing, but on all fronts the effort already appears to be paying off.

     "To me, that was the perfect partnership," says Lamberti. "[At the art institute] they train students in art professionally; so the idea was, would they be willing to start a certificate program where the students can come over here, learn the skill, learn from each other and teach some of our people?"

     Sheriff's office workers attend Photoshop, as well as additional art and technology training at the institute. Meanwhile, forensic art is now a part of the Fort Lauderdale Art Institute curriculum. Like any other team member, interns are an integral part of the Broward County Sheriff's Office Forensic Art Unit. And for some students, the experience could lead to a career.

     In addition, to cut costs and utilize internal talent, the sheriff's office has begun to train more people in-house rather than make outside hires.

Spread the word, expand the effort

     In order for either hand-drawn or electronic composites to work, word or rather, description, needs to get out. The Broward County Sheriff's Office displays hand-drawn and Photoshop composites via many outlets — including radio and television broadcasts, the Crime Stoppers tip line and America's Most Wanted. The composite of the suspect in the previously mentioned Boca Raton Town Center Mall case is currently being circulated on the show.

     But it isn't just the homicides that warrant publicity. Thanks to its latest undertaking, the forensics department now has the capability and manpower to address even the smallest crime.

     A rash of robberies in area Chinese restaurants last year and, more currently, pizza restaurants, produced a number of witness descriptions that led to arrests.

     "When I got here, I said we need to make this a full-time effort where we have a dedicated group of people who do this on a regular basis. Not only for our own people, but for the municipalities in the county, surrounding counties and federal jurisdictions," Lamberti says. "There were definitely enough requests."

     Now the agency is able to assist other jurisdictions in robbery and aggravated assault cases, in addition to its own.

     "A lot of times, that's the best evidence you have to go on," Lamberti says. "You don't have fingerprints but you have a description from a witness. Through Crime Stoppers and our media partnerships, we can get all these composites out to everybody."

     Lamberti indicates that because Crime Stoppers implements a rewards system, the more crimes they produce a composite for, the better chance they have of solving them.

Measuring success

     Though the program is relatively new (especially in its use of Photoshop), time will tell how many arrests will be made using this method. But already the team has seen an increase in production, case-load and media visibility. It would seem that the success McMahon found with his spot-on hand drawings is certain to repeat itself with the team's current efforts.

     With its revamped forensics unit, the Broward County Sheriff's Office isn't merely closing cases. It's reducing its operation time, better assisting community concerns, backing up other jurisdictions and providing closure to people who have lost loved ones.

     For Muchow, the most satisfying part of her job is simple.

     "When you get to a point where you can see the resemblance, it's just like giving them a certain dignity back," she says. "And it makes you feel good to be able to do something like that."

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