Female Cop’s Identikits Help Catch Crooks

In the movies, police officers draw identikits of suspects from witnesses’ information – believe it or not, that is what SA police Lt. Colonel Meliza Pretorius does for a living.

A facial identification analyst/forensic artist is specially trained to apply and combine interviewing skills with artistic ability to create a facial composition.

Col Pretorius boasts 27 years’ experience in the police facial identification environment.

She is one of the 20 female facial identification analysts in the police service.

In celebration of women’s month, the SA Police Service said it was highlighting the career of Lt. Colonel Pretorius as one of the leading women who are breaking barriers in a male-dominated environment.

As a facial identification analyst, Lt. Colonel Pretorius is responsible for interviewing victims of crime, especially where there is no forensic evidence available.

She uses the information to compile a face sketch of an unknown suspect.

“It has always been my passion to make a difference to the communities we serve,” said Lt. Colonel Pretorius.

“There is nothing more that makes me proud than when we interview victims or complainants and compile a positive face of a suspect, ours is to continue to serve the people of this country with due diligence”.

Lt. Colonel Pretorius and the other female facial identification analysts assist investigating officers in securing convictions of perpetrators of serious crimes such as murder, rapes, and hijackings.

During her illustrious career, Lt. Colonel Pretorius has attended to numerous high-profile cases.

She has interviewed traumatised victims and complainants in various crimes.

Her recent work led to the arrest of a suspected serial rapist in Benoni. The matter is still before the courts.

Explaining the way she works, Lt. Colonel Pretorius said to identify a suspect she uses her artistic skills and highly specialised computer software.

 She compiles two-dimensional images of the suspect based on victim descriptions.

In order to obtain these descriptions, an in-depth experience of cognitive interviewing techniques is required.

In addition to artistic skills, a solid understanding of the study of facial anatomy, digital imagery, human memory, aging trends, and victim psychology is necessary.

Unlike fingerprints and DNA, which do not change during a person’s life, facial identification has to take into account different factors.

The factors include ageing, plastic surgery, effects of drug abuse or smoking, facial features such as scars, tattoos, moles, and piercings.

 Facial identification teams rely on the memory of numerous victims that may recall a unique feature of a wanted suspect.

Lt. Colonel Pretorius’ team compiled several facial compositions of the unknown suspect and thereafter printed the image to present to victims.

The wanted suspect was arrested earlier this year and linked to numerous cases.

Over and above her day-to-day responsibilities, Lt. Colonel Pretorius, provides training and support to other facial identification analysts.

She has also presented and co-presented at various national and international conferences.

Lt. Colonel Pretorius continues to testify in her field of expertise in various regional and high courts in the country as well as abroad.

Facial identification plays an important role in the investigation of crimes.

In numerous cases, the only evidence is a face seen by a victim or a witness and such recollection can assist to identify a suspect and apprehend him/her for questioning.

The compulsory wearing of face masks to prevent the spread of  Cocid-19 presents new challenges when identifying suspects.

Lt. Colonel Pretorius said her team is still getting positive feedback on arrests of suspects using identikits.

She says to pursue a career as a facial identification analyst, one needs a diploma or degree in fine arts or graphic art.

All in all Lt. Colonel Pretorius has 31 years of service in the police.