Forensic Computer Composites
Hayden B. Baldwin, 
Illinois State Police, Retired

I had the pleasure of testing several computer composite programs this past year and have finally selected the "best" software. Now, before I continue, I need to clarify that statement. Several of the programs were quite good, however for the criteria that I was using, I felt the CD-Fit software was the "best" for our needs..., at this time. I used the following criteria to select the composite software.
        1. Image Quality
        2. Technical Support
        3. Data Base
        4. Learning Curve
        5. Graphic Compatibility
        6. Cost to Upgrade
        7. Lease or Buy Option
While each of the programs tested seemed to offer something a little different then the others, the one program that did shine above the others was the CD-Fit by Noble Campion.

BACKGROUND: I started using the computer and composite software to do facial composites in 1988 using the VISATEX CompuSketch system. The system was great for its time. The first composite I completed the suspect was apprehended within a few hours.

THE CASE: Even though it was a small town (population 900+) and everybody knew each other, this stranger was amongst them and they never recognized the description. After completing the composite, the investigating officer recognized the individual and went straight to the suspects apartment, one block away from the victim! He had recently moved into the area from California and was usually out of his apartment only after late evening. The officer had seen him earlier and new were "the stranger" was living.

The VISATEX System worked well. The image was not the best quality but the system worked, better then the old S&W Identi-Kit. Nothing compares to a GOOD forensic composite artist who can draw the image by hand. However, for those of us who aren't so talented with that medium, the computer and software became our medium and the results were excellent. I could use a laptop computer and go to the witness, complete a composite, and make a "wanted" bulletin in just a short time! I became very proficient at it. So good, that VISATEX made me one of their Certified Instructors. Then I became the Instructor who taught other instructors. Then the computer industry changed. The VISATEX program was in the DOS environment, everything was changing to a graphical environment, Windows. The cost of computers were dropping fast, the program were cheaper and a lot of those in the industry just couldn't keep up with the changing technology, a financial drain. The "newer" composite programs were using a lot more memory, hard drive space and required better printers. When law enforcement finally caught up to the modern computer world the new composite programs matched the current computers capability. This is where we are today. Several composite programs are offering their composite images in 16 bit, soon to change to 32 bit images. They are now photo quality, some are even in full color!

While there are pros and cons to all systems, the CD-Fit system met our needs. They do not offer color images at this time and I personally would not want a color system, not yet. The industry and law enforcement in general need a few years before that will happen. Color faxes or color copiers are not found in most police stations. When they become standard then the composites may turn to color. Right now I can complete a gray scale image and fax it anywhere in the world where other copies can be made from them, color just isn't technology appropriate yet.

While I found the CD-Fit program extremely easy to use, the user must still have computer knowledge. To take someone that has no experience with a computer then have them sit down and do a composite could be a disaster. However, this day and age most of the newer law enforcement officers are computer literate. They are the easiest to train. What I have found though is that training someone to listen is difficult, if not impossible. The key to ALL facial composites is LISTENING to the witness and learning how to change the images to produce what the victim had seen.

I find it amazing as to how many police officers just don't listen to others talking. It really is amazing what people will tell you if you only learn to listen. Listening is an art. It is difficult to keep ones mouth shut long enough to really hear what the other person is saying. This applies to all of us, not just law enforcement. However in the field of law enforcement, the officer that takes that burglary report, the officer that is half heartedly listening to the domestic quarrel, the officer that is taking a witnesses statement, the investigator interviewing the suspect or witness, the composite artist ..... none of these people are REALLY listening. They are missing key information that the speaker is trying to relay to them. This key information can make or break the case, but you missed it because you didn't LISTEN!  This same thing occurs when a composite artists sits down to "interview" the victim or witness. We hear bits and pieces of their conversations while we are thinking about the next question we are going to ask them. Of course, we are writing our notes, trying to keep up with the conversation, picking up on key words......ignoring the others. These words are usually the difference between a composite that REALLY looks like the suspect or a composite that somewhat looks like the suspect. I have an extremely high success rate for composites. I contribute this success to listening to what the witness is trying to describe. Sometimes the witnesses are describing an emotional state of the suspect rather then a physical attribute. Such as "He had a mean look in his eyes", "His eyes were droopy, like he was on drugs", "He had a scared look on his face", or "He looked young, but he wasn't".   All of these statements are giving you key pieces of information, but caution, apply their interpretation of these words not yours! For instance, the witness said the suspects vehicle was red in color, you find out later the car is actually maroon. In your mind you are looking specifically for a red car, in their mind all shades of red are red in color! The interpretation is in the mind of the beholder. We need to ask more specific questions!

Well now that I went off on a tangent, let me get back to the task at hand, computer composites, specifically the CD-Fit software.

The following are examples of this program:

Please keep in mind that these images are not displayed at their best quality
and these images are composites, NOT photographs.

Again these images are NOT even close to what the actual quality of the images printed out on a ink jet printer. I am restricted here by the quality of images displayed on your monitors, typically 72 DPI compared to a printed image at 300 DPI.

After completing the composite I use a program called "Microsoft Publisher" to complete a "wanted" bulletin. You can actually use any desktop publishing program. I have the page formatted in "publisher" so all I have to do is add the text and composite. I print the original bulletin in color and xerox copies from there. Here is an example of the "wanted bulletin" I created.

While this is not this best image quality, I hope you can see the image well enough to view the general layout of the page. The top portion is the title. It announces the type of crime and where the crime was committed. I have added our logos to spruce it up. The next text section, just below on the right side, states the case number, agency and date the composite was drawn. The next section is the physical description area, height, weight, hair color, eye color, male or female, race and age. Other characteristics can be added as needed. The next section is the narrative section. This is the area that is used to describe the crime, suspect, weapon and/or vehicle used in the commission of the crime. The next section is horizontal across the page, with the agency name and who to contact, with a phone number. The very bottom is a section used by me to identify the composite artist, their agency, their address and phone number. The actual composite is saved in CD-Fit as a tif, pcx, or bmp graphics file and imported into the Publisher program. This document is printed in color then given to the officer for his agency.

The Illinois State Police offers this service to all law enforcement agencies at no charge. Since a majority of the composites I do are for local agencies I have designed the form to show at a glance that it was completed by an Illinois State Police computer composite artist and for which agency the composite was completed.

The company, Noble Campion Ltd, has since changed it's name to AutoFace, Ltd.  CD-Fit is now being offered by Blaze Imaging Limited in Scotland, U.K.

NEWS FLASH!  July 1999:  The product CD-Fit has been sold to yet another company, ZEDA ABM a UK company.

October 2010: to the best of my knowledge the program is no longer available.


Computer Composite Course

for more information click here.

Other composite programs and their contact numbers:

446 Lincoln Highway
Fairless Hills, PA  19030
Phone: 1-800-799-3374

New England Press
1200 Wake Forest Drive
Alexandria, VA 22307
Phone: 1-703-765-7228

  IQ Biometrix.
39111 Paseo Padre Parkway, Suite 304
Fremont, CA, USA 94538
Phone: 1-888-321-5553


SketchCop Solutions
P.O. Box 77458
Corona, CA  92877

If you have comments or suggestions, email me at
last updated 10/2010