Does every major city have its own forensic sketch artist who works with the police department?

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Answered by: Cynthia, An Expert in the Crime Prevention Category
For those millions of TV viewers addicted to shows like "CSI" and "Bones," this writer included, it would seem to be a given that a forensic sketch artist would be part of the package within any major city's police department. After all, when a witness to a crime, or a victim of one, gives a description of the criminal, somebody's got to turn it into a sketch, right?

It was a real shocker to learn that not only do many major cities not have such an artist on their payroll, there are only about 19 full-time forensic sketch artists working in the country!

Sure, there are hundreds of artists who are part-time and unofficial (some even completely untrained, like the gifted one who helped solve the famous Elizabeth Smart kidnapping case) but even Chicago and Boston don't have an artist on staff. TV-land is apparently more like dreamland when it comes to all the bells, whistles and expertise that the average viewer comes to think is common place for modern crime solving.

Lois Gibson of Houston, Texas however, is the real deal. Not only has she been employed by the Houston police department for over 20 years, she holds the record in the Guinness Book of World Records for helping solve the most cases with her uncanny recreations of those who have committed the unfathomable.

A victim of a crime that nearly took her own life, Gibson has made it her passion to help others recall characteristics of the person they may have only barely glimpsed (or in the case of a blind pregnant woman who was raped, only touched). She has managed to extract a description from a belligerent bus driver who claimed she "didn't see nothin" and from a scared teenager who was grabbed from behind, yet twisted free and ran for her life without looking back. Her drawings are frequently so spot-on that once released to the media, the criminal sometimes gives up and turns himself in.

But there is more to being a forensic artist than being good at drawing. The person has to be part cop, part psychologist, part psychic to pull out memories from the frequently terrified or traumatized individual.

Watching Gibson interview someone for a sketch is an unforgettable experience. Her ability to "get inside the head" of the victim or witness and help them visualize the kind of nose, eyes, mouth and ears of a person they would rather block out and forget is her true gift.

She plans to work as long as she is able, for to Gibson this isn't work at all but why she was put on earth. And despite the horrific circumstances that surround her, she is one of the happiest, most genial people you will ever meet. That's because Lois Gibson is a survivor and someone who can make a huge difference.

Ultimately, she plans to teach her craft (she has already written the definitive textbook on the subject) and do all she can to put more forensic sketch artists on the beat.

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