Published: 06:00, 15 April 2021
Police E-fits are becoming harder to produce because of the number of masks being worn due to the coronavirus pandemic, an expert has said.
Susan Morrison, a civilian supervisor at Kent Police's Identification Suite, has spoken about the way that E-fits have developed over the years.
And this has changed again with in the last 12 months as the pandemic has forced people to walk around with their faces half covered.
"We are seeing an increase in reports of suspects wearing masks," she said. "And while we view each case separately, sometimes it can be more stressful for the victim to go through the process of making an E-fit than the result is useful to the investigation.
"It's horrible to say no to people but sometimes, especially with masks, it just won't help."
Short for Electronic Facial Identification Technique, E-fits are produced by investigators, using witness descriptions to create an image of criminal suspects.
Ms Morrison has worked with the technology for almost 20 years, and said that she has seen the it develop massively in that time.
She said: "It's changed a huge amount, really evolved during that time especially when you consider how it was not so long ago.
"Before 2001, they were working with a slide in slide out paper system which didn't look nearly as good, and was flimsy and difficult to use.
"I've been working with them since about 2004, and even after that it's developed over at least three generations of computer programme.
"If we're called out we can either do it at the victim's house or at the station.
"Before we see them we run through a few questions to see if they could recognise the person if they saw them again, and so if they could fill in the details of the way that they looked for the Efit.
"We'll go to the meeting with a laptop, and we'll just discuss the case with them.
"It'll cover whether they've seen the person full-face on, and sort out the face shape, different features of that face, until we get to a point where they can recognise the person that they saw."
But beyond the creative side of matching an E-fit to witness descriptions, experts also have to know how to approach victims.
Ms Morrison said: "It's not just a case of listening to those details, it can be really difficult – you have to work with the victim, obviously be sympathetic to what happened.
"Most, if not all of them have been through a very distressing time and to bring that back for them is very difficult."
While new technology has helped, Ms Morrison says that social media is also making it much harder for suspects to stay hidden.
She explained:"The tech makes it look much more lifelike and it continues to play a valuable role in police investigations.
"With Facebook and social media now as well, we often have more people coming forward and putting names towards those faces."
An added factor for the E-fit experts is the emotional situation many face while working with victims of what are, quite often, violent and traumatising incidents.
"Sometimes you do get quite emotional about it. It's hard to not get emotionally involved.
"We do feel that sometimes you should spend some time with the victim after the process to make sure that they are okay. You don't just want to leave them with all of those memories that have had to have been dredged up in order to get a good ID of the suspect."
The civilian supervisor says that the attachment that they feel also means they look out for successful results.
She explained: "We always like to know if the appeal has been a success, and working in the ID suite, if someone is arrested in connection with an incident and comes in for a line-up, we like to see how similar they look to the Efit, it's very interesting for us.
"There are quite a few that stick out, especially when there is a vulnerable victim.
"There was an artifice burglary [where a burglar gains access to a home through lying] with an elderly lady where the suspect was named and subsequently arrested from an Efit.
"There was an investigation back in 2013 where we did a number of E-fits for the same case, he was eventually brought to justice."
Just yesterday, an e-fit was released by detectives investigating a violent burglary where a woman was punched, cut with a knife and was left tied up for two days.