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How to Become a Police Sketch Artist: Career Roadmap

Research the requirements to become a police sketch artist. Learn about the job description, and read the step-by-step process to start a career in police sketch artistry. View article »

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  • 0:01 Should I Be a Police…
  • 0:39 Career Requirements
  • 1:12 Steps to Be a Police…

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Video Transcript

Should I Become a Police Sketch Artist?

Police sketch artists, also known as forensic or composite artists, interview victims and witnesses to create images of suspects. Their sketches may be used by police or released to the public to help apprehend criminals. Additionally, people in this position sometimes create age-progressed photos of missing persons or identify remains by bone structure. These sketch artists often work as freelancers for several police departments. Working on a freelance basis can mean a degree of freedom in scheduling, but working for law enforcement means that these professionals might be called upon at any hour.

Career Requirements

Education Level Postsecondary coursework and professional training programs are available
Degree Field Fine arts or a closely related major
Experience Employers may look for professional art experience; some sketch-artists are also law enforcement officers
Key Skills Creativity; strong artistic ability; familiarity with facial reconstruction software
Salary (2014) $41,822 (2016 median for all fine artists)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, University of Texas-Arlington, PayScale.com

Police sketch artists need to complete postsecondary coursework in fine arts or a closely related major. Professional training programs are also available. Employers may look for candidates with professional art experience and some sketch-artists are also law enforcement officers. These professionals need creativity and strong artistic ability. They should also have familiarity with facial reconstruction software. According to 2016 data from Payscale.com, fine artists earn a median salary of $41,822.

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Steps to Be a Police Sketch Artist

Step 1: Complete Training

Police sketch artists need to have a background in art and anatomy in order to depict their subjects accurately. Training can be completed in many ways, such as through a university or through an International Association for Identification approved program, in which students need to complete between 40-120 hours. In addition to the artistic aspects of sketching, students will need to learn about areas involving odontology, or the investigation of teeth by looking at abnormalities, development and structure, and osteology, which is the function and structure of bones.

Prospective sketch artists can benefit from postsecondary education in art and anatomy. Some law enforcement agencies use digital imaging software to create composites and age-progressed images of suspects, so students may benefit from courses in computer science and graphic design as well.

Step 2: Take Forensic Art Courses

Aspiring police sketch artists can participate in government-sponsored programs or courses offered by established forensic artists. Programs typically cover composite drawings, age-progressed imagery, post-mortem imagery and forensic facial imaging. Training may also include interview techniques, use of visual aids, facial anatomy, courtroom testimony, special equipment and biological variations of race, age and gender.

Step 3: Continue Training and Pursue Certification for Career Advancement

Police sketch artists can either be regular police officers who double as sketch artists or freelance artists working with police departments. If you are a freelance artist, make contact with as many police departments as possible to increase your client base. With additional forensic training, police officers can advance to crime scene and forensic technician positions.

The International Association for Identification offers certification for forensic artists. Applicants must meet minimum education and experience requirements, submit a portfolio and complete a written exam.

Aspiring police sketch artists need to have completed college coursework in fine arts or a closely related field and professional training programs are also available.

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