Michael Streed, "Sketchcop," puts a face to the case for Maryland police
BALTIMORE, Md. (WBFF) -- In a race against time, there’s one man putting a face to the faceless. For 37 years Michael Streed has been using an unlikely weapon to fight crime.
“I started calling myself the ‘Sketchcop.’” He says: “People say, ‘What do you do?’ and I say, ‘I’m a cop that draws.’”
It was a love of comic books that drew Streed to art.
“I always wanted to be a Disney cartoonist, a Disney comic artist,” he says.
It was a desire to serve that pulled Streed to law enforcement.
“When I got into the police department I had to leave art behind.” He continues: “It was never far behind.”
At exactly the right time, his love and his desire met: “A composite sketch came on [TV] and I was floored.”
He recalls: “That's it! That's how I’m going to mix my art with love of public service.”
He’s Baltimore Police’s only forensic sketch artist, and the city’s crime ravaged streets keep him as one of the busiest in the country.
“When I first started, I did 154 cases my first year and that was more than an individual sketch artist for NYPD or Houston PD,” he says.
Streed’s spent countless hours studying forensic art. He uncovers the criminal’s face by getting into the victim’s mind.
“I’m still amazed,” he says. “I’m still to this day, even though I’ve been working for 37 years I’m still floored. I’m amazed that people can remember that much and trust me enough to come up with something like that, I'll be forever amazed.”
In the digital age, with surveillance cameras and cell phones constantly recording, most cash strapped city budgets are cutting out forensic sketching.
“What the BPD is doing for their citizens is extraordinary because a lot of police departments don't offer full time sketch service because its expensive it takes a lot of time and it’s something you don't see every day.” He says, “It's necessary but good ones are hard to find.”
That’s why Streed has turned the tables.
“I developed a sketch program," he says.
Two software systems, they come with thousands of preloaded facial features to help other departments beat the clock.
“With just the click of a mouse they can build thousands of faces," he said.
Streed says: “A crime scene technician, a secretary, a patrolman, instead of one sketch artists they have 20 or 30 depending on how big their department and they can catch more crooks that way.”
Nearly 100 departments across the globe are now using Streed’s software. He says people ask him all the time: “What if you're replaced by software?”
He replies: “As long as it’s my software.”
Streed continues: “I have a chance to influence the technology and the way it's used, then I'm OK because at some point in time I have to put my stylus down and leave it over to someone else, but not yet.”
For now, in Baltimore, when every minute matters, it’s up to Streed to strike before the next criminal does.