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Meet the NYPD sketch artist who creates faces from others' memories

NYPD sketch artist discusses his process
NYPD sketch artist discusses his process 02:40

NEW YORK -- When a 13-year-old girl was raped in a Queens park last week, the New York City Police Department turned to their sketch artist to create the first image of the suspect based on the victim's description.

CBS New York's Ali Bauman sat down with that artist to learn more about how he creates faces from people's memories.

Meet NYPD forensic artist Det. Jason Harvey

Det. Jason Harvey has spent the past 20 years as a forensic artist for the NYPD. He's one of just two in the whole department.

"We think we see things in a whole way, but we see things much more fragmented than we realize," he said. 

He's drawn thousands of suspects from the memories of victims and witnesses.

"If you don't have video, this is the next step, and it might be the only step," Harvey said.

Recently, his sketch of the suspect in the rape of a 13-year-old girl in Kissena Park with his notable tattoo led police to find the suspect on surveillance video, which, within hours, led to his identification and arrest.

"If you have a reason to remember it, you have a better chance of remembering. And if you're a victim of crime, you have a reason to remember it," Harvey said.

Harvey says one of the most important parts of the process is when a sketch is disseminated to the public in media.

"A common thing that people will say is, oh, this sketch, it could be anyone ... but if that person is your son or your daughter or someone that lives in your building, you would probably recognize them. So it's a good thing to pay attention to the sketches," Harvey said.

NYPD forensic artist describes his process

After a first description, Harvey will thumb through photos of all different people with the victim to find similar characteristics.

"How do you get someone to recollect something they maybe don't fully remember?" Bauman asked.

"That's a good word to use -- recollect -- because the importance of the photographs is that deals with recall memory. So a lot of times people, they won't remember, which is normal, but when they look at the photographs, something will make them recall," Harvey said.

It's a give-and-take between artist and interviewee.  

The process he says can be painful but cathartic for some victims.

"They're helping us make a tool that's gonna be used to catch this guy that did bad things to them ... That's a helpful way for them to get back what was taken from them," Harvey said.

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