Where surveillance technology and security cameras fail, pencil-wielding artists come to the rescue.
Lois Gibson is a police sketch artist. She sits down with witnesses to crimes – or people who’ve been victims of crimes, often violent ones – to draw a likeness of the suspect to aid police. She’s the Guinness World Record holder as the sketch artist whose work has helped solve the most crimes.
It’s a remarkably small field – only 89 artists are registered with the International Association for Identification. Most police departments can’t afford full-time forensic artists, so they rely on part-time or freelance artists, or they have police officers in the department pull double-duty. They train them to use digital composite software that’s filled with a catalogue of facial features from which a witness can choose.
But even in a world of tight budgets and learnable software, sketch artists who work full time possess human talents like creativity, listening skills and empathy that coax the best details out of witnesses.
Interview by Bryan Lufkin. Filming by Sebastian Diaz. Additional editing by Bernadette Young.
To comment on this story or anything else you have seen on BBC Capital, please head over to our Facebook page or message us on Twitter.
If you liked this story, sign up for the weekly bbc.com features newsletter called "If You Only Read 6 Things This Week". A handpicked selection of stories from BBC Future, Culture, Capital and Travel, delivered to your inbox every Friday.