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Michigan police embracing new forensic technology

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HASTINGS, Mich. – Many may not view police work as artistic, but for a select few among the Michigan State Police ranks, art is the way they catch criminals.

Take Trooper Anthony Adams. He has been with MSP since 2012. Trooper Adams had a knack for drawing while growing up, and even without formal art classes after high school, Adams used the hobby as an escape from daily life and his eight years in the Marine Corps.

“I started pretty youn, like most people do when they get into art,” said Trooper Adams. “In general, it’s been kind of open of my own personal passions. I’ve always loved to draw. So it was just kind of a natural step.” A step that led him into a section of police work allowing him to combine his love of art and public service.

Trooper Adams is part of the MSP Forensic Artist Unit, and is one of about seven forensic artists within the Michigan State Police. It’s a job he says was tailor-made for his skill set, but the process he and his fellow forensic artists go through to yield sketches probably isn’t what you’re picturing.

"When you see old cop movies, you have the association of the artist across the table and he’s like, 'Tell me what he looks like. '"

That’s not how it works anymore.

Now, instead of a pencil and pad of paper, forensic artists are turning to technology to catch unidentified wrongdoers. Using a version of Photoshop, artists can render astoundingly accurate images without having to put pen to paper. Time isn’t an issue – Trooper Adams says that a typical sketch, whether on paper or a computer, takes three hours on average. What does make a difference is their ability to make small adjustments very easily, often helping witnesses or victims recollect a face with just the click of a button.

“There are certain tools in the Photoshop software that kind of give you that ability to control your details and still maintain a level of accuracy that’s what you’re looking for,” said Trooper Adams. “Whereas before [you’d] go through and do a new drawing, on here all I have to do is go in and move a couple things around.”

MSP isn’t holding this technology to itself. Quite the opposite, in fact. Adams says many smaller police departments in the state aren’t aware this service exists, but they can use it free of charge by reaching out to MSP operations.

For Trooper Adams, it’s a means to combine his two passions. For the public, it means a new way police use technology, one that could mean the difference between criminals getting caught and staying on the streets.

“If I could take my ability on a personal level and be able to apply it to my actual job and be able to help people with it," said Trooper Adams, "I would jump over that opportunity.”

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