HOUSTON, Texas - There's a brand new tool that victims of crime everywhere can use to actually help bring their attackers to justice.
Computer software packages, marketed under different names with different features, all do basically the same thing: They allow you to create a professional-looking sketch of the criminal who wronged you.
"I think it's really important for people to realize they can be empowered to solve their own crimes," said Greg Micek, the owner of a company that sells Faces, a popular computer sketch program.
Users simply pick facial features from a database of more than 4,500 eyes, ears, noses, hairlines, jaws and other features.
You pick the feature that best matches the criminal's face from a selection of facial features on the left side, click on that feature and move it to the right side of the screen to create the composite sketch.
"Faces" is sold by IQ Biometrix and is available on the internet for sale.
A private individual may purchase the kit for right around $100 but it is also available to police agencies in a more advanced form and at a higher price.
There are other programs for creating computerized sketches that are available for free. "Ultimate Flash Face," for example, is simple to use and costs nothing.
Rania Mankarious, with Houston Crime Stoppers, calls the new software programs invaluable in helping to fight crime.
"I think anything a victim can do or an eyewitness to crime can do to help solve a crime is extremely important, and I would say, 'Yes, use it,'" Mankarious said.
For 32 years, sketch artist Lois Gibson has been scratching out composite drawings of the faces behind violent crimes. It's something she knows all too well. When she was younger, she was brutally raped and her attacker got away.
"That's why I do this. I know what it feels like to want justice so bad, it's taken your whole life over," Gibson said.
Her sketches have helped solve more than 1,200 crimes. While Gibson believes human sketch artists are irreplaceable, she feels this software can really help, especially if victims use it right after the crime.
"When the face is fresh," she said. "Just do a little mock-up from a free computer program. I think that's an actually excellent idea."
Currently, Faces is being used by more than 5,000 police agencies around the world.
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