Paper, pencil are powerful weapons for Wake sheriff's deputy
Posted June 17, 2014
Raleigh, N.C. — Wake County Sheriff's Deputy Mike Mullins is fond of saying that the most powerful weapon he has as a law enforcement officer isn’t his gun.
It’s the composite sketches of suspects that he’s been drawing for 23 years as one of a handful of forensic sketch artists in North Carolina.
“I helped arrest or put away more people with this then with a gun,” he said, holding up an example of his art work. “To be able to use something like a pencil to help catch criminals, it’s awesome.”
Mullins was recognized by Duke University last year after two of his sketches helped campus police track down two suspects accused of robbing students.
The process of creating a sketch is methodical and precise. Mullins asks witnesses to recall every detail they can about a robber or assailant, and he has them flip through books of FBI mugshots for help to isolate different features.
“The challenge is understanding what people mean, not exactly what they say,” he said.
There are other challenges in working with witnesses, especially those who have been traumatized by a violent crime. Trauma affects memory, he said.
“When you get right down to it, the incident took place in about 30 seconds,” Mullins said.
Mullins got his start as an artist when he was a police officer in New York about 23 years ago. He said he drew a cartoon on a colleague’s locker as a joke, and it was so good that his chief decided to put his artistic talents to better use. He sent the young Mullins to the department’s forensic sketch school.
In addition to drawing composites of suspects, Mullins also creates drawings based on examining the remains of victims. The work is instrumental in helping investigators identify the dead.
Despite technological advances, Mullins says pencil and paper is still his preference.
“Nobody has those gigantic computer screens that pop a face out in 15 minutes and it looks just like the guest star,” he said. “It’s the only part of law enforcement where technology doesn’t help.”
Knowing that Mullins possesses a rare skill set, the Wake County Sheriff’s Office loans him out to any law enforcement agency in the area that needs him.
Mullins said his work is very gratifying.
“It feels great. I'm like a kid in a candy store,” he said. “Every single time I get a close likeness, it's like the first time. I get the biggest kick out of it when it looks just like the guy. I’m like, ‘This is amazing!’”