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State Police Forensic Art Unit "Draws" Out Valuable Details to Help Solve Crimes, Close Cases
March 20, 2023
As far back as Tpr. Alyson Sieminski can remember, she dreamed of becoming a professional artist.
“That’s why I joined the Michigan State Police,” she joked. “It’s the truth. I followed the career of now Insp. Sarah Krebs who has been successful as an artist, so I knew the opportunity was there.”
Trooper Sieminski, Inspector Krebs and five others make up the MSP’s Forensic Art Unit (FAU).
Forensic art can be any representation that helps capture or convict a criminal or aids in identifying an unknown, deceased person.
“Our artists focus on the visual parts of a case,” said Wade Dakin, manager of the MSP’s Audio/Video Analysis Unit and FAU program coordinator. “They’re tremendously talented and have proven to be an asset for the communities we serve. A composite sketch is often an important and public piece of a criminal investigation.”
Like the one Sieminski did following the assault of an 18-year-old Upper Peninsula woman in August 2022, which helped solve a multi-state crime and killing rampage.
“It was my first shift back from training with the Army Reserve,” said Trooper Sieminski, assigned to the Iron Mountain Post. “I received the call almost immediately after her attack around 6 a.m. and was sketching within an hour. She was a great witness and somewhat knew what to expect because she’d sat in on a demo I’d done at her high school.”
That composite sketch and a vehicle description was shared with the media by 10:30 a.m. Investigators received 12-15 credible tips quickly.
The suspect was arrested in Alabama two days later and faces charges tied to the Upper Peninsula assault and two murders in Wisconsin and Alabama.
State Police forensic artists are trained in those composite sketches as well as age-progression, image modification, demonstrative evidence, postmortem sketches and facial reconstructions from the skull.
“Rebuilding from a skull is half scientific and half artistic,” said Christie Christman, a graphic designer working in the Public Affairs Section and forensic artist. “That’s what I enjoy most – using science to figure out features and ethnic backgrounds.”
Those 2D reconstructions focus on rebuilding a face to assist in missing person cases or unidentified remains.
Christman took drawing and painting classes in college ultimately shifting to a focus in design. Like Trooper Siemenski, she knew the unit existed and waited for a spot to open. One did during her second year with the State Police.
“This is a viable career option,” said Christman. “This isn’t just an enlisted position, and you don’t need an art degree.”
State Police forensic artists receive training in each discipline and assist department members and police agencies statewide, any time of the day or night. Maybe most importantly, they’re experts in the art of listening – to what the victims or evidence tell them.
“I ask about distinguishing features and something unique that would be difficult to change,” said Sieminski. “If you find yourself in a scary situation, that’s my advice – focus on remembering something distinct. Sometimes people can’t remember and that’s ok. That’s part of the job too, to make that call.”