April 05, 2020
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The Look Of A Bomber

Officials say the sketches of suspects hardly ever lead anywhere

The Look Of A Bomber
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Sketchy Suspects

After every blast, the first thing investigators do is release sketches of the suspects. The images are drawn from eyewitness accounts and generated on the computer. But they have rarely helped. At least not in any of India’s blast investigations.

A day after the Delhi HC blast on September 7, the Delhi police too released a set of sketches. This led to several persons, including a man in Balrampur, being picked up who were later released. Delhi Police spokesperson Rajan Bhagat himself has doubts over how far such sketches can help. “Obviously, a sketch isn’t a foolproof way to identify suspects for it’s not even prepared by a professional artist. We have computer packages that are put to use.” According to officials, the sketches are drawn to kickstart the investigations.

So why are sketches often inaccurate? Former BSF DIG Prakash Singh says it’s because they “have been prepared on the basis of eyewitness accounts. Or to put it more accurately, by someone who claims that he is an eyewitness. It is rare that someone is actually a witness to a man planting a bomb. The reason is, when the act happens, everyone is caught unawares. So someone may provide an account of a person whose activities appeared to be suspicious. His observations could be accurate but there is the possibility of error. So the sketch doesn’t provide any conclusive evidence...but still, you can say it gives vital leads in any crime.”

Police officials who have worked on bomb blasts and terrorist cases say very often the witnesses—who have been lucky to escape the attack—may have stereotypes in his mind about the terrorist or bomber. And he very often communicates that to the person creating the sketch on the computer. Sketches primarily work in assault or robbery cases when the victim or bystander clearly saw the act happening.

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