Ever since Detective Greg Bean of the Bellevue Police Department stepped foot in a forensic artist training class nine years ago, he views the world in a different light. Never having drawn in his life, Bean reluctantly attended the training following an order given by a Lieutenant. The department had a computer program that did composite drawings, but nobody in the department knew how to do the interview portion, a crucial part of creating a composite drawing of a suspect that could lead to potential arrest.
“The first day I was in class the instructor, an ex-FBI artist, stood up in front of the class and said, I’m not here to teach you how to draw, I’m here to teach you how to see,” Bean explained, who began his career in law enforcement 25 years ago, 14 of which have been spent as a detective for the Bellevue Police Department. “The instructor explained that anybody who has the ability to write their name has the ability to draw; what makes an artist is how they see.”
Against his will, Bean went to the training class, and traded in his gun for a sketch pad and pencil. He learned the art of composite drawing. Composite drawings are used to identify an otherwise unknown suspect of a crime. Additionally, they also can be used to eliminate suspects, saving the department both time and money in the process.
“I came back from that first class and I had no idea this talent was inside of me. I try to tell them it was being born a fish, but I had never been in the water. The minute they threw me into that art class, I was just off and running,” Bean said.
For the past nine years, Bean has worked as the official Bellevue Police Department’s sketch artist, working on cases ranging from rape, to robbery, theft and homicide. In 2006, he worked on the quadruple homicide in Kirkland, where a suspect killed four members of a family and set fire to their house to cover up the murders. The suspect was later caught.
“I swear, with my very first interview, I would have been less nervous to go into a building after an armed suspect then to do a drawing, at least I had police training,” Bean joked. “With drawing and interviewing, you are all by yourself and cases are hanging on how well you do.
On average Bean works on over a dozen cases each year, with 30 percent aiding in solving the crime.
“It’s pretty amazing to go from having nothing to start with but somebody’s mental image,” said Bean, adding that the drawing’s success also depends on how well the sketch is publicized.
Composites are often sent to newspaper and television. Other times they will go out as a bulletin to other police departments, or to jails.
In order to have a successful composite drawing, there has to be good communication between the artist and the interviewer. So the interview is equally as important as the artist’s skill.
Every time you get a successful hit, it’s a beautiful thing, he said.
He has now moved beyond pencil sketches of criminals to commissioned oil portraits. A 10-page spread of his work recently appeared in the summer issue of “Drawing,” a magazine published by American Artist. The spread includes a selection of his police sketches and commissioned portraits of friends and family.
“In my law enforcement career I’ve seen a lot of ugly, so it’s nice to focus on beauty,” said Bean.
Down the road, he plans to pursue art full time following his retirement from the force. The Police Department is in the process of training two officers to become forensic artists.
“One of the things I learned was to always wonder what’s inside of us,” Bean explained. “I was so shocked to discover this talent that I didn’t know was there. How do you know your not a prima ballerina or an amazing scientist until you go out and try it. Since this experience, I’ve been more willing to go out and try different things because who knows what talents might be lurking inside.”
Lindsay Larin can be reached at email@example.com or at 425-453-4602.