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updated: 2/9/2018 7:07 AM

A witness drew a terrible sketch to help police identify a suspect; it actually worked

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  • Hung Phuoc Nguyen, left, and the police sketch of his likeness.

    Hung Phuoc Nguyen, left, and the police sketch of his likeness.
    Courtesy of Lancaster (Pa.) Police

 
 

Objectively, the sketch is bad.

The thick lines look like an inverted triangle with hair, or a strawberry wearing a tiny cap. The two dot eyes are inexplicably paired with horizontal lines and no eyebrows. There is only one ear.

And yet, the Lancaster, Pennsylvania, police say they have identified a suspect who they say pretended to be a farmers market worker before fleeing with cash Jan. 30, thanks to a witness who drew a picture from memory.

The sketch was "amateurish and cartoonish," local police said Wednesday in a Facebook post. But the sketch, along with a physical description of the thief, reminded at least one officer of an encounter with Hung Phuoc Nguyen, 44. Police then showed the witness photos of possible suspects, including Nguyen.

The witness identified Nguyen, and police issued a warrant for two counts of theft. Officer William Hickey of the Lancaster police told The Washington Post on Thursday that he did not know whether Nguyen was apprehended.

The police have insisted that the sketch was a serious effort to find the suspect.

"We released all of those details together in our police log in the hope that someone recognizes the suspect," Lancaster city police said in a Facebook post, according to Lancaster Online. "This was not done in jest."

The outlet described Nguyen as homeless.

In an age of omnipresent surveillance video, the police sketch quietly endures. More departments are opting for software that can spit out composite photos, but departments will sometimes share artists with nearby cities that have modest personnel budgets.

"Technology and machinery is cold," Wayne Promisel, a detective with the Loudoun County Sheriff's Office in Virginia and a former Fairfax County police detective, told The Washington Post in 2013. "It is also missing the ability to ask the questions in a certain way in an interview while having a sense of compassion" for victims.

Speaking about the witness, Hickey said: "We appreciated their effort and continued cooperation. People like that make our job easier [and] more enjoyable."

But there are currently no plans to offer the witness a position as a sketch artist, he said.

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