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Samantha Steinberg: Forensic Artist

With a major in illustration, I started working for a number of different advertising agencies. All the while, I read a lot of true crime books. In one book, police found the unidentified remains of a teenage girl in Texas and turned to a woman who worked in their graphic design division to reconstruct a likeness of the girl based on the remains. That woman eventually went on to instruct at the FBI Academy. I thought that was fascinating. I also figured that if she could use her artistic skills in that way, then so could I.

I think you only have that kind of bravado when you are twenty-five.

I called the FBI to ask how I could become a forensic artist, and they told me that I had to be affiliated with a police department and have a record of success in order to get into the FBI Academy.

I called the Miami-Dade Police Department and they referred me to Charlie Holt, who had just been reassigned to Crime Scene Bureau to work as a forensic artist. He never had any formal training as an artist, so I gave him some drawing tips and he taught me about law enforcement. I officially registered as an unpaid volunteer hoping there would eventually be a position for me. The whole year I volunteered, Charlie constantly warned me that the chances of getting the job I wanted were slim to none. However, I believed in my talent, and I figured that landing a full-time position was just a matter of proving myself to the police department.

When one is that passionate about something, that passion is evident to others. In 1999, I was hired as a paid member of the MDPD staff and shortly thereafter became the first person to hold the title of Forensic Artist in Miami-Dade County. In 2001, I was selected by the FBI to attend their Forensic Facial Imaging course.

Some of my responsibilities today include completing composite drawings, age progressions of missing children and wanted fugitives, creating photographic line-ups using digital imaging software, rendering postmortem facial approximations, and preparing both two and three-dimensional facial reconstructions from skeletal remains.

My partner and I have completed over seven hundred assignments in the last year. At least three hundred of those assignments have been composite drawings. Consequently, I have co-founded a Forensic Art Unit that has yielded two hundred identifications of criminal subjects since its inception in 1998.

I love that I can assist a victim to get closure or help someone identify a loved one who is missing or deceased. What better use could I find for this drawing ability?