The Art of Police work

Rosie
Rosie Mullaley
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RNC's forensic artist combines her love of art and police investigation

From the time she'd sit doodling dress designs and nature scenes as a little girl, Claire Priddle always dreamed of being an artist.

But growing up the daughter of a police officer, she also wanted to be a cop.

She never thought she would ever find a career that combined the two.

But that's exactly what the 30-year-old found in her job as forensic artist for the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary.

Const. Claire Priddle of St. John's has been the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary's forensic artist for the past two years and likes that she's able to combine her love of art and police work to help the community. - Photo by Rosie Gillingham/The Telegram

From the time she'd sit doodling dress designs and nature scenes as a little girl, Claire Priddle always dreamed of being an artist.

But growing up the daughter of a police officer, she also wanted to be a cop.

She never thought she would ever find a career that combined the two.

But that's exactly what the 30-year-old found in her job as forensic artist for the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary.

"I always wondered about whether I could do both, but I wasn't sure exactly how I could make it happen," Priddle said during a recent interview at RNC headquarters in St. John's.

"I didn't think it would ever happen ... especially so early in my career."

In her position, Priddle is responsible for creating composite drawings of wanted individuals suspected of committing crimes.

The images - produced by interviewing witnesses and victims - are used in the police investigation and often released to the public to help find or identify the suspect.

It can prove to be key in leading to the conviction of those responsible for major crimes.

"The sketch might push the investigation or get it on the right track, or help with a lead," Priddle said. "In order to lay charges and get a conviction, you need more than just a sketch or identification, but it feels good that my sketches are used to assist in the investigation."

It's pretty serious stuff for a girl who was more focused on using her imagination to create fine art from the time she could use a pencil.

"I remember being in kindergarten and I couldn't understand why all my classmates were drawing stick people," laughed Priddle, who grew up in the Goulds. "I thought, 'Hey, there's two sides to an arm.' That didn't make any sense to me."

Priddle continued her artwork throughout her school years, but her talent flourished as a teenager, thanks, in large part, to the guidance of Bishops College high school art co-ordinator, Brenda Rowe Bartlett.

"I was very fortunate to have learned from her," Priddle said. "She really pushed art and had high expectations. She was one of my mentors throughout high school.

"She's since passed away. But she had such a vision for her students. She really believed in everybody and pushed us to achieve our best."

Priddle actually stayed in high school another year, instead of going to university right away, to complete the advanced placement course with Bartlett and to work on her portfolio for art school.

The following year, Priddle attended Sir Wilfred Grenfell College in Corner Brook, where she completed her Bachelor of fine brts degree, specializing in visuals.

With the job prospects for an artist bleak, she moved to Alberta after she graduated in 2002, and worked as a picture framer.

"I didn't know where I was going to go or what I was going to do ...," she said. "Part of me struggled with my identity in the arts community. I felt like I wanted my art to help people, and I wanted them to feel something positive from it, but I realized it wasn't enough for me.

"I wanted to get more out of the community and branch out."

The whole time, Priddle continued to paint, but also continued to print off applications from Holland College's police program.

"Despite everything," she said, "it kept coming back to me that I wanted to pursue that."

But the RNC wasn't hiring at the time and Priddle's student loans weren't disappearing anytime soon.

However, in 2004, a phone call from her mother informed her that the RNC was accepting applicants for training at Memorial University.

"I said 'That's it! I'm doing this,'" Priddle said.

After an intense year-long training program, she graduated and finally became a police officer.

Her artistic talent became recognized in the police force after she donated some of her work.

"But they didn't know I could do portraitures."

In 2007, Chief Joe Browne asked Priddle to do a painting of Lt.-Gov. Ed Roberts.

"(Chief Browne) saw a painting I had done of my grandfather that really captured him," she said. "He said, 'I want something like that.'"

The painting - depicting Roberts clad in his honorary chief's uniform - was presented to him during a ceremony at Government House.

After the ceremony, an RNC inspector asked Priddle if she was interested in forensic art. That spurred a conversation that led to an invitation for Priddle to meet with RCMP forensic art specialist, Michel Fournier, who had been scheduled to visit the province.

"From the time I picked him up at the airport, right away he was so helpful," said Priddle. "He really embraced the idea of me learning."

Fournier took her under his wing, reviewed her portfolio, practised sketches and completed drawing projects.

Priddle went on to train with Fournier for three weeks in New Brunswick, where she got to work on actual cases.

Fournier allowed her to sit in on an interview with a victim of a crime.

"He made me see that interviewing is the most important aspect of forensic art," she said.

The interview process is an art in itself.

"You're really extracting this delicate information, so you have to be very careful in the way you do that, as so not to contaminate them," Priddle said.

"You have to teach them to describe things. Usually, I have them first describe someone they know. That's when I start asking questions.

"Some people don't know how to describe, for example, a nose, so I use some examples to help them ... At the end, I summarize because you have to be completely clear on what they remember."

In the event where a crime took place many years ago, Priddle said she uses various methods to try and trigger memory.

"I try to put them back at the scene. It's called context reinstatement. You're picturing yourself back there and looking around," she said. "I tell them 'I want you to walk me through that incident. I need to see everything you're seeing.'"

But overcoming all the obstacles to obtain information is one of the things Priddle loves about her job.

"Every single sketch is so different, not only in how it looks but how you go about doing it," she said.

"You always try to figure out how you're going to get the right information."

She likes the fact that, in some way, she's also helping victims of crime deal with devastating experiences.

"A lot of times I'm dealing with people who have undergone traumatic situations. They're in a state of crisis when they come to me. People who have been sexually assaulted, the victim of a home invasion, armed robberies," she said.

"So, I have to be delicate in how I approach them. I have to do things on their terms, especially if I'm going to be putting them back in that context. They have to feel safe and comfortable with me, and trust me enough to want to go back there.

"So, in a way, it can be therapeutic for the victim. It takes them out of the role of being a victim and puts them into a participant role, someone who is helping find the person responsible. Their role is now crucial in the investigation. Now you're helping the police help you, help yourself, and help others. They're more in a more empowering role."

Priddle, who has been the RNC forensic artist since May 2008, is thankful the RNC has been so supportive in training her. More intensive training is likely in the works for the future.

In the future, she hopes to do approximations and reconstructions, and study digital photo work and overlays.

"I'm very excited about that," said Priddle, who also travelled to the FBI Academy in Virginia in September 2008. "Working more on the scientific side would be amazing."

That would allow her to mix three disciplines - art, forensics and science.

"In school, you spend years believing every subject is different and that there's no connection. You always thought this whole world was divided into seven subjects," she said with a chuckle.

"But you think of the great masters in art. They're not just artists - they're scientists, inventors, chemists. They were just so well-rounded and experts in not just the visual art. ... That's what made them stand out in history ... because they took what they knew and went beyond it.

"That's what I want to do ... After years of seeing everything as separate, I'm finally feeling comfortable in saying things are all coming together for me and it's great."

rgillingham@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Bishops College, Sir Wilfred Grenfell College, Holland College RNC Government House RCMP FBI Academy

Geographic location: St. John's, Goulds, Corner Brook Alberta New Brunswick Virginia

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Comments

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Recent comments

  • graham
    July 02, 2010 - 13:33

    Claire is my neice & I am now vacationing in Florida & it is wonderful to get up in the morning & read this article online ,Claire we are so proud of you. .......Uncle Graham & Rose ..

  • Wayne
    July 02, 2010 - 13:32

    I am currently a Detective with an Ontario police service. It was very refreshing to read an article that shows the positive side of policing unlike the negative news coverage officers have to deal with here in Ontario. NFLD has always been a positive place to me and this article only reinforces those feelings. As a former (amateur) artist myself, I admire how Constable Priddle has embraced her desire to police and her love for art. I on the other hand gave up the later for a career in policing. It would be interesting to observe Constable Priddles career mature and flourish and I wonder if her work will eventually expand to assist with the identification of the unidentified remains of possible victims of foul play and so forth.

  • Joni
    July 02, 2010 - 13:31

    Well done Claire. The future can only be brighter for you...and for the RNC for having you on staff!

  • Lisa
    July 02, 2010 - 13:26

    I am happy to say that I know Claire, and she is a wonderful and dedicated forensic artist. Keep up the great work, Claire!

  • mark
    July 02, 2010 - 13:24

    Shes hot

  • Mary
    July 02, 2010 - 13:22

    Congratulations Ms. Priddle! I am an artist as well and I would love to do what you do. What does it require? I went to art school as well. I have been toying with the idea, and you have inspired me to research the possibilities. I think your passion for art is inspiring:)

  • Eric
    July 02, 2010 - 13:19

    I read Claire's story online and I just wanted to say, as her uncle and retired RCMP member, that I am proud of her accomplishments in becoming a forensic artist with the RNC. Claire is the latest member of the Priddle family to serve her community as a Police Officer. She joins her father, two uncles and a first cousin in her chosen profession.

  • Sheri
    July 02, 2010 - 13:14

    I studied with Ms. Priddle at the FBI Forensic Facial Imaging course in Quantico, Virginia, USA and I must say that she is truly amazing! The RNC is extremely lucky to have such talent and dedication! I am proud to call her colleague and friend... I love ye, sister! Keep up the great work!!!

  • Old Salt
    July 02, 2010 - 13:14

    Ms Priddle, you were obviously very career oriented right from the get-go. Your work is very important to the lives of a lot of people. I wish you every success in furthering your education to be the best you can be.

  • Wayne
    July 02, 2010 - 13:12

    In response to Dearmes' comments re: Constable Priddles attire being inappropriate. The picture is a reflection of Ms. Priddle in her everyday attire. In positions that are not regular patrol it is the status quo to wear a suit and tie or an outfit such as Ms. Priddle is wearing in the picture. Just because a police woman is a police WOMAN doesn't mean she has to give up her femininity. She looks professional and deserves to dress as she does as she has earned that right.

  • dearme
    July 02, 2010 - 13:11

    I am not overly impressed by the picture of this police officer. I feel it would have been more appropriate, if not professional, to have her in her uniform...and not attire as if she is heading out to enjoy the evening. This is a sharp contrast to the female officer's picture shown over this past week regarding 20 year's service commendations for a number of RNC members.

  • Jit
    July 02, 2010 - 13:08

    dearme.... why the bitterness? Jealous of someone who's attractive and successful I guess... HA!

  • graham
    July 01, 2010 - 20:22

    Claire is my neice & I am now vacationing in Florida & it is wonderful to get up in the morning & read this article online ,Claire we are so proud of you. .......Uncle Graham & Rose ..

  • Wayne
    July 01, 2010 - 20:21

    I am currently a Detective with an Ontario police service. It was very refreshing to read an article that shows the positive side of policing unlike the negative news coverage officers have to deal with here in Ontario. NFLD has always been a positive place to me and this article only reinforces those feelings. As a former (amateur) artist myself, I admire how Constable Priddle has embraced her desire to police and her love for art. I on the other hand gave up the later for a career in policing. It would be interesting to observe Constable Priddles career mature and flourish and I wonder if her work will eventually expand to assist with the identification of the unidentified remains of possible victims of foul play and so forth.

  • Joni
    July 01, 2010 - 20:19

    Well done Claire. The future can only be brighter for you...and for the RNC for having you on staff!

  • Lisa
    July 01, 2010 - 20:12

    I am happy to say that I know Claire, and she is a wonderful and dedicated forensic artist. Keep up the great work, Claire!

  • mark
    July 01, 2010 - 20:09

    Shes hot

  • Mary
    July 01, 2010 - 20:07

    Congratulations Ms. Priddle! I am an artist as well and I would love to do what you do. What does it require? I went to art school as well. I have been toying with the idea, and you have inspired me to research the possibilities. I think your passion for art is inspiring:)

  • Eric
    July 01, 2010 - 20:00

    I read Claire's story online and I just wanted to say, as her uncle and retired RCMP member, that I am proud of her accomplishments in becoming a forensic artist with the RNC. Claire is the latest member of the Priddle family to serve her community as a Police Officer. She joins her father, two uncles and a first cousin in her chosen profession.

  • Sheri
    July 01, 2010 - 19:53

    I studied with Ms. Priddle at the FBI Forensic Facial Imaging course in Quantico, Virginia, USA and I must say that she is truly amazing! The RNC is extremely lucky to have such talent and dedication! I am proud to call her colleague and friend... I love ye, sister! Keep up the great work!!!

  • Old Salt
    July 01, 2010 - 19:53

    Ms Priddle, you were obviously very career oriented right from the get-go. Your work is very important to the lives of a lot of people. I wish you every success in furthering your education to be the best you can be.

  • Wayne
    July 01, 2010 - 19:49

    In response to Dearmes' comments re: Constable Priddles attire being inappropriate. The picture is a reflection of Ms. Priddle in her everyday attire. In positions that are not regular patrol it is the status quo to wear a suit and tie or an outfit such as Ms. Priddle is wearing in the picture. Just because a police woman is a police WOMAN doesn't mean she has to give up her femininity. She looks professional and deserves to dress as she does as she has earned that right.

  • dearme
    July 01, 2010 - 19:47

    I am not overly impressed by the picture of this police officer. I feel it would have been more appropriate, if not professional, to have her in her uniform...and not attire as if she is heading out to enjoy the evening. This is a sharp contrast to the female officer's picture shown over this past week regarding 20 year's service commendations for a number of RNC members.

  • Jit
    July 01, 2010 - 19:43

    dearme.... why the bitterness? Jealous of someone who's attractive and successful I guess... HA!