As a teenager, Detective Ken Bruns liked to draw cartoons, animals and faces. Bruns’ parents saw enough promise in their son’s artwork that they encouraged him to develop his skills.
Twenty-plus years later, Bruns is glad he took their advice.
As one of three composite sketch artists for the Edmonton Police Service, Bruns’ drawings of suspects play an important role in helping solve serious crimes like homicides and sexual assaults.
“I was relatively new to the job when one of my sergeants took note of my artistic abilities,” Bruns says. “He’s the one who encouraged me to become a composite sketch artist.”
Bruns joined the Edmonton Police Service in 1995. He spent nine years as a frontline patrol officer in South and North Divisions, and Communications Section, before joining the Forensics Unit.
“It’s not like you see on television. We don’t solve crimes in an hour. Forensic work is slow and methodical.”
Six years as a Forensic Investigator helped Bruns develop the skills he needed for his next posting: Investigating public complaints against police officers.
“Professional Standards Branch is the real-life equivalent of those Internal Affairs departments you see on television,” he says, “minus the mistrust and antagonism.”
As a PSB detective, Bruns interviews members of the public and police officers, gathers evidence, and prepares a comprehensive report that helps explain what happened.
Bruns recognizes investigating fellow officers is a sensitive topic: “I tell them up front that there are no tricks; that I’m only looking for the facts. I treat everyone fairly.”
Despite his on-going responsibilities as a detective, Bruns is always available to meet with witnesses and victims, and create a composite sketch based on the information they give him.
“The drawing belongs to the victim,” he says. “They dictate how it will look. Even if I don’t agree with it from an artistic point of view, I draw what the victim tells me.”
Bruns and his fellow artists complete between 15 and 18 drawings a year. It takes five to six hours to finish one drawing.
When the perpetrator is finally caught, Bruns often compares his drawing with the suspect’s mug shot to see “how close I got”.
“I never would have guessed as a teenager that my ability to draw would have such a powerful and positive impact on people’s lives.”