The power of the ‘e-fit’ appears to be on the wane after new figures showed that just one of more than 30 images issued by a police force led to an arrest.
The technology, which updated photofits originally introduced in the 1970s, may be dwindling as newer technology such as CCTV and DNA analysis is used in growing numbers of police investigations, experts said.
Suffolk Police released data which showed it had created 87 computer-generated e-fits in the last two and a half years, of which 31 were made public with the rest circulated internally.
In total they led to 10 arrests but only one was made as a result of the images released to the public.
It comes after widespread criticism of the quality of some images released nationwide, which included one from Suffolk in April last year which appeared to depict a “ninja” with a black hood and only his eyes visible.
“We have better ways of catching people these days through CCTV, automatic number plate recognition and DNA,” said David Wilson, professor of criminology at Birmingham City University.
“But eyewitness evidence has never been particularly helpful, and its usefulness is one of those crime-busting myths.
“Finding an eyewitness rarely provides a breakthrough in a case and today the e-fit is more a mechanism of keeping a crime in the public eye.
“By unveiling an e-fit the police can attract publicity, and ensure the crime continues to be talked about by the public, which might throw up important information.”
Suffolk Police disclosed that an e-fit issued in relation to an assault committed in Ipswich last year, in which a victim was hit with a metal pole, led to an offender being identified and charged.
Another 30 images made public did not lead to the crime being solved.
Tim Passmore, the Suffolk police and crime commissioner, said the e-fit technique was “legitimate and important”.
“It’s an important tool and I am very supportive of it,” he said.
Detective Inspector Darrell Skuse, who oversees identification in Suffolk Police investigations, said: “E-fit is one aspect of what we would be doing at the time.
“We have to be careful though, and sure it will benefit the investigation.
“If the image is too obscure we could be flooded with names and information which isn’t helpful.”