Harvey Phillip Pratt

Forensic art is a law enforcement technique used in the identification, apprehension, or conviction of wanted persons. It encompasses several concepts, including composite art, image modification, age progression, post-mortem reconstruction, and demonstrative evidence. Local artist, Harvey Phillip Pratt, is considered one of the best in the country and his abilities and experience back that up.

“I have always been an artist,” Pratt said. “When I worked for the Midwest City Police Department there was a case where I was asked to draw a picture of a shooter from what the victim could recall. Nobody told me that I couldn’t do it, so based on the drawing that I made, we were able to make an arrest.”

In 1966, when this arrest was made, forensic art was in its early years of development. Pratt, an ex-Marine and 43-year veteran of police work, said that if the drawing had failed, he would have never gone into forensic arts. Because it was successful, his artwork and police work began to mold into one.

Some of the widely know cases that Pratt has worked include the Green River killer, the BTK killer, the first World Trade Center bombing, Sirloin Stockade murders in Oklahoma City and the Murrah Federal Building bombing.

One of the popular techniques used in forensic arts is skull reconstruction. The goal is to accurately determine age, race, sex, weight and height. “Characteristics can sometimes blend. Yet the skull can tell us a lot about a person,” he said. “We are a mixing pot of nationalities in America, so some of the features are becoming hard to identify. Yet we are still able to give a scale of age, race and weight to give us a general look as to how the person appeared during their life.”

Once these scales are determined, tissue markers are put in place on the skull and clay is applied. Pratt will generally create three reconstructions. A thin, a normal and an overweight version are created to better narrow down the identification process. A common result is an accurate depiction of the unidentified person.

There is a fine line that Pratt must walk in order to complete his task and not become attached to the individual on whom he is working. “I am very respectful,” he said. “These are people whose feet touched earth and they had loved ones. So I must remain respectful and treat each one of them with care.”

Even after 40 years, his self-described “warm-feeling” is fulfilling. “These cases are very rewarding. That has to be one of the reasons that I still do this. These cases allow for the satisfaction of helping many families put closure to their situation.”

Age progression, photo enhancement and courtroom sketching are just a few of the other forensic arts that Pratt specializes in. During a courtroom proceeding, artists sketch individuals during the hearing to express the event
through the different artistic medias. Pencil, charcoal or pastel capture the moment and enable the public to visually see the situation through the drawing of the sketch artist.

“You have to work fast. When I did the Oklahoma City bombing images, or even the Enron sketches, I was able to get something out to the news stations quickly.”

Pratt stresses that whether his drawings are in the courtroom or trying to identify a potential criminal, they are not portraits. “They are look-a-likes. They’re investigative aids to help eliminate people and help get the person we are looking for.”

One of the current projects Pratt is working on is titled Body Jars of Cambodia. In March 2000, the Kingdom of Cambodia set up the Cardamom Conservation Program covering 993,000 acres of forest in southwest Cambodia. Tiger trackers in the mountains soon reported the discovery of jars containing bones in remote caves in several sites. The jars containing human bones and other remains were found in at least 12 rock overhangs at four sites in the Cardamom Massif. It is estimated that 130 bodies are buried at these sites and date from 1415 AD to 1526 AD. The Cambodian government has contacted Pratt for his assistance in identifying these remains.

“I am hoping to go there and spend about 30 days and do some really good work,” he said.

Pratt is a Cheyenne and Arapaho tribal member and is recognized as an accomplished master Native American Indian artist. He has won numerous awards and was named the Red Earth 2005 Honored One. He is a self taught, multi-talented artist involved in many media: oil, acrylic, watercolor, metal, clay and wood are just a few. Due to the 40-plus years on the police force and his overcoming of cancer, Pratt has a few words of wisdom that he will gladly share.

“Native Americans call cultural, spiritual and traditional principles the ‘road of harmony’, the trick to all of this is to maintain your balance while traveling this road.”

Log onto www.harveypratt.com to learn more about forensic art or to view the works of Harvey Phillip Pratt.

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