HAMILTON TOWNSHIP - The art and science of forensic police work takes place every day at the state police headquarters in Hamilton Township.
"Ever since I was a child, I always had an interest in drawing what I saw," says Detective Gerald Theckston, who now draws what he doesn't see. He's part of an elite group of artisans working in the State Police Forensic Photography Unit.
When investigators have nothing to go on but a witness' or victim's memory, Theckston uses a digital collage to recreate a suspect's likeness.
The artists use an airbrush and different paint brush tools to blend all the features together. They also must age the person correctly. "It is technical, but I think there's an art to it," he says.
Laura Kushner is the department's principal forensic photographer. She uses a lens and state-of-the-art editing software to help identify victims based on skeletal remains.
"We speak for people that don't have a voice anymore, and that's such a gift," Kushner says.
She says it's a profession that's misunderstood. "I was kind of expecting it to be similar to TV, but as with all things, its not as glamorous," Theckston says.
Kushner says the process is nothing like Hollywood. "I wish I could sit here at my computer and with a few keystrokes everything is done, everything is solved, people are identified, the suspect is arrested within an hour," she says. "Even with commercial breaks, it just doesn't happen."
Along with photographers and sketch artists, the New Jersey State Police also employs anthropologists and computer experts.
For an extended interview with Detective Theckston, watch the clip to the left or go to News 12 Extra on Optimum TV channel 612.