Alumnus’ artistry puts a face on crime

Sandra Enslow ’84 stands over her desk displaying a collection of composites.

As a forensic artist, Enslow draws upon her training from CSULA to create sketches of criminal suspects, compose age progression, draw crime scenes and more.

Sandra Enslow ’84 makes a difference in the criminal investigations, one face at a time.

Enslow is a forensic artist. She is responsible for interviewing witnesses and victims to create sketches of criminal suspects, composing age progressions (the aging of a suspect), constructing crime scene diagrams and reconstructing faces and skulls from partial or skeletal remains.

Facial comparison of photo and composite sketch of an African American male.

A comparison of the photo of a male to thye composite sketch Enslow drew that helped lead to his arrest.

“My CSULA degree training as a commercial artist has helped me prepare for the job of a lifetime,” says Enslow, a 16-year veteran of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department (LASD), the nation’s largest sheriff’s department.

Over the years, Enslow has sketched more than a thousand composites and testified hundreds of times. Her efforts have contributed to the convictions of hundreds of felons, including individuals in high profile homicides, rapes, juvenile investigations and robberies. She is also called upon to do commercial art for law enforcement marketing and

“Once I got here, and I looked at this, I saw a chance to do some really worthy work,” Enslow said. “I liked helping people.”

Apart from her day-to-day duties at the Sheriff’s Department, Enslow teaches at the LASD/LAPD Homicide School and LASD Detective College, preparing detectives to work with artists and better understand the legal and practical application of forensic art. She also lectures across the country at conventions and meetings for the field.

Photo and composite sketch of a white male.

Another sample from Enslow’s portfolio that shows how the sketch of a criminal suspect compare to and actual photo once areesred.

Misconception about her line of work, she said, are derived from how the profession is portrayed on television. For instance forensic composites are just that— composites, not portraits. A composite is just one information-generating tool in an investigation, used to identify, eliminate or corroborate. In some instances, it can jump-start an investigation that has no workable information.

Enslow, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in art, admits that she never imagined she’d be working in the field of forensic art.  Having come from a long line of artist, becoming a commercial designer and illustrator was a more comfortable choice, she said.

“Taking the next step into forensic art was not something I could have forseen” she explained.

Composite illustration over time.

In drawing face sketches, Enslow works in phases, building from the general shape of the head to the details that complete the face.

After years in the private sector, she learned of a job opportunity with the Sheriff’s Department. She applied, got the job, and before she had to time to fully process the scope of her new position, she was hooked, she said. Now, she can’t imagine doing anything else.

“This is really exciting, valuable work,” she emphasized. “It allows me to do art in a very explosive way.”