Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Descriptions deceptively difficult to do

Pitfalls easy in stressful situations

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Last week, I learned if I ever sit down with a police artist to describe a suspect, the resulting sketch will show a stick figure with a balloon head.

Wednesday night, my husband and I were driving downtown to a Winnipeg Jazz Festival concert. We'd watched two cars hotdogging down Pembina Highway and onto Donald Street. One driver stepped on the brakes just as the other moved in swiftly and too close behind him. "Idiots," I said to my husband.

Minutes later, we were all at a red light at Broadway and Smith Street. The driver of the second car decided to resolve their differences. He jumped out of his Hyundai and strode over to the Lincoln. Seconds later, two young men were throwing punches.

Blood and testosterone spilled on the pavement.

My husband stepped out of our car, wanting to break it up before someone was seriously injured. I called 911. He spoke to the combatants using what the kids and I call his "teacher voice."

"Now guys, you really don't want to be doing this," he said calmly. I expected him to add "What would your mothers think?" He's tall and broad-shouldered and they recognized the voice of authority, pausing briefly before getting back to kicking and scratching.

Other cars stopped and another driver stepped out to try to break things up. Meanwhile, the 911 operator was telling me to get my husband back in the car before he got hurt. I told her I'd already made that suggestion. Twice. Fairly loudly both times.

I offered licence-plate numbers and physical descriptions to the operator.

The attacker was about 25, dark-haired and shorter than my husband, maybe 5-10. The driver of the Lincoln was also around 25 (the age I give anyone old enough to shave and too young to worry about RRSPs). He was dark-haired, slimmer than the first guy and also shorter than my husband. I was describing Mr. Average.

We left the scene after the Lincoln drove away with the Hyundai driver horking on his window for one last, classless gesture.

Five minutes later, the 911 operator called me back. What was the Lincoln driver wearing, she asked.

A blue zip-up jacket, I said. It had a logo on it, not a team logo. Maybe a work shirt? Dark blue. My husband broke in gently. He was wearing a T-shirt, he said. Five minutes had passed and I'd already forgotten. I remembered his cheek was scratched and bleeding and he was shouting that he'd been attacked.

I'm a trained observer and I'd pick Krusty the Clown out of a police lineup.

Winnipeg police spokesman Const. Jason Michalyshen says the police depend upon the memories of public witnesses. They know it's difficult.

"Short-term memory is just that, short," says Michalyshen. "Sometimes even the stress of the incident and the adrenalin can make it even more difficult to recall."

I asked if he had any tips for being a better witness.

"A good witness is a co-operative witness who can help ensure that an individual is apprehended. First and foremost we want people to work with us."

He says it's less important to note what a person is wearing than details that can't easily be altered.

"A really good thing to try to recall are physical characteristics that are not likely to change. Look at height, weight, eye colour, scars, tattoos, birth marks and piercings. There are personal identifiers like someone with a particular accent, the way they speak, the manner in which they speak."

Michalyshen says it's important to note what someone is wearing on his feet, because a distinctive footprint is almost as valuable as a fingerprint.

So officer, the perp was shorter than my husband, younger and really skinny, with limbs like twigs. His face was round and attached to his body with a piece of string. He wasn't wearing shoes.

I'm still traumatized.

lindor.reynolds@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 25, 2013 A2

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About Lindor Reynolds

National Newspaper Award winner Lindor Reynolds began work at the Free Press as a 17-year-old proofreader. It was a rough introduction to the news business.

Many years later, armed with a university education and a portfolio of published work, she was hired as a Free Press columnist. During her 20-plus years on the job she has written for every section in the paper, with the exception of Business. She’ll get around to them some day.

Lindor has received considerable recognition for her writing. Her awards include the Will Rogers Humanitarian Award, the National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ general interest award and the North American Travel Journalists Association top prize.
Her work on Internet luring led to an amendment to the Criminal Code of Canada and her coverage of the child welfare system prompted a change to Manitoba Child and Family Services Act to make the safety of children paramount.

She has earned three citations of merit for the Michener Award for Meritorious Public Service in Journalism and has been awarded a Distinguished Alumni commendation from the University of Winnipeg. Lindor was also named a YMCA/YWCA  Woman of Distinction.

She is married with four daughters. If her house was on fire and the kids and dog were safe, she’d grab her passport.
 
lindor.reynolds@freepress.mb.ca

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