A caricature of the suspect. Image Credit: Facebook

Police in Riverside, California, are searching for a person who in early December sat for a caricature portrait before allegedly snatching the artist's money and fleeing with a bag of cash.

But he left his cartoon likeness at the scene.

The Riverside Police Department on Tuesday shared details of the Dec. 5 incident hoping the public might recognize the subject of the caricature.

"[No], we are not kidding," the department said in a statement posted to Facebook.

Police say the man approached the artist about 11:50 p.m. during the city's Festival of Lights outdoor event and asked for a drawing of himself. When the artist was finished, the subject-turned-suspect grabbed the artist's money bag containing $500 and fled on foot.

"This caricature is of the suspect, but of course, has exaggerated characteristics and features," police said, describing the suspect as a man who stands about 5-foot-1 and is in his early 20s. The drawing shows a man wearing a blue jacket, a white shirt, a backward red baseball cap and sporting at least one earring.

"Crime victims sometimes make their own amateur sketches for police," said Blaine Kern, a forensic scientist in nearby Highland, California, who specializes in crime scene investigation. "But [the Riverside incident] is the first time I've heard of police doing this," he said of the department's decision to lean on a caricature drawing to help track down a thief.

Kern sized up the decision to release a caricature to spur tipsters as "quite ridiculous," noting that police could likely generate a better description based on eyewitness accounts. He acknowledged that the somewhat silly image might also boil down to resources: In California, theft of property worth less than $950 is usually charged as a misdemeanor, making it a lower priority than felony crimes.

Riverside police did not immediately respond to requests for comment seeking additional information about the incident.

An eyewitness identification is never as strong as physical evidence such as fingerprints or DNA, but Kern conceded that at least the police put out something.

"As a [caricature] artist, since their job is to sketch people, he probably has a pretty good idea of what the guy looks like," Kern said.