Training Law Enforcement Professionals at Art GalleriesThe October issue of Smithsonian has an article by Neal Hirschfeld about training New York City police that I find encouraging in a number of ways, but two in particular I'd like to mention here.
The first point I'll discuss is what you can learn from Hirschfeld's article concerning use of training exercises that aim to simulate key on-the-job responsibilities without duplicating any but the most immediately relevant features of participants' day-to-day working environment.
Specifically, Hirschfeld describes how Amy Herman, Director of Educational Development at Thirteen/WNET, uses art to help policemen and other law enforcement, security, and military professionals hone their observation and communication skills by using art as practice material to be scrutinized and analyzed.
John Singer Sargent, 1884
Looking at art, such as the painting of Madame X by John Singer Sargent featured in the Smithsonian article, is not something members of the NYPD do on-the-job, but the process of concentrating on the details that are there to be seen if you're paying enough attention, and then articulating a precise description of what you've noted, emulates in an essential way what police do when they assess a crime scene or potential crime scene.
As Herman explains in a 2007 Museum News article, she asks participants to look closely at works of art she has selected for their richness of subject matter and formal elements, and to try to reach consensus on answers to the basic investigative questions, Who, What, Where, Why, and When.
Only after practicing on paintings and sculpture, do the participants go back to working on material close to their actual day-to-day experience:
Following their session in the Frick's galleries, participants return to the conference room, where they view a series of photographs of crime scenes, urban landscapes and portraits of individuals. Asked to articulate in descriptive language similar to that utilized when looking at paintings, the officers respond by describing, in detail, what it is they see before them.The second point I think particularly worth highlighting is how well Herman's approach has stood the test of time. Her first art-based training program actually dates back to 2000, when she was director of education at the Frick Collection in New York. She worked with the Weill Medical College of Cornell University to help medical students strengthen their observational skills. (You can read a New York Times article about the program here. The article also describes precedents for Herman's program dating back at least to 1998.)
Participant evaluations, officer feedback, and repeat business from participating organizations all indicate that Herman's program is successful in meeting its objectives of improving observational and communication skills.
For example, in Herman's Museum News report on the Frick/NYPD program she ran for a number of years, she explained that all participants
complete a written evaluation ... which specifically asks them to rate, on a numeric scale, the relevancy of the program, its applicability to their daily responsibilities and the efficacy of correlating between paintings and photographs of crime scenes. ... The vast majority of evaluators wax enthusiastic about the concept of enhancing observation skills in a setting removed from the daily work environment and praise the methodology used by museum educators to refresh their perspective on acute observation.Specific performance improvements cited in the Smithsonian article include:
- the head of the New York Police Academy now giving more specific orders to investigators.
- the officer who coordinates the NYPD Grand Larceny Task Force of plainclothes officers now providing more detailed descriptions of suspected pickpockets, handbag snatchers, shoplifters, and other burglars.
- an undercover agent on a task force investigating organized crime's involvement in garbage collection in Connecticut reporting that Herman's program helped him "sharpen his observations of office layouts, storage lockers, desks and file cabinets containing incriminating evidence," information that "led to detailed search warrants and ultimately resulted in 34 convictions and government seizure and sale of 26 trash-hauling companies worth $60 to $100 million."