How cops are sharpening their skills by looking at art

Officers are learning to observe and notice details through art


By Police1 Staff

NEW YORK — Some officers are getting off the streets and into museums to improve techniques needed for their job, The New York Times reported.

The woman who guides them, Amy. E. Herman, is an expert in visual perception. She takes officers to museums like the Metropolitan Museum of Art and asks them to describe what they see.

“I’ve had people say, ‘I hate art,’ and I say, ‘That’s not relevant,’” she said to the publication. “This is not a class about Pollock versus Picasso. I’m not teaching you about art today; I’m using art as a new set of data, to help you clear the slate and use the skills you use on the job.” 

The goal of the exercise is to help officers think differently about the job, Herman said. Teaching officers to observe details in art can translate into observing evidence at a murder scene, for example.

Herman has police look at art and describe what they see and think about words they use to communicate. Herman was inspired to teach this technique after observing Yale medical students study art in order to improve their observations of patients. She devised a similar program and has clients in law enforcement from around the country.

Grand Prairie (Texas) Police Department Chief Steve Dye has employed Herman to speak to officers and was impressed by their results, he told the publication. It taught officers how to better collect details and document them without bias.

“Some of the works of art she showed us, we wouldn’t notice the finer details,” he said. “And we’re supposed to be professional observers.”

The New York Police Department utilizes Herman regularly, including her class as regular training curriculum at the detective bureau and training bureau at the police academy. It helps officers tap into their “sixth sense” as they tell what they see, not what they think, Officer Heather Totoro told the publication.

“It’s really conducive to good dialogue,” Herman said. “How many times do officers have to make order out of chaos?”

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