Mladen Zagorac on Thu, 28 Jul 2005 00:02:11 +0200 (CEST)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

<nettime> New York Officers Learn To Paint Crime Scenes With Broader Strokes

here's an interesting piece from today's WSJ Europe (27.7.2005) about how 
NY police officers are being trained in NY's Frick gallery. I wouldn't want 
to draw any qualitative conclusions about this course, but it definitely 
uncannily resembles the mid-nineties movie The Renaissance Man with Danny 
DeVito (at least from the point of view presented in the article).


New York Officers Learn To Paint Crime Scenes With Broader Strokes
Analyzing Frick's Art Gives Police New Perspective; Riot Rap for Jesus?
by Ellen Byron

NEW YORK - One Monday earlier this year, when New York's Frick Collection 
was closed to the public, about 15 New York Police Department captains were 
ushered inside. The officers, some wearing their holsters, solemnly 
gathered around a conference table in an ornate, wood-paneled room. Having 
no idea why they had been summoned, some assumed it was for a security 
briefing. They were surprised when they were told the real reason: They 
were there to look at art.

Capt. Ernest Pappas frowned in concentration as he stood before Johannes 
Vermeer's "Mistress and Maid" in the Frick's plush West Gallery and was 
asked to describe the painting.

"This woman is right-handed, of well-to-do means, and the pen appears to be 
in the dropped position," Mr. Pappas said, assessing the mistress. Unsure 
about the maid, the 42-year-old asked his fellows whether they thought she 
was delivering bad news. "Is she assuming a defensive position? Do you 
think that's a smirk?"

Although he hadn't analyzed a painting before, Mr. Pappas immediately saw 
how it related to his detective work in Queens. "Crimes--and art--can be 
solved by looking at the little details."

Art lovers flock to the Frick to pay homage to one of the world's fines 
displays of Western European art. Masterpieces by Rembrandt, Titian and 
Renoir adorn the walls of the Fifth Avenue mansion, once the home of 
industrial magnate Henry Clay Frick, an avid collector of art from the 
Renaissance period to the end of the 19th century. The Beaux Arts setting 
is hushed and formal. Children under 10 years old aren't allowed inside.

It isn't your usual urban crime scene. But now, in an unusual effort to 
improve observational and analytical skills, the NYPD is bringing newly 
promoted officers, including sergeants, captains and uniformed executives, 
to the Frick to examine paintings.

"In New York, the extraordinary is so ordinary to us, so in training we're 
always looking to become even more aware as observers," says Diana Pizzuti, 
deputy chief and commanding officer of New York City's police academy.

"Tell me the who, what, where, why and when of each piece," Amy Herman, 
head of education at the Frick, instructs each class before they hesitantly 
descend the mansion's grand staircase and enter the public galleries. With 
nothing more for a clue than the little plate listing the names of the 
artist and painting, the officers quickly get to work. "We deliberately 
limit the time they have in front of each painting," says Ms. Herman. "Just 
like when they arrive at a crime scene, they have to make observations and 
judgments quickly."

The NYPD course began last year, inspired by similar classes the 
38-year-old Ms. Herman teaches for medical students from Weill Medical 
College of Cornell University, Albert Einstein College of Medicine of 
Yeshiva University and Mount Sinai School of Medicine. Those classes are 
intended to develop medical students' diagnostic abilities through better 
observation of patients.

Capt. Kevin Hurley says he plans to return to the Frick with his family, 
particularly to show them a 1742 Hogarth painting called "Miss Mary 
Edwards." During the class, Mr. Hurley, who is 53, and a handful of other 
officers scrutinized the seated woman in a red dress, trying to determine 
how to best explain the portrait to the rest of the group.

"We decided she wanted to show off the fact that she's educated and 
wealthy," Mr. Hurley told the other officers, pointing out her straight 
posture, her jewels and the letter she held, which they guessed was form 
her rich husband. The hunting dog in the picture puzzled Mr. Hurley. "That 
doesn't seem like a dog that woman would have," he told the group. 
"Shouldn't it be a poodle or something?"

After Ms. Herman explained that the portrait reflected the independent 
nature of Miss Edwards, an educated woman who divorced her extravagant 
husband and regained control of her household, Mr. Hurley expressed 
surprise. "We had come up with a really good story for it, but everything 
wasn't as it appeared. I now know how to look for more than what you first 

Standing in front of El Greco's "The Purification of the Temple," David 
Grossi recognized Jesus as the painting's central figure, characterized the 
scene as chaotic and explained the work's use of light and color. Then he 
slipped into observations more familiar to his job as a New York Police 
Department captain.

"The gang unit would probably be called in," Mr. Grossi said to the other 
broad-shouldered officers gathered in the gallery, who nodded in agreement. 
"It appears there's grand larceny here, felony assault there, and Jesus 
would probably be charged with inciting a riot," Mr. Grossi said, pointing 
his finger so close to the painting that he was scolded by a museum 
official. Counting 17 people in the scene, he smiled. "Good thing there are 
plenty of witnesses."

Mr. Grossi, 41, says his Frick class came to mind when he responded to a 
call in his Bronx precinct earlier this month. A man had tried to evade an 
arrest warrant by jumping from one rooftop to another, and "he didn't make 
it," Mr. Grossi said. Though he has spent much of his 21 years as a police 
officer doing detective work, Mr. Grossi thought back to his training at 
the Frick when he began securing the scene after the man had been taken to 
the hospital.

When looking at the painting, he was taught to assess the entire canvas, 
from foreground to background before drawing conclusions. So instead of 
just focusing on the immediate site of the fall, he widened the crime scene 
to include the sides of the building and a van in a driveway. "It reminded 
me to stop and take in the whole scene and just have tunnel vision," Mr. 
Grossi said. Detectives later found the suspect's palm prints on the hood 
of the van, and that helped establish the route he had used in attempting 
to evade arrest.

The course has also given Ms. Herman new perspective on her day job. Though 
she has a master's degree in art history and is well versed in the Frick's 
art collection, she says that working with the officers has given her 
insight and appreciation of the art she sees every day. When leading a 
discussion about J.M.W. Turner's dramatic sea scene "Fishing Boats Entering 
Calais Harbor," an officer remarked that it seemed like a race. "I've 
always looked at that urgency in terms of impending danger, but he could 
see that same tension in a sporting contest," she says. "Now, every time I 
see the painting, I look at it a little differently."

Noting the vivid chaos of the Turner painting, one sergeant blurted that it 
looked like "the seven five," drawing agreement and smiles from the other 
officers. Ms. Herman, not catching the reference, asked for an explanation 
and learned that Brooklyn's 75th precinct was one of the city's busiest and 
most dangerous. The painting hanging next to it, Turner's "Mortlake 
Terrace: Early Summer Morning," then elicited shouts of "The one nine!," 
the quiet Manhattan precinct where the Frick is located.

Giovanni Bellini's "St. Francis in the Desert," one of the Frick's most 
prized works, is usually considered a masterpiece of landscape or 
spirituality, or both. But this summer, a group of captains offered a 
modern, psychological assessment of the 15th-century work. "As a police 
officer, I have to say we have and EDP here," says Captain Donald McHugh, 
using the police code word for emotionally disturbed person. Pointing to a 
skull and a jug of wine near St. Francis's feet, Mr. McHugh argued the 
piece could be depicting a crime scene. "Even people of God can be 
suspicious," he told the group. "He'd probably be a voluntary arrest, 
though, no handcuffs."

#  distributed via <nettime>: no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime> is a moderated mailing list for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info: and "info nettime-l" in the msg body
#  archive: contact: