ISPN Streetwork Team Joins Cops & Docs at the RISD Museum – Providence Journal


RISD Museum visit offers a lesson in how those in the 3 professions can see things very differently

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Doctors, detectives and nonviolence outreach workers looked at works of art Thursday night at the Rhode Island School of Design Museum and saw into the workings of their own minds.

The annual event, which has been called Cops and Docs for the last 10 years, became Cops, Docs and Outreach Ops on Thursday when staff members from the Institute for the Study and Practice of Nonviolence were added to the mix of 20 medical and police personnel invited “to learn how the other thinks and sees,” said Dr. Fred J. Schiffman, medical director of the Lifespan Cancer Institute, vice chairman of Brown’s Department of Medicine and a professor of humanistic medicine.

“We think we have it tough, making medical decisions,” Schiffman said of doctors. “Our souls are wrenched if we make a mistake but our life is not at stake.”

Schiffman set up a police scenario: “The guy’s got his hand in his jacket. Is it a cell phone or a handgun? If you’re wrong, you’re dead, or he’s dead.”

After introductions and an ice-breaking exercise involving art, the participants broke into two groups, one viewing a painting and the other a sculpture.

Guided by a museum educator, the groups looked in silence, reported what they saw, discussed what each detail might mean, drew conclusions about the subject and the artist.

Then everyone climbed the stairs to another gallery and separated into smaller groups.

Again they looked, reported, discussed, came to conclusions and listed the questions the artwork posed in their minds.

Police Maj. Oscar Perez said he initially interpreted one painting as a crime scene with a dead body, while one of the doctors saw a person sleeping.

Back in the conference room, participants were asked to draw a picture of their mind.

Juan Carter, director of the Nonviolence Streetworker Outreach Team, diagrammed a basketball court.

Police Capt. Dean Isabella drew three boxes, two with objects inside, one with objects outside. Sometimes he thinks outside the box, usually he thinks within the box, following his training and protocol, he said, and sometimes he thinks about leisure rather than work things.

One participant, a cofounder with Schiffman of the program, was former Providence Police Chief Dean Esserman. Now a senior counselor at the Police Foundation, a national organization based in Washington, he has moved back to Rhode Island. He said he and Schiffman are both working to spread the idea of cops and doctors sharing insights by visiting a museum.

As the participants filled out surveys to provide statistics for the paper that Schiffman and fourth-year medical student Indu Voruganti are submitting to a medical journal, Schiffman said the program’s goals for each participant include: Make careful observation a habit. Learn to describe what you see. Allow a different interpretation of the observation. Understand that one scene can have several plausible explanations. Avoid tunnel vision. Exercise creative thinking skills.