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Photographer Documents Policing from the Officer's Perspective

August 14, 2015  | 

Photo: Natalie Keyssar for Time cover
Photo: Natalie Keyssar for Time cover

For the past year, New York-based Natalie Keyssar has been photographing the Black Lives Matter movement as it spread across the country. She was in Ferguson, Mo., after Michael Brown, an unarmed black man, was killed by a white police officer. She traveled to Baltimore when Freddie Gray died while in police custody last April. And she covered the aftermath of Eric Garner's death in Staten Island, N.Y.

So when Time Magazine asked her to embed with the police officers of West Philadelphia's District 19 for a week, she didn't hesitate. "As a photojournalist my interactions with police are almost always quick and frequently during moments of high tension, so having this time to see how they work, hear how they feel, and see what their daily lives are like during this pivotal moment for policing in America, was an amazing opportunity," she tells Time.

During her assignment, Keyssar would spend more than 12 hours a day with police officers, often on patrols. "I'd arrive at the station most days between 10:00 a.m. and noon, which allowed me to catch three different patrols each day," she says. "I spent the rest of my time at the station, photographing officers [as they] do paperwork, eat bagged lunches and talk about their experiences on the street."

After her week spent in that district, Keyssar feels her perspective on the police has changed. "I've spent a lot of time in my career standing next to protesters, and I've seen police from that side — they are sort of a caricature [from that side]. They are doing a job and they are sort of representing a system. They are not allowed to express their feelings and that can be dehumanizing," she says. "I think, after this assignment, I'll carry that more human perspective. Whether these people are representing the system or not, and whether there are failures within that system that need to be addressed, there are also human elements that I feel are…forgotten."

Comments (5)

Displaying 1 - 5 of 5

Jon Retired LEO @ 8/15/2015 10:56 AM

Like to old saying goes "Walk a Mile in my Shoes".

Leonard Mather @ 8/15/2015 3:41 PM

I was invited by two of my students on separate occasions to ride with them on patrol. (I taught Psychological Foundation of Criminal Behavior). It was an eye opening experience. I saw that they had a job that constantly presented one of psychology's most difficult conflict: that is the Double Approach-Avoidance Conflict. In a Bar room it is defined as "damned if you do and damned if you don't. Natalie's article touched upon this, but much, much more could have been done by her to send the message home. I see it as a Lynch Mob in reverse when we talk about Ferguson, Baltimore and Garner; Garner had all the physical signs of the Metabolic Syndrome, and such people ALWAYS have trouble getting enough oxygen when physically agitated.

Paul Dudov @ 8/15/2015 4:50 PM

It is unfortunate Natalie Keyssar did not have a copy of my book "I Was a Philly Cop." Its 250+ photos taken by me while on duty and the dialogue written primarily for the civilian in describing what it was like being a Philadelphia cop during the 1980's would have given her an augmented perspective. A good comparison of what it is like now in 2015.
Paul Dudov
Philadelphia P.D. Retired
Philadelphia District Attorney Detective Retired

sgtken @ 8/19/2015 3:34 PM

Spending your time in the station does not give you a perspective of what the officers are experiencing
on the street.

Joan Maristch-Miller @ 9/2/2015 3:31 PM

Paul Dudov, where can I purchase a copy of your book?

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