Reporter's Notebook

Undercover: November 2017

The story behind our cover story on the CAS alumna who polices the police

Illustra­tion by
Taylor Callery

cover of November 2017 issue of American magazine with police officer running in the dark

Dallas, Ferguson. Hero, villain. Protect, protest.

Use of force among police officers conjures myriad images—all of them valid views of modern day law enforcement. It's easy to depict either extreme. As we discovered in brainstorming our cover story on police oversight practitioner Julie Ruhlin, CAS/BA '92, it's much trickier to capture the nuances of force—and that vast gray area between authority and accountability. 

After more than a few failed concepts that captured neither the complexities of police work nor the scope of Ruhlin's job (she has nothing to do with the investigations that followed police shootings in Baltimore or Charleston; it's her job to prevent them), we settled on an illustration of an officer running toward danger. We have no idea what awaits him and neither does he.

Inside, we depict three possible scenarios. In the first, the cops nab the bad guy. In the second, an officer kneels to help a child. And in the third, an officer, his hand hovering next to his weapon, stands before a young man illuminated by a streetlamp. 

We have no idea what's going to happen. And neither do they.

We enlisted illustrator Taylor Callery to bring our vision to life in his signature style, which evokes the look and feel of a gritty graphic novel. This marks our third collaboration with Callery; he also illustrated our March 2016 cover story on cybersecurity and a piece on the best football players six feet or under in our November 2016 issue.

Editor Adrienne Frank just had one request for Callery: give the cop on the cover red hair—a nod to her kid brother, a K9 officer.