Exciting, mundane, unpredictable, dangerous. Law enforcement officers encounter all kinds of experiences, and a new museum in Washington hopes to capture them all.
The National Law Enforcement Museum, opening Saturday at Judiciary Square in downtown Washington, takes visitors into the world of policing with exhibits focused on an adrenaline-pumping SWAT raid and the painstaking gathering of forensic evidence. Artifacts, interactive games and videos bring alive the history of law enforcement and its impact on individuals and communities.
“Our mission here is to inform the visitor about the critical role law enforcement plays in our history and along the way have some fun,” says executive director David Brant, a former Miami police officer who was the director of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service from 1997 to 2005. “It’s a walk-in-their shoes experience.”
The 58,000-square-foot museum, a project of the nonprofit National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, showcases the branches of law enforcement, from state and county levels to the FBI. Its exhibitions seem geared toward student tours — a segment that may be willing to pay the steep admission price — and mostly avoids such hot-button issues as the NFL player protests over police practices.
A 20-minute orientation film addresses changes in policing tactics and the recent tensions between police and communities. The 2014 police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., is highlighted in the history display, while another exhibition focuses on grass-roots efforts to improve relations in Dallas, Cleveland, Chicago, Somerville, Mass., and Charleston, S.C.
But some visitors might feel that the national reckoning surrounding police violence and bias hasn’t been fully addressed.
Brant said the museum’s exhibitions and educational programs strive to strengthen the relationship between law enforcement officers and citizens. He acknowledged that “law enforcement is a polarizing topic,” but said the museum “wants to be a platform that brings people together.”
There are about 20,000 artifacts in the museum, among them the U.S. Park Police helicopter that assisted in the response to a plane crash in the Potomac River in 1982 and the desk of J. Edgar Hoover, the first director of the FBI.
There also are nods to pop culture, including “Reel to Real,” which displays memorabilia from television shows and movies, and a videotaped discussion between TV cop Vincent D’Onofrio (“Law and Order”) and Boston Police Commissioner William Gross.
Some of the exhibits focus on the ordinary, including videos about the daily activities of an Arizona highway patrol officer, a sheriff on marine patrol on a lake in Minnesota and an Atlanta beat cop. Visitors can try their hand at being a 911 dispatcher or a detective building a case, and a training simulator overseen by retired officers takes small groups through the exercises undertaken by recruits. (Participants must be 12 and older.)
The museum also spotlights the dangers of the job with a Hall of Remembrance honoring those who have died in the line of duty.
“This is the real world,” Brant says. “We want to enlighten visitors about how tough it is.”
444 E St. NW. 202-737-3400. lawenforcementmuseum.org.
Dates: Open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and until 9 p.m. on Thursday.
Admission: $21.95 for adults; $14.95 for ages 6 to 11; free for children 5 and younger; $19.95 for senior citizens and college students with ID; $17.56 for law enforcement or military.