Police Museums Worldwide

By Burnette, Sheila | Law & Order, August 2001 | Go to article overview

Police Museums Worldwide


Burnette, Sheila, Law & Order


Police museums can be found both where they're expected, like Los Angeles, London, Paris and New York, and in unusual places like a monastery in Prague and the back roads of Arkansas. The following are a few examples of museums open to `the public and are meant to give a sampling of what's available.

Drug Enforcement Administration

The DEA's Museum is a bit unusual since it is open to the public with regular hours, but admission is by appointment only. Located in Arlington, VA, the museum is operated by the DEA's Office of Public Affairs. They also conduct programs and tours for schools and other community groups.

Inside the museum, a variety of exhibits are featured outlining the DEA's mission, history and some of its more notable feats in enforcing U.S. narcotics laws. One featured exhibit is "Illegal Drugs in America: A Modern History." This exhibit traces drug use in America from the opium dens of the 1800s to the international crime organizations that run "narcobusiness" today. The exhibit traces the impact drugs have had on American society and the counternarcotics efforts used to combat the problem. It also traces the DEA's evolution from part of the Treasury Department to the force it is today.

NYPD

The largest law enforcement department in the United States not only has a huge museum, but the museum itself has a gift shop and its own quarterly newsletter. The museum traces the department's history back to 1609, when famed English navigator Henry Hudson brought a Dutch ship "ashore on the southern end of the island the local tribes called Manhattan (place of many springs and rivers). The Dutch West India Company founded the colony of New Amsterdam in 1625, when the island's first peacekeeper, a Schout-fiscal (sheriff/attorney), was appointed.

The museum lists a variety of "firsts" from the department, including: the first police matrons and the employment of the first African-American officers being hired in 1891; establishment of the Bicycle Squad in 1895; the department's first camera for mug shots, first used on Feb. 23, 1897 on pickpocket James Sullivan, whose photos are also on display; the creation of the Bomb Squad; the adoption of fingerprinting in 1903; the first mobile radio motor patrols in 1932; and the first NYPD helicopter used by the Aviation Unit in 1947. In more recent history, the museum documents the adoption of the 911 system in 1968, the replacement of the title policeman with police officer in 1973 and the merging of the city's Transit Police and Housing Authority Police with NYPD in 1995.

Other notable exhibits include early communications equipment, firearms, uniforms, vehicles, patches, training, identification and courtroom art. The museum also offers golf outings, museum memberships, youth academies and ongoing education programs as part of its repertoire, as well as its gift shop. Two years ago, the museum moved from the department's Police Academy grounds to Bowling Green in lower Manhattan.

U.S. Marshal's Service

It is perhaps fitting the museum housing the history of the first 200 years of the U.S. Marshals Service should be located in Wyoming. When the phrase "U.S. Marshal" is said, many think of lawmen from the Old West.

Many people saw the Marshal's traveling exhibit, "America's Star: U.S. Marshals, 1789-1989," when it toured the country for more than two years in the late 1980s to commemorate the service's bicentennial. When the tour closed in 1991, the Wyoming Territorial Park in Laramie was chosen to house the exhibit, now officially called the National U.S. Marshal's Museum.

The museum showcases the 200 year history of the Marshals. One of the more popular displays is "The Gunmen: Romance and Reality," which contrasts Hollywood's version of the Old West with reality through clips from Western movies. Other displays include a Marshal's badge collection, arrest warrants of famous outlaws and, added in 1996, the story of "The Falcon and the Snowman," one the country's most notorious espionage cases.

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