Great Collections: The National Law Enforcement Museum

Reel to Real, an exhibit that shows the portrayal of law enforcement in pop culture, with toys, props, and memorabilia from iconic cop shows and movies.
Reel to Real, an exhibit that shows the portrayal of law enforcement in pop culture, with toys, props, and memorabilia from iconic cop shows and movies.
Reel to Real, an exhibit that shows the portrayal of law enforcement in pop culture, with toys, props, and memorabilia from iconic cop shows and movies.

 

Come-along, 1874 – This one-handed restraint, a pre-cursor to handcuffs, was used by wrapping the chain around a suspect’s wrist and holding the two bars between the officer’s fingers.
Come-along, 1874 – This one-handed
restraint, a pre-cursor to handcuffs, was used by wrapping the chain around a suspect’s wrist and holding the two bars between the officer’s fingers.

The National Law Enforcement Museum opened its doors to the public in October of 2018, creating for the first time a place to share and showcase the story and history of American law enforcement. Authorized by President Bill Clinton on November 9, 2000, it took years of a public review process before construction of the 55,000 square feet Museum broke ground just steps from the National Mall and across E Street from the National Law Enforcement Memorial in Washington, D.C.

The Museum’s collection of more than 20,000 objects includes a wide range of materials, from photographs, letters, and handwritten blotters to uniforms, handcuffs, and radios, that tell the story of American law enforcement – past, present, and future.

The collection includes items from the everyday life of a law enforcement officer as well as objects showcasing historic figures like J. Edgar Hoover and objects from important events including the Lindbergh kidnapping trial, the September 11th attacks, and the 2002 DC Sniper shootings. The Museum’s goal is to preserve these objects and their stories and use carefully curated exhibitions and programs to showcase the experiences of law enforcement professionals.

The National Police Gazette, Saturday, April 21, 1883
The National Police Gazette, Saturday, April 21, 1883

Educational interactive exhibits, a hit with visitors, delve into everything from the meticulous and messy world of forensics and DNA analysis to how law enforcement is portrayed in pop culture. An Officers’ Stories exhibit gives visitors a first-hand account of what it is like to be a police officer, and an officer Training Simulator provides the experience of what it is like to make split-second, life-altering decisions. The Witness to History program provides a first-hand account of significant, history-making events from those who were there, while Leaders in Law Enforcement take visitors behind the badge with first-hand narratives from distinguished and notable law enforcement professionals. The Hall of Remembrance provides a reflective space in the Museum where visitors can leave a tribute to a fallen officer.

 This clock is part of the J. Edgar Hoover Collection, a large group of objects donated by the J. Edgar Hoover Foundation which features thousands of items from the personal life of the FBI’s founding director.

This clock is part of the J. Edgar Hoover Collection, a large group of objects donated by the J. Edgar Hoover Foundation which features thousands of items from the personal life of the FBI’s founding director.

While the Museum’s mission resonates with members of the law enforcement community and their families, and those with an interest in its subject matter, the Museum has been struggling to attract visitors since it opened. According to a 2019 Bloomberg report, the Museum opened its doors on the edge of default with a $103 million bond borrowed in 2016. Then, ticket sales—expected at 300,000 visitors in the first year—fell significantly short in the Museum’s first three months. Just as the Museum was finding its footing, however, it, like all museums and the rest of the country, was forced to close its doors in March of 2020 due to COVID.

Reopening on August 27, 2021, the National Law Enforcement Museum has plans to introduce a few new offerings to attract visitors, including its first major exhibit, Post 9/11: The Evolution of American Law Enforcement, inspired by the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. It remains committed to telling the story of American law enforcement and preserving the objects and the voices of those that tell its story.

Located at 444 E Street, NW, Washington, D.C., the Museum is open to the public Friday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-
5 p.m., and available for private group tours Tuesday-Thursday. The Museum is closed on Mondays. For additional information visit www.LawEnforcementMuseum.org.