‘Bad men’ in spotlight
Cop toys might be hot property, but police officers are flirting with the wrong side of the law by keeping memorabilia from their time on the beat.
Police uniforms, weapons and vehicles are coveted collectors’ items, and inspire huge fascination in some quarters, New Zealand Police Museum manager Rowan Carroll says.
Some police enthusiasts set up websites designed to look like legitimate police websites, and there is a brisk online trade in police ephemera, which Ms Carroll monitors as part of her job.
‘‘ It’s actually quite an issue.’’
Though some items are simply lost or stolen, many former staff have keepsakes from their time in the service, Ms Carroll says.
‘‘We don’t encourage police to collect police memorabilia.’’
Police property rightfully belongs to police, she says.
However, the line between hot goods and historical artefact becomes more blurred as the collections age, she says.
‘‘When does it become an artefact? That’s debatable, I think. There needs to be more clarity around that.’’
An exhibition now showing at the museum is an example of a positive outlet for police enthusiasts.
Christchurch artist Barry Cleavin has created 13 etchings inspired by police mugshots he found on the police museum website.
The exhibition is called Thirteen Bad Men, Now and Then, and mixes New Zealand mugshots from the 1800s with mugshots from today.
Cleavin offered the museum his prints, which are on exhibition until September.
‘‘That was really exciting,’’ Ms Carroll says.
The evolution of the mugshot is striking, she says.
Mugshots were not stand- ardised a century ago, so some criminals are sitting relaxed and even smiling or smirking in their photographs.
Fingerprinting was in its infancy in the 1800s, so criminals were photographed with their hands showing. ‘‘Someone can change their hair or face, wear different clothes, but it’s actually quite hard to change your hands,’’ Ms Carroll says.
The exhibition also raises questions about whether criminals share physical features, a common belief in the 1800s when phrenology – a science based on measurements of the human skull – was in vogue.
Hot property: An art exhibition inspired by historical mugshots on show at the New Zealand Police Museum is a positive expression of an interest in policing, as opposed to illegal hoarding of police uniforms, weapons and vehicles, museum manager Rowan Carroll says.