‘Bad men’ in spot­light

Kapi-Mana News - - ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT - By AN­DREA O’NEIL

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.

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