Look, in the name of the law

New mu­seum in the Dis­trict in­ves­ti­gates the suc­cesses and con­tro­ver­sies of Amer­i­can polic­ing

The Washington Post - - METRO - BY TOM JACK­MAN

Into the chasm of ten­sion be­tween cit­i­zens who feel be­sieged by po­lice and law en­force­ment agen­cies that feel embattled by pro­test­ers and the news me­dia steps the Na­tional Law En­force­ment Mu­seum in the Dis­trict, open­ing to the pub­lic Satur­day with an ar­ray of in­ter­ac­tive ex­hibits de­signed to in­form, en­ter­tain and maybe cre­ate some un­der­stand­ing on both sides.

The mu­seum, at 444 E St. NW in Ju­di­ciary Square op­po­site the Na­tional Law En­force­ment Of­fi­cers Me­mo­rial, launched with an open­ing cer­e­mony Thurs­day morn­ing that fea­tured com­ments by Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), for­mer at­tor­ney gen­eral John Ashcroft, for­mer D.C. po­lice chief Charles Ram­sey and a taped mes­sage from for­mer pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush. The $103 mil­lion project was 20 years in the mak­ing, from con­cep­tu­al­iza­tion in 1998 by the me­mo­rial’s chief ex­ec­u­tive, Craig Floyd, to deed­ing of the land by Congress in 2000, to years of fundrais­ing, de­sign ap­proval and fi­nally con­struc­tion in 2016. The Po­lice Unity Tour, an an­nual po­lice bike-rid­ing fundraiser, con­trib­uted $23 mil­lion, said David Brant, the mu­seum’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor.

At Thurs­day’s cer­e­mony, Deputy At­tor­ney Gen­eral Rod J. Rosen­stein told a large au­di­ence of po­lice of­fi­cials that po­lice of­fi­cers are more pro­fes­sional and so­phis­ti­cated than ever.

“In this mu­seum,” Rosen­stein said, “their sto­ries will be told: sto­ries about courage, sto­ries about honor, sto­ries about sac­ri­fice. True sto­ries that re­mind us never to take

“We want the pub­lic to get a glimpse of law en­force­ment in a way they typ­i­cally don’t. This has to be a re­source for the pub­lic.” David Brant, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Na­tional Law En­force­ment Mu­seum

pub­lic safety for granted.”

Ac­tor and famed film de­tec­tive Clint East­wood ap­plauded along with the crowd.

“We want the pub­lic to get a glimpse of law en­force­ment in a way they typ­i­cally don’t,” said Brant, a for­mer Mi­ami po­lice of­fi­cer and ex-di­rec­tor of the Naval Crim­i­nal In­ves­tiga­tive Ser­vice. “This has to be a re­source for the pub­lic, about law en­force­ment but not in­tended to be just for law en­force­ment. A lot of the pub­lic doesn’t know that [me­mo­rial] wall ex­ists, with 21,541 names on it. They will have a greater ap­pre­ci­a­tion of what law en­force­ment means to this coun­try. That doesn’t mean you have to agree with ev­ery­thing that hap­pens. But law en­force­ment serves a crit­i­cal role in our day-to-day life.”

And so the daunt­ing task of cap­tur­ing the full range of “law en­force­ment” is ap­proached by pro­vid­ing not only the ex­pected his­tor­i­cal ar­ti­facts — FBI Di­rec­tor J. Edgar Hoover’s desk, the ri­fle used by the D.C. snipers, a hat swiped from Osama bin Laden’s com­pound — but also in­ter­ac­tive dis­plays on a sur­pris­ingly wide range of pro­fes­sions. Spend a day in the life of a prison guard. Ride a boat with a marine of­fi­cer. Sit in the in­ter­ro­ga­tion room with a de­tec­tive.

But­tons and quizzes and choices abound. You can put on a dispatcher’s head­set and lis­ten to a 911 call, then de­cide how to re­spond to the caller and what re­sources to send. You can pick up a real (mod­i­fied) gun and test out a po­lice sim­u­la­tor with var­i­ous nerve-rat­tling sce­nar­ios. ( When that school shooter sud­denly comes around the cor­ner with a ri­fle, you are not go­ing to hit him.) You can work through the ev­i­dence of an ac­tual group of se­rial bank rob­bers in Washington to de­ter­mine what will work at trial. You can ex­am­ine — closely, if you — the var­i­ous wounds de­scribed in a med­i­cal ex­am­iner’s au­topsy.

Hero­ism is lauded, be­gin­ning with the ac­tual U.S. Park Po­lice he­li­copter used to res­cue pas­sen­gers from the Po­tomac River af­ter an Air Florida plane crash into the 14th Street Bridge in Jan­uary 1982. And a room is ded­i­cated to those who died in the line of duty. Me­men­tos left at the me­mo­rial wall have been pre­served. “Dear Daddy, How are you? Do you like Heaven?” reads a heart­break­ing let­ter from a 9-year-old girl to her fa­ther. “P.S. I love you very much.”

Hot-but­ton is­sues aren’t avoided, but they aren’t em­pha­sized. The po­lice shoot­ing and sub­se­quent ri­ot­ing in Fer­gu­son, Mo., in 2014, has its own dis­play, and some of Hoover’s many mis­steps as FBI di­rec­tor are noted. There is a chang­ing ex­hibits gallery that fo­cuses on com­mu­nity trust­dare build­ing ini­tia­tives by po­lice in five cities and asks vis­i­tors to write down their sug­ges­tions for im­prov­ing re­la­tions with po­lice. Of 20,000 ar­ti­facts in the mu­seum’s col­lec­tion, fewer than 900 are on dis­play, Brant said, so pre­sen­ta­tions will change.

The mu­seum also has a 111-seat the­ater that will show a 20-minute ori­en­ta­tion film on the his­tory of law en­force­ment up to cur­rent is­sues in polic­ing. Brant said the mu­seum plans to use the the­ater for pro­grams on var­i­ous hot top­ics, such as the opi­oid cri­sis.

“We’re not go­ing to avoid any­thing,” Brant said. “Whether it’s Hoover’s his­tory, or the im­pact of Fer­gu­son, if there is a rel­e­vant dis­cus­sion we wanted to host, of course we would.”

“In this mu­seum, their sto­ries will be told: sto­ries about courage, sto­ries about honor, sto­ries about sac­ri­fice.” Deputy At­tor­ney Gen­eral Rod J. Rosen­stein, at the open­ing cer­e­mony


TOP: The U.S. Park Po­lice he­li­copter that res­cued sur­vivors of the 1982 crash of a plane into the 14th Street Bridge in the Dis­trict is dis­played at the Na­tional Law En­force­ment Mu­seum. ABOVE: A hat worn by Osama bin Laden is among the ex­hi­bi­tions.


A cell from the prison in Lor­ton, Va., is re-cre­ated at the Na­tional Law En­force­ment Mu­seum in the Dis­trict’s Ju­di­ciary Square. That fa­cil­ity housed pris­on­ers from the Dis­trict from 1910 un­til 2001.

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