WASHINGTON – J. Edgar Hoover had a collection of Asian art and a desk roughly the size smart car. Elliot Ness’ two-part paper badge is numbered 3423. The cryptic note on the tarot card left by the D.C. Snipers for police is written in blue ballpoint pen.
Soon, the public will be able to see these items for themselves. Each will be on display at The National Law Enforcement Museum when it opens, likely in three years. The 57,000 square-foot museum will showcase 17,000 items from the handcuffs used to arrest Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to Al Capone’s pearl-handled pistol.
Established 15 years ago by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, the building is designed to be under the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial at Judiciary Square. Visitors will enter the underground space through two glass pavilions in front of the D.C. Court of Appeals building.
“What we wanted to do was envelope you into the story,” Deputy Director Rebecca Looney said. “As you descend into the space you are going to learn more and more about law enforcement and get deeper into that story.”
Much of the museum will be upbeat and entertaining. However, there will be a serious element, as the museum is meant to flow with the memorial above.
“We have really tried to strike a balance there,” Looney said. “It should be a fun entertaining experience but one that has enough depth for someone who an interest in law enforcement.”
A Hall of Remembrance will pay tribute to the fallen officers who are listed on the memorial walls above. Mementos left at the memorial, by people such as Martha Wood, will also be placed on display.
Wood began working with the Fund after her husband, Baltimore City Flight Officer Barry Wood, died in 1998. Her goal for the museum is to help the general public, especially the younger generation, understand the realities of law enforcement.
“It brings an officer, not just someone in a uniform and wearing a gun, to the general public and shows them this is a human being. He has loved ones at home,” Wood said. “He is out there to help and not to hinder situations.”
Once complete, the museum will enter into the crowded Washington museum scene. Judiciary Square is less than a mile from the National Mall with its eight free museums. It is about a half mile from the International Spy Museum, Crime Museum, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Newseum and Ford’s Theatre. The National Building Museum is across the street.
However, Looney said she is not worried about the competition. For its the first year of operation, the museum has an attendance goal of 420,000.
“We think we are going to stand out. We have done market studies. There is a broad audience because law enforcement covers so many different areas,” Looney said.
To begin construction the museum needs to secure the rest of the $50 million budget. Looney said the museum has released for sale municipal bonds, backed by the D.C. government, that will provide the museum with the required money.
Once all the money is in place, construction is estimated to take 28 months.
“We are a private non-profit, so we are funding raising everything from $25 to high-end corporate sponsors. It takes a while,” Looney said. “At this point, we have designed the buildings. We have the designs, the permits. The only part we need is the funding.”
The completion may mean most to people like Wood.
“I feel that when it is open I can say I did something in my husband’s memory and that is going to make me feel good,” she said.
Reach reporter Sarah Fulton at [email protected] or 202-408-1492. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits SHFWire. Like the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire interns on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
Download photos: Fallen-officers.zip