Mission of future museum: The mission of the National Law Enforcement Museum is to tell the story of American law enforcement through exhibits, collections, research and education. The Museum dynamically engages the broadest possible audience in this story in an effort to build mutual respect and foster cooperation between the public and the law enforcement profession. By doing so, the Museum contributes to a safer society and serves to uphold the democratic ideals of the U.S. Constitution.
With limited time left before Christmas, I confess I needed this week’s museum visit to be quick and easy. I spent some time at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial itself, as well as the Visitors Center a few blocks away. What I saw may not be a museum, but it is a memorial, visitor center, gift shop, and future full-fledged museum.
The Visitors Center consists of a store that has a few museum-like elements: a touch-screen that allows visitors to watch videos about the memorial, a time line of notable events in the history of United States law enforcement, and a floor plan and exhibit descriptions for the museum that will open in 2013. Gifts and souvenirs include kids’ items (many dog stuffed animals, among other merchandise), posters, books, T-shirts, and holiday decorations. From the outside, passersby see windows with displays similar to those of any other storefront at this time of year: arrangements of products for sale, a Christmas tree (decorated with ornaments and police badges), and the first menorah I’ve seen in a museum or visitor center this year. Also in the window is a monitor that displays the names of Holiday Heroes whom individuals have chosen to commemorate.
At the memorial itself, a number of wreaths adorn the lion statues and the walls of names. While many of us may think of wreaths as a holiday decoration, they are, of course, also used at cemeteries and memorials.
I learned from the video in the Visitors Center that the walls will run out of space for new names by 2050 if current rates of police officer deaths continue. Like the Journalists Memorial in the Newseum, NLEOM commemorates deaths in the past through the present day, rather than strictly from an event of the past. Both the Journalists Memorial and NLEOM leave room for more names, though of course the space would, ideally, not be needed.
Though the museum has not been built, the work of the museum is underway. Education programs are already available, audiences can learn about objects on the website, and there’s even a blog asking for information on objects from citizen historians.
After reading about the future museum in the Visitors Center and on the website, I see that in many ways, the National Law Enforcement Museum will do for police officers what the Newseum does for journalists. The Newseum educates the public about the dangers involved in journalism, memorializes journalists who have died in the line of duty, highlights famous reporters from the past and important moments in news history, addresses the role of journalism in a democracy, and gives visitors a chance to see what it feels like to be a reporter. NLEM has parallel exhibits planned on the topic of law enforcement.
The Newseum also addresses the bloopers and blunders the press has made: not just the funny typos and corrections that visitors can read in the restrooms, but also the larger controversies and questionable actions of the past. Visitors can watch Holocaust: The Untold Story and contemplate whether the press could have changed the course of events, answer questions about journalistic ethics (based on real cases) in the Ethics Center, and learn about issues like bias and unnamed sources in the News History gallery. I hope that NLEM will include similar treatment of the ethical questions involved in law enforcement. I look forward to visiting once the museum is built.