The National Law Enforcement Museum in Judiciary Square opened to the public Saturday, featuring interactive exhibits on the history of law enforcement and current police initiatives.
Opening 18 years after its authorization by Congress, the museum has received criticism for its focus on police heroics, especially against the backdrop of lingering tensions between minority communities and law enforcement across the country.
The museum will serve as a space for education and discourse on police-community interactions, Metropolitan Police Department Deputy Communications Director Kristen Metzger wrote in an email to The Hoya.
“The National Law Enforcement Museum will expose visitors to the history of law enforcement including an opportunity to experience many of our triumphs and struggles,” Metzger wrote. “The museum will provide a better understanding of police officers’ roles in society and our ability to impact communities.”
A ceremony for the museum’s opening Thursday saw fanfare from politicians, including Mayor Muriel Bowser (D); celebrities, including Clint Eastwood; and members of law enforcement, such as former MPD Chief of Police Charles Ramsey, many of whom lauded the museum as a celebration of the sacrifices and heroics in the field.
“Their stories will be told: Stories about courage, stories about honor, stories about sacrifice. True stories that remind us never to take public safety for granted,” U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said in a speech at the ceremony, according to The Washington Post.
The museum includes exhibits detailing well-known figures and events in law enforcement history, including J. Edgar Hoover, the first director of the FBI, and the police shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.
April Goggans, core organizer of Black Lives Matter D.C., who opposes the museum, said in an interview with DCist that the museum presents a skewed narrative of U.S. law enforcement issues.
“This is about propaganda,” Goggans said. “This is about providing a narrative and a picture of law enforcement that counters what we see in the news.”
The BLM movement is noticeably absent from the museum; rather, the exhibition on the Ferguson shooting focuses on the aftermath of the grand jury decision and increased implementation of body cameras, according to DCist.
Curators emphasized interactive experiences, allowing visitors to engage in school shooting simulations through the presence of interactive video segments, mock detective work and autopsy examinations. Other exhibits immerse visitors in the more daily work of police officers, prison guards and marine officers.
Located opposite the pre-existing National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial at 444 E Street NW, the museum includes a Hall of Remembrance to pay tribute to fallen law enforcement officers. Photos of officers killed in the line of duty are also on display.
“The museum honors this profession and the over 21,000 lives taken in the line of duty, which has been long overdue,” Metzger wrote.
With no exhibits dedicated to the experience of minority officers, the museum neglects the history of minority service in law enforcement, Ron Hampton, the former president of the National Black Police Association, said in an interview with DCist.
“People of color, African-American people, Hispanic people, women, was not a part of policing in the very beginning. They were left out. It was a white male-dominated institution,” Hampton said. “If you’re going to tell the story, you need to tell the whole story.”
The national museum has also faced criticism for inadequately covering the District’s local police history. Aside from exhibits featuring rescue efforts from a 1989 place crash into the Potomac and a 2002 sniper attack that killed 10 D.C. city law enforcement officers, D.C. not prominently featured, according to DCist.
The museum does feature a “Five Communities” exhibit, which displays police departments’ efforts to improve community relations in Cleveland; Dallas; Chicago; Somerville, Mass.; and Charleston, S.C. The exhibit also includes an opportunity for visitors to submit ideas on how police can strengthen their community ties.
The museum plans to host programming related to addressing current law enforcement issues, NLEM Executive Director David Brant said in an interview with The Washington Post.
“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,” Brant said.
Metzger hopes the museum will encourage more young people to work in law enforcement.
“Hopefully, the most powerful and exciting component of the museum is that it will be a place that will inspire future generations of all races and backgrounds to serve in this noble profession,” Metzger wrote. “A profession rooted in service, in sacrifice and done with compassion.”
The standard adult fare is $21.95, but the museum offers discounted tickets priced at $19.95 for college students and senior citizens. Discounts are also available for children, law enforcement and military officers.