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On the good side of the law: the National Law Enforcement Museum takes shape

(Courtesy: National Law Enforcement Museum)

By Jacqueline Trescott

One day in the not-so-distant future, a museum will house the U.S. Park Police helicopter that responded to the horrific crash of Air Florida Flight 90 on the 14th Street Bridge in January, 1982. In the complex will be an Emergency Call Center, a Forensics Lab, and the personal stories of nearly 19,000 law enforcement officials who have died in the line of duty.

On Thursday the founders of what will be the National Law Enforcement Museum took an important step toward making that a reality. In a driving rain U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Jr., Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), and others took up shovels and turn over some earth to mark the beginning of construction work. The museum's site in the 400 block of E Street N.W. was surrounded by police officers and their families, who cheered at the synchronized motions.

Because of the downpour the bulk of the ceremony was moved into an ornate courtroom across the street at the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces.

(Courtesy: National Law Enforcement Museum)

Standing in front of an imposing line-up of officers from different services, Holder predicted the museum would "become a place of learning and healing."
Noting that it would tell "a story that no other museum does," Holder said the museum was a recognition of a profession that has helped "define our nation's history."

Craig W. Floyd, the chairman of the effort, reminded the audience that "one law enforcement officer is killed every 54 hours."

The museum was authorized by Congress in 2000 and the organizers have raised $41 million toward the $80 million goal from private sources. The largest donor to date is the Police Unity Tour, a nonprofit that raises money through bicycle events, which gave $5 million. Including that gift, law enforcement groups have donated $13 million. Motorola and Target and Dupont are among the lead corporate sponsors.

Though he wants to raise $25 million in new money, Floyd said "We are in good shape now."

The museum is scheduled to open in late 2013.

In addition to fund-raising slowed by the recession, Floyd said other hurdles included the location. "There are challenges unique to an underground project. Figuring out what is under E Street and there are lots of utilities' lines. Then the final hurdle was the public review process, which took 5 years, and we worked closely with our neighbors."

The entrance will be two pavilions at ground level but the main structure will be underground and cover 55,000 square feet. The excavation will go down 40 feet.

Featured in various halls will be 14,000 objects, including artifacts from Hollywood's interpretation of the profession. A costume from "RoboCop," the 1987 film, and one of Jack Bauer's sweatshirts from the television show "24" have been lined up. The narrative will include the history of sheriffs from colonial days to today and the work it took to capture notorious gangsters such as Al Capone. Earlier this year the founders acquired the estate of the late FBI director, J. Edgar Hoover and those artifacts will be displayed.

The chief designer is Davis Buckley Architects and Planners, who created the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial walkway at Judiciary Square and the National Japanese American Memorial near Capitol Hill. The exhibit designers are the Boston-based Christopher Chadbourne & Associates who did the new education center at Mount Vernon and the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico.

The goal is an educational and immersive experience. "We are going to allow visitors to walk in the shoes of law enforcement," Floyd predicted.

By Jacqueline Trescott  | October 14, 2010; 4:49 PM ET
Categories:  Jacqueline Trescott, Museums  | Tags:  craig w. floyd, eric holder, national law enforcement officers museum  
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