Museum Studies at Tufts University

Exploring ideas and engaging in conversation

Who does the new National Law Enforcement Museum serve?

On Saturday, the National Law Enforcement Museum opened to the public in Judiciary Square in Washington, D.C. The Museum, which cost $103 million to construct, has a collection of 21,000 objects, and is intended to educate visitors about the experience of working in law enforcement. Featuring twelve interactive exhibits, visitors have the opportunity to engage with forensics, enter a 911 call center and play the role of a dispatcher, or participate in an officer training simulator.

Although Dave Brant, the museum’s executive director, has stated that “this facility will help us to educate, inform, create dialogue, around both the history of law enforcement [and] the current status of law enforcement,” I have to wonder who is missing from the museum’s narrative. How does the museum address Black Lives Matter, if at all? What about the lack of women in law enforcement, and the minority officer experience?  Does the museum discuss implicit biases among officers? At a time of intense racial divides, how does the National Law Enforcement Museum plan to engage visitors in a much-needed conversation?  Moreover, what does it mean for this museum to open now, merely two weeks after the Washington Post reported that 756 individuals have been fatally shot by police in 2018?

According to the museum’s website, its mission is to “introduce visitors to the proud history and many facets of American law enforcement in an experience you won’t find anywhere else. Our ‘walk in the shoes’ experience lets visitors learn what it’s like to be a law enforcement officer through innovative and engaging exhibits, artifacts and programs. We also seek to strengthen the relationship between law enforcement and the communities they serve with thought-provoking programs that promote dialogue on topics of current interest.”

While it seems as if the museum is trying to become a space for constructive conversations, it is clearly one-sided. Despite an entire exhibit devoted to the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, there is no mention of Black Lives Matter. Ultimately, through the use of special programming and other year-round educational programs, the museum is trying to improve community relations while striving to provide an alternative view of law enforcement not often told in the media.

1 Comment

  1. Thanks for the provocation, Kelsey. I’m looking into securing some of the design team/content developers/museum admin people as guests to the exhibit planning course in the spring. I have yet to visit, but your questions and observations are a good prod to get myself to DC.

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