A couple weeks after Lieutenant Dave Millett was assigned as the Community Services Officer in the Old Town House in Marblehead, Mass., he realized, "there's more to this place than what I am doing."
The 30-year veteran decided to turn the basement of the building, a local landmark that previously housed the town's entire police force, into a museum. It consists of four large rooms and an office.
"It didn't long to realize it was a very positive stop for the community," he said. "So many people have memorabilia and don't know what to do with it.
"(Police are now) more acceptable of police as part of the community, rather than just governing it," he said.
This city of 20,000 proves that any size town can have a respectible police museum.
There have been a number of unexpected consequences to the opening of the museum. First, an unexpectedly large number of people have come into the museum to tell stories about a family members who were either a Marblehead cop - or even arrested by one. One of the officers takes down the stories and catalogues then in a book.
Another interesting consequence is that many citizens feel more comfortable going to the museum to talk about problems they are having rather than to the station.
The museum, which receives 40 to 50 customers a day when it is open, is staffed by senior citizens who are compensated with real estate tax breaks.
Millett said two of the best exhibits at the museum are the town sheriff's uniform from 1906 and the shotgun a bootlegger used to shoot and kill the first downed officer of the department.
Jolly Blue Giant
The NYPD is as notorious as the Marblehead PD is anonymous.
Their museum, located in the heart of New York financial district, is flooded with 40,000 visitors a year. About 60 percent are tourists.
Mary Weitzman, director of marketing for the museum, said one of the most popular rooms is the transportation room. It features motorcycles, a 1972 black, white and green patrol car and a fully functional dashboard that allows visitors to control the lights and sirens of a typical patrol car.
Other popular exhibits include a vintage weapons and notorious criminals room and a 9/11 remembered exhibit, which tells the story of NYPD officers involved in the incident. Another room shows the typical day of a beat officer.
Weitzman said, "The history of the NYPD is so intertwined with the city. The mission (of the museum is to act) as a conduit between police and the community."
Four tips for opening your own police museum from Lt. Millett
Fine a space that is suitable location-wise and easily accessible by those with disabilities. It should be different than just a station lobby. Choose a completely separate location. If it has to be within the same building as the station, use a basement or completely separate room that is just the museum.
Don't make the museum completely police specific. The department history is greatly entwined with that of the community. Take any piece of memorabilia and find a place to display it. Keeping an open mind will keep community momentum going and improve the museum.
To find the initial memorabilia, put a large ad in the local paper. Word of mouth is sure to follow.
Keep an understanding that citizens can have their items back whenever they want.
Other U.S. police museums:
American Police Hall of Fame and Museum 6350 Horizon Dr. Titusville, FL 32780 321-264-0911 http://www.aphf.org/
American Police Center & Museum (708) 467-0892 8428 S 88th Ave Justice, IL 60458 No web site found
(Note: the location of the American Police Center and Museum has changed recently. This should be the new correct location. If not, please e-mail the Editor at PoliceOne.)