WASHINGTON — Kids who dream of being police officers when they grow up will get a firsthand try at the job — answering hypothetical 911 calls, deciding when to shoot a crime suspect and tracking international terrorists — at a new museum.
Plans for the National Law Enforcement Museum were unveiled Wednesday by the foundation that runs the national memorial for slain police officers. Former Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton are leading the effort to raise $80 million for the project.
"I think it is the least we can do for those who have done so much," Bush said in a videotaped message.
Bush dedicated the memorial for slain officers in 1991 at Washington's Judiciary Square, and Clinton signed legislation in 2000 to authorize the underground museum on nearby federal land.
"Law enforcement is one of the pillars of our free and democratic society, yet it is a profession that is often misunderstood or taken for granted," said Craig Floyd, chairman of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. "This museum will peel away some of that mystery."
When the museum opens in 2011, visitors will be able to follow the patrols of different officers, from the San Francisco police to the Minnesota state patrol. Exhibits will delve into the practice of gathering forensic evidence from a crime scene to solve a case.
"It will be done in a way that is instructive, not gross," said Christopher Chadbourne, who is designing the exhibitions and has created interactive exhibits previously for the Smithsonian and George Washington's Mount Vernon estate.
Chadbourne said his team spent time documenting the work of the Los Angeles police department for background research.
Simulators will give visitors a chance to make the difficult decision of whether to shoot at crime suspects. Seattle-based Advanced Interactive Systems, which builds simulators for police training, donated one for the museum. The gift is estimated at $1.2 million.
"We're going to develop content-appropriate scenarios for each age group," said Ron Enneking, executive vice president of the company. "You don't want the museum to be traumatic."
Other exhibits will deal with issues that may cause some people not to trust police — such as struggles with officers during the civil rights movement, racial profiling and excessive use of force.
"We don't want to provide a whitewashed view of law enforcement," Floyd said. "There have been some dark moments in law enforcement history that we need to revisit to look at what happened and why, and what changes were made."
In the past year, curators have collected the first 3,000 objects and manuscripts and plan to make them available for research, said Laurie Baty, director of museum programs.
The oldest pieces in the collection include a 1703 "Sheriff's Writ" of instructions from Bristol, R.I., and a 1759 book of colonial laws from Massachusetts Bay Colony. One police badge dates to 1862 Baltimore. It was donated in memory of an officer killed in the line of duty.
Survivors of family members who were killed during police work said the museum will honor those who have died and those who continue working in law enforcement. "Our lives are shattered when we lose a loved one," said Jean Hill, whose son Barry was killed in 2000, while working for the Harris County, Texas, Sheriff's Office. "It's a matter of honor that their sacrifices not be forgotten."
Floyd said $29 million has already been raised for the project, and construction is scheduled to begin in the summer of 2008.