Thursday, August 7, 2014

Artifact Spotlight: Lorton Prison Cells


Workers removing the cell bars and doors from the 
maximum security section of Lorton Prison for the Museum.

In July 2014, the National Law Enforcement Museum acquired an important historical artifact that is a key component of the exhibit design—30 feet of steel cell doors and bars from the former Lorton Correction Complex in Lorton, Virginia

Lorton was the primary corrections facility for the District of Columbia for nearly 100 years. Conceived in 1908 during Theodore Roosevelt’s administration, the Lorton facility was a national model for prison reform both with its dormitory style architecture and its philosophy of providing prisoners with healthy outdoor work and education. Over the years, Lorton became dangerously overcrowded and its buildings in need of extensive repair. In 2001, the prison was closed and all 1 million square feet of it was transferred to Fairfax County, Virginia

A design drawing of the two-story Maximum Security cells restored and re-created in the Museum.
The Museum thanks Chris Caperton of Fairfax County’s Department of Planning and Zoning for allowing us to extract the cells at the right time during the County’s extensive redevelopment plan for the old prison and grounds. The National Law Enforcement Museum is proud to make the cells of Lorton a centerpiece of its exhibition on corrections officers.

Scenes from Old Lorton Prison, 2014

Monday, July 14, 2014

19th Century True Crime – Crime May Not Pay, but it Sells

An expert who whittles toes and never
loses a chance to take a hack at the
heart of any patient whose sentiments
are as tender as her feet.

Collection of the
National Law Enforcement Museum.
Detective stories have been around for centuries. But even as a source of entertainment, their appeal has evolved over time. The advent of the steam press in the early 19th century made the first cheap newspapers and serials affordable to the masses. This “penny press” seized on the popularity of crime stories and set about to feed the public’s interest. One such publication was the Police Gazette. When first published in 1845, it saw itself as a newspaper “devoted to the interests of criminal police.” These noble intentions, however, did not last long, and within a few years, the Gazette had lost all pretensions of being anything but a sensational crime rag. Around this same time, the depiction of crime transformed from somber moral stories to titillating tales.  Even the accompanying illustrations became more graphic and excessive, eventually evolving into the more realistic styles and depictions seen in recent true crime books and pamphlets.

During the mid-1800s, the fascination with these stories was edged with fear, as Americans became increasingly distrustful of the burgeoning immigrant populations in major US cities. Sensational headlines in newspapers touted crime as a problem and the abolition of the old, corrupt, inept watch system and the creation of a new full-time professional police as its solution.  The news media’s focus on crime and the inadequacies of the crime prevention system led to police reforms in most the major cities.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Director's Corner: PTSD Awareness Month

“Imagine the most horrific things that happen in this city that no one really hears about or sees. Homicides, rapes, car accidents, violent assaults, this is the kind of stuff we deal with on a daily basis.”

As you might know, June is PTSD Awareness Month. This quote (above)—from a Canadian law enforcement officer—conveys the magnitude of anxiety-inducing encounters officers may face. The National Center for PTSD encourages us to learn about posttraumatic stress and spread the word about effective treatment, connect with others to work together, and share information to support those in need.

PTSD may manifest in varying symptoms, which could develop soon after the traumatic event, or months or years later. Some common indicators  include reliving the event, avoiding situations that remind you of the event, negative changes in beliefs and feelings, and feeling keyed up or jittery.

This disorder can affect anyone who has an especially distressing experience, but law enforcement officers may be more susceptible to triggers due to the work they do. According to Cop Shock: Surviving Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), by A R Kates, as many as one in three police officers may suffer from PTSD, which could lead to depression, family issues, addictions, and in some cases, suicide.

A study published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress found that of 37 police officers who had been involved in serious shooting incidents between 1977 and 1984, seventeen (46%) were diagnosed with PTSD. Of those who were not immediately diagnosed, 17 still had notable PTSD symptoms. Only three officers showed no symptoms of PTSD at all.

The National Law Enforcement Museum is being built to tell the story of American law enforcement and make it safer for those who serve. Raising awareness about real dangers that affect the lives of officers, like PTSD, is essential to our mission. Do your part to learn, connect, and share today.


RoboCop Trivia

In honor of Detroit celebrating its first ever RoboCop Day this month, Museum staff thought it would be fun to shed some light on this futuristic cop character and the making of the RoboCop movies. How much do you know about the part-man, part-machine phenom known as RoboCop?

When wearing the full RoboCop costume, actor Peter Weller was too bulky to fit into his police car. That's why most shots show him exiting the car or preparing to get into it. When he needed to be in the car, he only wore the top part of the costume and sat in his underwear.

Concerned that various police forces would object to the scene of the title character throwing his nemesis, Clarence Boddicker, through glass while reading his rights, the producers had a preliminary screening for an audience of police officers. It turns out that the officers were delighted at the sight of the hero getting tough with a murderer in a way that they couldn't.

In Sacramento, California a robbery suspect fled into a darkened movie theatre to escape pursuing police. He became so engrossed in the movie playing on screen—RoboCop—that he failed to notice that police had evacuated all other patrons from the theatre. When the lights flipped on, the stunned man was taken into custody.

Even though the movie was set in Detroit, Michigan, most urban scenes in RoboCop were filmed in Dallas, Texas, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. RoboCop 2 was filmed mostly in Houston, Texas, and RoboCop 3 was filmed in Atlanta, Georgia.

While filming the scene of the first movie where RoboCop catches a set of car keys, the foam rubber hands of Peter Weller’s costume made grasping the keys quite a challenge. It took around 50 takes and a day’s worth of filming to finally get the scene right.

The RoboCop suit for RoboCop 2 (which can be seen in the Museum when it opens) is constructed out of Fiberglass. It made it easier for actor, Peter Weller, to move in the suit and gave it a more metallic look.

One of the major plot elements of RoboCop 2 is when the city of Detroit must declare bankruptcy, something the city actually ended up doing in 2013.


Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Happy RoboCop Day!

That’s right. The city of Detroit, Michigan is celebrating the first official RoboCop Day today. To top off the day, RoboCop will throw the opening pitch at the Detroit Tigers game tonight.

Given the National Law Enforcement Museum’s recent installation of Peter Weller’s RoboCop costume from RoboCop 2, we thought it would be appropriate to celebrate this half-man, half-machine crime fighter along with them. Take a look at what it took to assemble the costume in our office.

According to the Detroit Free Press, “An announcement was to be made today about a RoboCop statue that’s expected to be installed in Detroit this year, but that event and a police meet-and-greet were cancelled.” No word yet on when this statue will be officially installed, but in the meantime, you can look forward to seeing the original costume at the National Law Enforcement Museum when it opens.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Director’s Corner: Boston Marathon Bomber Handcuffs Donated to Museum

The Museum received a significant artifact during National Police Week this year. On May 12, Chief Paul MacMillan, of the MBTA Transit Police Department, presented Museum staff with the handcuffs used to restrain Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving brother of the duo identified as suspects in the April 15, 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. (Pictured left: Museum Executive Director Joe Urschel, MBTA Transit Police Chief Paul MacMillan, Memorial Fund Chairman & CEO Craig W. Floyd.)

According to Chief MacMillan, the cuffs belonged to Transit Police Officer Saro Thompson, who, together with a multi-jurisdictional SWAT team—including officers from the Revere and Malden (MA) Police Departments—restrained and arrested Tsarnaev three days after the bombing, on April 18.

Earlier that day, the Tsarnaev brothers were suspected of ambushing and killing MIT Patrol Officer Sean Collier, parked on the university’s campus. Chief MacMillan noted that the suspects tried several times to remove Collier’s gun from its holster, one that was specially designed to resist attempts to “snatch” a weapon from an officer. The fact that the Tsarnaev brothers were unable to steal Officer Collier’s weapon, due to the holster he used, probably saved many lives.

Officer Sean Collier’s name was among the 286 that were added to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial this year during the 26th annual Candlelight Vigil.

Artifact Spotlight: The Stories behind the Names

"Where Policeman Was Killed in Wild Bandit Chase,"
August 22, 1931.
Over the last eight years, the staff of the National Law Enforcement Museum has acquired thousands of artifacts, researched hundreds of stories, and browsed through tons of photographs. All in an effort to better understand the story of American law enforcement.

Sometimes in that effort we happen upon an image or an artifact that connects back to a name we already know—the name of an officer engraved on the walls of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial.

The Museum recently acquired three photographs that related to two fallen officers who were killed 83 years ago: Patrolman Edwin V. Churchill and Patrolman Walter J. Webb of the New York (NY) Police Department.

"Cops Examine Guns Used by Bandits in
Wild Chase that Took Six Lives," August 22, 1931.
These patrolmen were both shot and killed, on August 21, 1931, during a running shootout through the Bronx and Manhattan with two bandits in a stolen taxicab. Four civilians also died in the shootout, which was widely covered in the newspapers at the time, though mostly forgotten today.

Examining those photographs, and other items like them, can be a solemn reminder of lives lost. But it is also exciting to know that with each piece of information and each historical artifact, the knowledge the Museum holds of the life and times of that fallen officer becomes richer and deeper. The more we know, the better we will tell the story when the Museum opens.