Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Seeing Double for Thanksgiving

With the winter holidays upon us, we thought we’d take a look at the collection to see what we had related to law enforcement and Thanksgiving.

Stereograph image of large, helium-filled cop balloon in Boston Thanksgiving Day Santason parade

Photo, stereoview, 1938. 2006.369.1. Collection of the NLEM, Washington, DC.

The photograph is a 1938 stereo photograph, made to be looked at with a viewer for a three-dimensional effect. The photo was taken at the 1938 Boston Thanksgiving Day parade on Beacon Street. The white building wing peeking out of the right side of the images is the Boston State House annex that dates from 1917. The men who are holding the tether lines are dressed either as convicts (in striped clothing) or as law enforcement officers (in keystone cops helmets).

While we don’t yet know what organization sponsored this parade, it appears to be in keeping with New York’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. We have been able to find one other photograph of what appears to be the same balloon in the New York Macy’s parade from the year before (1937) at the Corbis collection. The tether holders in that photograph are dressed as keystone cops.

If you have any information on this parade, we would love to hear from you in the comments below.

Have a great Thanksgiving!

Friday, September 24, 2010

A Police Matron from Davenport, Iowa

This article is contributed by one of our summer interns, Elena DiGrado, who worked on this newest addition to our collection.

When I picture a police matron in the early 20th century, I imagine the corrupt Matron “Mama” Morton from the hit Broadway play, “Chicago.” Her character represents our modern stereotype of a woman in her profession. Matron “Mama” Morton receives bribes from the young murderesses of Cook County Jail in exchange for contraband (i.e., cigarettes and liquor) and legal assistance during their trials. In her solo performance, she expresses her motto explicitly, singing, “When you’re good to Mama, Mama’s good to you.” Although “Mama” Morton entertains audiences, she represents a false conception of early 20th century police matrons.

The National Law Enforcement Museum recently acquired a new collection that focuses on the life of Davenport, Iowa’s, Matron Sarah “Sadie” Hill. The Museum plans to use the collection to reconcile the public’s perceptions (or misconceptions) of police matrons’ roles in American society with who they actually were. The collection includes several newspaper articles detailing her positive role as the city matron and some of her personal items, such as her black shawl, bonnet, and hand mirror, along with nine photographs and a bundle of hair from an unknown person. Matron Hill was a member of a national organization called the Western Police Matron Association, and the collection also contains ribbons from annual conferences, including the one held during the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, Missouri.

Bonnet, hand mirror, photograph, newspaper articles, and ribbons
Bonnet, hand mirror, photograph, newspaper articles, and ribbons, Hill Collection. 2010.29.4a, 6, 13, 1, 11. Collection of the NLEM, Washington, D.C.

The position of the police matron began in the 1890s and quickly became the trend for major cities in America. Right before the turn of the 20th century, law enforcement in America found themselves in desperate need of assistance with social problems they were expected to handle, in addition to crime. As cities urbanized, more and more young women lived without the protection and support of families and in jeopardy of descending into the sway of prostitution in local brothels. Prior to police matrons, male officers handled arresting women and were confounded by the abandoned children, elderly, and homeless people on the streets who all needed the basic necessities of life, such as food, clean water, and shelter. These individuals did not break the law, and people argued that they did not belong in jail with law breakers because of their unfortunate circumstances. The “Police Matron” became the chosen solution to these problems. These women first dealt with female prisoners, but they soon extended out to serve as social worker, counselor, and welfare officer as needed.

According to Sharon E. Wood’s The Freedom of the Streets: Work, Citizenship, and Sexuality in a Gilded Age City, Sarah Hill was the second matron appointed by Davenport and was assigned to her position in 1893. She dedicated her life and service to the protection of those who could not help themselves from the perils of urban decay. This new collection of Matron Hill’s effects gives evidence of how one police matron exemplified the ideas behind NLEM’s mission statement. Helping abandoned women, old people, children, and the homeless, her acts created a positive relationship between law enforcement and the public. Also, through the duties she performed, she successfully contributed to a safer society and served to uphold the democratic ideals of the U.S. Constitution.

With this collection, researchers can further investigate the role of police matrons in American history and how their involvement established the role of women in the law enforcement field. Matron Hill’s story provides another view of what I once thought was the role of a matron, and I look forward to delving further into her life and her service to the citizens of Davenport, Iowa.

Friday, August 27, 2010

CSI: Washington, D.C.

No, there’s not a new version of the hit T.V. show in the works, although I think our nation’s capital would make a great setting. The National Law Enforcement Museum is committed to exploring all aspects of law enforcement, and right now, one of the areas we’re focusing on is forensics.

I’ve written in the past about our “What’s in the Evidence?” program which is currently in beta testing. But there’s another new program in the works: an online, forensics-based activity that will allow students in grades six through eight to take a case, analyze the evidence, and then present the evidence in court, possibly leading to a conviction.

Students doing the online activity will use science reasoning skills as they work on the case. And in contrast to shows like “CSI,” “Cold Case,” or “NCIS,” they’ll have the opportunity to see how evidence is used throughout the whole law enforcement system. They’ll also get to see that not all evidence is as conclusive as the TV shows make it seem, hopefully preparing students to be more informed jurors when they get older.

We’ll be consulting closely with experts in the field as we continue to develop the program so that our activity is more authentic than many of the TV shows currently airing. But I’m curious—have you ever watched one of the forensics-themed shows and wondered whether some aspect or technique they’ve used is authentic? What aspect of forensic science fascinates you the most? If you could incorporate any type of forensic science into an activity like this, which types would you choose to feature?

Friday, July 16, 2010

Why Should School Resource Officers Know about Domestic Violence?

As I prepare to attend and present at the National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO) annual conference in August, I will be connecting domestic violence with what School Resource Officers (SROs) do in order to keep schools safe. Is there a relationship, and if so, what is it?

A School Resource Officer is a sworn local law enforcement officer, who is responsible for providing students a safe and comfortable environment at school. An SRO works as a link between law enforcement and the school, school administration, teachers, parents, and most important, students.

Between 3.3 million and 10 million children witness domestic violence annually (Lawrence, 2002, pg 5). SROs interact with children and youth on a daily basis, which creates a direct link to why SROs should be familiar with what domestic violence is and how it affects children, especially when they are at school. In addition, because witnessing violence at home can lead to children acting out or even becoming violent in school, SROs have a duty to keep schools safe and free from any violence.

Children living in households where domestic violence is present may hear or see violence and threats. They may also see the aftermath of violence: broken furniture, bruises on their mother, their father being taken away by the police (I am using a male-on-female example here because the vast majority of cases are male perpetrated.) Sometimes, to protect their mother, children place themselves in harm’s way. Witnessing this violence increases the risks of emotional and behavioral problems in a child.

When children witness domestic violence at home, the emotions and behavioral problems are likely to be brought to school. Some signs that children may be living in a domestic violence household are physical complaints (stomachache or headache), tiredness (because of lack of sleep from staying up because of the violence), sadness, low self-esteem, difficulty paying attention in class, outbursts of anger, and bullying and aggression. Because SROs interact with students every day, they need to know these signs so that they can help and support the student.

So, what are some of the things that an SRO (or any school personnel) can do to help? First, the student needs to know about the SRO’s limits of confidentiality, because an SRO is a mandated reporter (someone who has to report to family services if they suspect child abuse or neglect). Then, the most important thing someone can do is listen. Let the student tell his or her story, but at the same time, don’t pressure the student to talk. The SRO should assure the student that they believe her or him, and validate the student’s feelings. Afterward, the SRO should check with the student’s teachers and see how he or she is doing in class, and then collaborate with the school social worker or counselor on next steps to get the child help.

Domestic violence requires intervention from a network of people. School Resource Officers are an important part of that network, because they are at schools to keep the students and the schools safe. School may be the only place many child witnesses have to be free of violence.

And sometimes, a trusted adult who will listen to a child is the first step for the child to get help.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Museum Announces Acquisition of J. Edgar Hoover Estate

We here at the National Law Enforcement Museum are thrilled to publicly announce the acquisition of an important addition to our growing collection: J.Edgar Hoover's estate, donated to us by the J. Edgar Hoover Foundation. Hoover served as director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) from 1924 to 1972, and over his long tenure had a great effect on law enforcement in the United States. The collection includes artifacts that tell about Hoover the man, such as family photographs, his china and crystal sets, political cartoons, awards, recordings of his speeches, and presentation items. The more than 2,000 objects also include the papers of Morris Childs, an FBI spy who worked for many years inside the U.S. Communist Party. We're so excited to be able to care for this important collection and make it available to researchers and the public when the Museum opens in late 2013.

Read the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund press release

Read about the announcement in the New York Times

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Five Cool Artifacts in the Collections of the National Law Enforcement Museum

We have so many interesting objects in our collections. Here are five I've selected, listed in no particular order.

Photograph, ca. 1960. 2008.40.26. Collection of the NLEM, Washington, D.C. This image was probably used in a ca. 1960s FBI training session or lecture to illustrate the history of the use of fingerprinting in law enforcement.

1) “West Brothers” – Photograph, 1903. A case of mistaken identity at Leavenworth. The early years of the 20th century witnessed a transition from the Bertillon Measurement system, a process of identifying criminals based on measurement of anthropomorphic characteristics such as skull, arm, and leg measurements, as well as recording marks on the body, to the acceptance of fingerprints as unique identifiers of individuals.

The case of the “West Brothers” is particularly illustrative of the reliability of fingerprinting over Bertillon Measurements. In 1903, Will West was committed to the penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas, where he was photographed and measured using Bertillon methods. Will West’s measurements were found to be almost identical to a criminal at the same penitentiary named William West, who was committed for murder in 1901 and was serving a life sentence. Furthermore, their photographs showed the two men to bear a close physical resemblance to one another, although it was not clear that they were even related. In the ensuing confusion when the identities of the two men were being confirmed, their fingerprints conclusively identified them and demonstrated clearly that the adoption of a fingerprint identification system was more reliable than the older Bertillon method.

2) Robocop 2 suit, 1990 (image coming soon). Just because it’s Robocop…and cool. This sci-fi action film is a sequel to the 1987 movie Robocop, a cinematic vision of law enforcement set in the near future. The Robocop saga is based on the tale of a law enforcement officer, played by actor Peter Weller, who was killed then resurrected as a cyborg entity programmed to fight crime. According to a 2002 Dutch-language interview with director Paul Verhoeven, the Robocop character was based on comic book action hero Judge Dredd and was inspired by the futuristic film Blade Runner. The successful Robocop franchise includes two sequels, branded merchandise, an animated television series, and comic book adaptations.

Identi-Kit, Model II, Smith and Wesson, ca. 1976. 2009.4.18. Collection of the NLEM, Washington, D.C. Composite images created from many different facial components were assembled by hand to produce an image of a criminal suspect.

A composite image created from randomly selected foils from the 1976 Identi-Kit Model II. Do you know who this is?

3) Identi-Kit Model II, Smith and Wesson, 1976. A reminder that things weren't always as easy as they are today. The Identi-Kit Model II is the second iteration of a composite facial feature reconstruction process used by police departments to help identify criminal suspects. First produced in 1959, the original Identi-Kit consisted of hand drawn facial feature components which were mounted on transparencies called “foils.” Individual foils were layered atop one another to create a face, which was then mechanically copied and circulated to aid in suspect identification. The Identi-Kit in the NLEM collection is the second version, which was developed in 1976 and contains photographic, rather than hand-drawn, facial features mounted on foils. In 1989, the first software version, Identi-Kit Model III, was introduced and its Internet-based use continues today by law enforcement agencies.

Lunch box, Adam-12, ca. 1973. 2007.43.163. Collection of the NLEM, Washington, D.C.

4) Lunchbox, Adam-12, 1973. People of a certain age will remember not only the television show Adam-12, but also the status of carrying a lunch box with colorful depictions of these fictional law enforcement heroes to school. Jack Webb, of Dragnet fame, produced this popular television series, which ran from 1968 to 1975. The show was based on the experiences of Los Angeles Police Department officers and strove “for absolute authenticity as far as police technique and procedure is concerned.” Starring Kent McCord as Officer Jim Reed and Martin Milner as Officer Pete Malloy, the worn metal lunch box depicts exciting scenes from the show: apprehending dangerous criminals in dark alleys, the tension of speeding toward a call, and community-friendly interactions with children and puppies. The lunchbox was originally produced with a matching thermos, missing from the artifact in the NLEM collection.

Traffix Accident Reporting Kit, Forbes Stamp Company, unknown date. 2008.26.15. Collection of the NLEM, Washington, D.C.

5) Forbes Traffix Handy Accident Reporting Kit, unknown date. This unique kit contains 18 wooden and rubber stamps with a variety of vehicle illustrations, including cars, trucks, bicycles, and various combinations of these vehicles, presumably to illustrate traffic accident situations for reporting purposes. This intriguing artifact is missing documentation and the ink pad, and may date from before 1940. The kit is, however, accompanied by a c. 1960 instruction booklet, published by the Traffic Institute of Northwestern University in Evanston, IL, about how to use traffic template kits, although it is not clear that the Forbes kit and the booklet are related. Research still needs to be completed on this artifact, and it will be fun to track down the history of this kit and its manufacturer, the Forbes Stamp Company. If you have any information about the Forbes Traffix Handy Accident Reporting Kit, or about the Forbes Stamp Company, please contact the Museum.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Testing a Museum Program: “What’s in the Evidence?”

Because we don’t yet have a building, the Education Programs staff doesn’t get to work with the public very often. So I’m excited whenever I can get one of our programs in front of a group of living, breathing kids.

“What’s in the Evidence?” is an activity developed by our staff, including two of our past interns, to teach middle school students (ages 10-14) about forensic science and its connections to law enforcement. After testing with Memorial Fund staff and one group of students, the activity was just about ready for prime time.

An important component of any program developed by the National Law Enforcement Museum is evaluation, or looking at our programs to objectively examine whether they’re meeting the goals we created them to meet. Read Dean’s blog post to learn more about this process.

Recently, we’ve had three opportunities to test out “What’s in the Evidence” with some more students, each time working with a great group of kids who tried out the activity and helped us pilot the evaluation survey that will go with it. Every time we’ve all had a great time!

Students in Laurel, MD analyzing evidence as part of The middle schoolers solve a “vandalism” that occurred at the Visitors Center through forensic evidence collected at the scene of the “crime.” They analyze handwriting samples, run chromatography tests on ink from different pens, and examine shoe impressions (footprints) and fingerprints. Some groups have been more successful than others at fingering the culprit, but they’ve all learned about what forensic evidence can—and oftentimes cannot—tell us about crimes.

Sound like fun? This summer we’re offering the special opportunity to participate in this session free of charge. That’s right—you provide the kids, the room, and some adults to take part, and we provide the materials and an educational two-hour experience. If you’re in the D.C. area and know of a Girl or Boy Scout troop, science class, camp group, etc., who might like for us to come in and teach this activity, let me know [link to rfulcher@nleomf.org]. I’m also curious to know, if you could do this activity, what would you like to learn about in the area of forensic science?

Friday, June 18, 2010

Making Connections with the NLEM Collection

Museums often collect individual objects because they are important in and of themselves. Sometimes, however, we are able to make connections among various items and are able to tell a broader story. That has happened with a number of items acquired by the National Law Enforcement Museum over the last four years.

In 2006, the Museum acquired six letters written in 1896 by the President of the New York City Board of Police Commissioners, Theodore Roosevelt.

Letter from Theodore Roosevelt to Yale Univ. Foot Ball Association We were interested in these letters because Roosevelt wrote, “If there is anything that I love more than foot ball [sic] it is civil service reform.” (Pictured at right: Letter, Oct. 30, 1896. 2006.282.1. Collection of the NLEM, Washington, DC.) Most people know about Roosevelt because of his Rough Riders during the Spanish American War, and of course, because he was the 26th president of the United States (1901-1909). But these letters also talk about Roosevelt’s interest in reform while heading up one of the most important police departments in the country, as well as the professionalization of law enforcement in the late 19th century.

Also in 2006, we acquired an 1884 cartoon drawn by one of the most important political cartoonists in the 19th century, Thomas Nast. We acquired it because it depicted a law enforcement officer.

Thomas Nast cartoon of a policeman sending Tammany Hall and Irving Hall away from a government building while Theodore Roosevelt watches from a window Political cartoon, Harper's Weekly, May 10, 1884. 2006.406.36. Collection of the NLEM, Washington, DC.

On receiving the print, we discovered that it was not really a policeman, but a cartoon using a policeman to illustrate Theodore Roosevelt working to improve the governance of New York City by attempting to rid it of its Democratic political machine known as Tammany Hall. Read more about Roosevelt’s reform efforts in NYC.

This cartoon, published in May 1884, shows Governor Grover Cleveland sitting in the window, as Roosevelt attempts to throw out the two political “machines” of the Democratic Party in New York, Tammany Hall and Irving Hall. We need to conduct more research to identify the men labeled as Tammany Hall and Irving Hall.

Roosevelt’s reform work was the beginning of a career in political reform efforts starting in the 1880s, continuing under his tenure on the Board of Police Commissioners in the 1890s, and completed as President of the United States.

What other materials have we acquired that relate to Roosevelt? Try accessing our online catalog and search for “Theodore Roosevelt” and “police” and see what you find!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Putting the Value in eVALUation: Part I--What is Evaluation?

When you hear the word “evaluation,” what do you think of? If you are like most, beads of sweat appear on your forehead as you begin to recall the cranky driving instructor who put the kibosh on your earnest attempt to become a licensed driver with his red pen. Most of us are familiar with (and dread) this type of evaluation, which is defined as “the process of determining significance or worth, usually by careful appraisal and study.”

In the context of museums, however, evaluation takes on more of an emphasis of “analysis and comparison of actual progress versus prior plans, oriented toward improving plans for future implementation.” In this sense, museum evaluation is about enrichment—it is about setting, improving upon, and reaching measurable outcomes.

As Evaluation Specialist at the National Law Enforcement Museum (NLEM), my role in this vein is to help examine the outcomes of our educational programs against each program’s goals and objectives and to make certain these line up with the Museum’s overall mission. While at times challenging, evaluation is the means by which we incorporate accountability and long-term effectiveness into the Museum’s work.

Although the NLEM is slated to open in 2013, the Museum Programs Department is planning to begin a number of its public programs just after groundbreaking takes place on October 14, 2010. With the support of the non-profit Institute for Learning Innovation, we are currently in the process of testing our programs.

Over the next year and a half, the purpose of our testing is two-fold. First of all, over the next several months, our iterative testing (also known as front-end or formative evaluation) will provide feedback about early versions of our programs to inform decisions about how we can best modify and improve them. Secondly, we will use summative testing to evaluate the effectiveness of the final programs based on previously identified outcomes.

In part two of this post, I will outline in greater detail different types of evaluation, discuss our identified outcomes and how we arrived at them, and use our recent testing to help put it all into perspective.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Upcoming June 16 Volunteer Opportunity for Teens

Hello. My name is Warren A. Jefferson, and I am a junior at Cesar Chavez Public Charter High School for Public Policy. I am also part of the Teen Advisory Council (TAC) at the NLEM.

The point of the Teen Council is to help younger citizens better understand the vital role of law enforcement in a democracy by having their viewpoints, interests, and perspectives heard and put into a film to be shown at the Museum’s groundbreaking ceremony in October.

As members of the council, students will learn real life work skills in the areas of leadership, strategic thinking, project planning and team work. The project will be introduced on Wednesday, June 16 at a Pizza Party. Those that are interested in helping on the TAC and the groundbreaking project will meet once every two weeks.

Although the video project is only a short term goal for TAC, we hope that over time, TAC will continue to work with the Education Programs team to give advice and guidance on the development of programs for teens across the country. The bigger goal is to help support the museum in its mission to build mutual respect between the public and the law enforcement profession. By doing so, we’ll be able to contribute to a safer society that serves to uphold the democratic ideals of the U.S. Constitution.

If you know any teens who would like to get involved, email Betsy Bowers, Director of Education. She’ll let me know you’re interested, and one of us will be back in touch with you.

Upcoming June 17 Adult Volunteer Opportunity

Please join Museum staff on June 17 for an informational reception as we officially launch our Volunteer Program. Anyone interested in finding out about the progress of the Museum’s development and volunteer opportunities is welcome to join us. With groundbreaking activities taking place this fall, we expect to launch a few of our educational programs and increase the pace of the Museum’s development, thus providing many new opportunities for volunteers locally and nationally. If you are interested in volunteering or attending the reception, email Vanya Scott, Volunteer Program Manager, or call her at 202-737-7869.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Groundbreaking Date Announced: October 14, 2010

We are so incredibly excited to announce the date for the Museum's groundbreaking ceremony: October 14, 2010. After planning and working toward this goal, it's thrilling to be one step closer to opening.

For all the details, check out this official press release. As the date gets closer, we'll have more information to share, including a schedule of events. Anyone is welcome to join us in person or online.

In the meantime, continue to support our efforts by reading the blog, sending us your comments and ideas, donating artifacts, and following us on Facebook. Your support makes our efforts worthwhile.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Monthly Educational Program Promotes Museum Relationships

Even without a museum building, the NLEM Education Programs are already underway. We hope that those who have participated in our “Behind the Scenes Collection Tours,” the “Project Citizen Partnership Program,” “What’s in the Evidence,” or the “Federal Agency Brown Bag Lunch Group” would agree that the National Law Enforcement Museum has some interesting activities in the works. By getting our Education Programs off the ground at this stage, we can begin to get people excited about the Museum and build relationships that will be key to its success once the doors are open.

Metropolitan Police Dept. (Washington, DC) Sgt. and Historian Nick BruleThis month marks the one year anniversary of the Museum’s Federal Agency Brown Bag Lunch Group activities. Discussion topics have included information about the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Marshals Service, the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation, the role of the District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department in safeguarding the streets of the federal government and other subjects. With a larger goal of building relationships between federal law enforcement agency historians, history buffs and the Museum staff, an interesting group of professionals finds themselves coming together on the fourth Thursday of every month to learn more about one another’s work.

The format of each monthly Brown Bag program varies. Experts in specific areas of law enforcement history have prepared formal presentations. Relevant news articles have been Attendees of a Brown Bag lunch listen attentively to a guest's presentationshared ahead of time and used to prompt less formal group discussion. Later this year, an expert in audio description will share information with staff and stakeholders about steps museum staff should take to ensure a positive experience for a broad audience that includes people who are vision impaired. What each program has in common is that they are fun and fairly informal get togethers. Although it’s a small group now, we look forward to growing the group over the next several months. As our Museum Volunteer program gets off the ground early this summer, we look forward to offering the Brown Bag Lunch activities as a volunteer benefit. If you have a topic to present or are interested in finding out more, please let us know.

Upcoming topics and dates include:
March 25 – The History of the United States Postal Inspection Service, presented by Tripp Brinkley, Postal Inspector Program Manager at the U.S. Postal Inspection Service

April 22 – Presentation on Los Angeles Police Department Chief William H. Parker by Alisa Kramer, Ph.D., from American University

May 27, June 24 – TBD

Monday, March 15, 2010


Laura McKee, our NLEM Graphics Imaging Project Intern, is a student in the graduate museum studies program at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md. She is currently interning with the National Law Enforcement Museum to learn how to catalogue and write about artifacts.

To say that something or someone is “history” is usually a sign of disrespect. However, at the National Law Enforcement Museum, historical artifacts have a significance in American culture that can flow seamlessly into the present and even into the future.

Cover of Prison Gang Tattoos booklet by Criminal Intelligence Service, Texas Department of Public Safety. Simple white cover with lettering in blue.
Prison Gang Tattoos Booklet, ca. 1980s. 2008.70.11. Collection of the NLEM, Washington, DC. (all images)

Nuestra Familia gang tattoos. Side view of butterfly, dagger with sombrero sitting on top, bandito wearing sombrero and two bandoliers strung over his chest holding shotgun in left hand.Take, for example, the small, soft-cover handbook of prison gang tattoos (circa 1980s) published by the Crime Analysis Section of the Texas Department of Public Safety’s Criminal Intelligence Service. Despite its modest appearance and low production values by today’s standards, this little booklet provides a fascinating glimpse into the dark, often-obscure world of prisoner identity politics. It has a glossary of “gang slang” and descriptive summaries of violent prison gangs ranging from the American Nazi Party and the Mexican Mafia to the Mandingo Warriors. It’s also filled with illustration after illustration of tattoos, some with text and some without, but each evidencing a rich imagery and symbolism that can be linked directly to the probable criminal activities and ideologies of certain inmates.

Nuestra Familia gang tattoos. Overlapping N and F in Gothic font, Mongolian with earring in left ear, stylized eagle with outstretched wings colored black.Why is this handbook important? Its place in the past, in the history of law enforcement, is indisputable—Texas authorities used it to discharge their duty to protect and serve civilians, to identify gang members, and to map their potential behavior both in and out of prison. But what about this artifact’s relevance, almost three decades later, to current cultural trends and security concerns? Today, 24% of Americans aged 18-50 years have one or more tattoos. Among Americans aged 18 to 29, the rate goes up to 36%. Those statistics, taken by themselves, are innocuous; however, they become meaningful when they intersect with the fact that there are now over 2.4 million people incarcerated in the United States.

In this light, the prison gang tattoo emerges as a long-standing indicator of separateness from the American mainstream, a continuously reliable mark of social deviance. It would also be interesting to ascertain if the twentieth-century tattoos in the booklet are similar or identical to the tattoos worn by present-day prisoners. Do you or somebody you know have experience working with prison gang members? Or have an interest in this critical aspect of the exploding phenomenon of U.S. prison gang membership? Tell us what you think!

Image of watermelon slice with five seeds in half circle above slice, tattoo used by Mandingo Warriors gang, from Prison Gang Tattoos booklet

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

How We Create Programs: We Listen to You!

Have you ever thought about how museums come up with their programming?

Think about a field trip you’ve been on, a tour, a lecture, a special event sponsored by some museum, zoo, historic house, arboretum, aquarium—an experience that you just loved and that really made an impression on you. Why did the museum or other institution decide to focus on that subject? Or why did it offer the program at that particular time of day? At the time, why did it seem like that experience was made just for you?

I can tell you from the inside, it wasn’t just a happy coincidence or mere whim on the part of the institution. Any museum worth its salt, and especially anyone who creates programming (read museum educator!), knows that in order to be successful, you have to listen to the needs of the community.

There are lots of ways to do this. The National Law Enforcement Museum uses vehicles like our Facebook page and this blog to get immediate feedback from our national community. We’re developing partnerships with local schools that will help us shape the school programs we’ll offer to students from all over the nation once we’re open. And we’ve assembled a knowledgeable, savvy, national group of advisors with expertise ranging from museum education to law enforcement to civics to socially responsible museum programming to offer guidance. Our Education Advisory Committee is one organized way we listen to all the different communities we want to reach.

So now I’m curious. Who do you think the National Law Enforcement Museum’s community should be? Who should we make extra efforts to reach out to as we develop programs we’ll offer now and in the future? In order to make a program, tour, activity, or whatever seem like it was created especially for you, what should we include, or what would it look like? Please leave a comment and share your thoughts!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Love and Law Enforcement

For four years we have been developing the collection of the National Law Enforcement Museum. One would think that, given the nature of policing, the bulk of what will be in the Museum’s collection is of a serious nature: uniforms, equipment and other tools of the trade, photographs of officers doing their work, items related to bad guys, materials to help us live safer lives, and so on. Indeed, of the over 8,000 items in the collection, the majority of the objects in our collection do represent the serious side of policing. But it’s February, and it’s almost the end of winter. Valentine’s Day is the 14th, and almost everyone’s attention turns to Cupid.

We have acquired two valentines that relate to policing—and I’m happy to share those with you.

What is interesting to me—and I’ve certainly not made a study of valentines, is that they both pun on “please” and “police.”

The first is a mechanical valentine—the clown rotates back and forth, and asks the recipient to “Be my valentine! and ‘poleece’ stop juggling my heart around.” We believe it’s from the middle of the last century (ca. 1940s-50s). It’s signed on the back “To Betty / From / Mum and Dad / with love.”

Police valentine, ca. 1940-1950. 2006.268.1. Collection of the NLEM, Washington, DC.

Police valentine, ca. 1940-1950. 2006.268.1. Collection of the NLEM, Washington, DC.

The second, also believed to be from ca. 1940s-50s, states “Come ahead and ‘police’ be my valentine.”

Police valentine, ca. 1940-1950. R0814. Received by the NLEM, Washington, DC.

If you have any information on these valentines or have thoughts to share about the connection between law enforcement and valentines, we would be delighted to hear from you.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Lending a Helping Hand as a Peer Reviewer

We're delighted to announce that Laurie Baty, post card collector, photography expert, and intrepid Senior Director of Museum Programs here at the National Law Enforcement Museum, was recently selected to be a peer reviewer for the American Association of Museums' Museum Assessment Program.

It's an exciting opportunity, not only for Laurie, but also for our developing museum. This honor recognizes Laurie's three decades of experience in the museum field, as well as her knowledge of best practices and current standards. As a peer reviewer, Laurie will assist museums going through a self assessment process that's designed to help them maintain and improve their operations. Through her work, she'll also learn more about what other museums are doing, strengthening our museum, too.

This volunteer position takes lots of time and dedication, but we know Laurie is up to the challenge. Congrats, Laurie!

Read the NLEOMF press release

Thursday, February 4, 2010

New Domestic Violence Program Aims to Work with Schools

According to a study on family violence, over 15 million children live in households where partner violence has occurred (McDonald, 2006). Witnessing domestic violence can affect a child physically, emotionally, and mentally, putting them at higher risk to be depressed, aggressive, and anxious (Edelson, 2006). These children also have trouble expressing themselves in a healthy way. In addition, boys who witness violence have an increased risk of becoming abusers in their future relationships and girls have a higher chance of being victims of dating and domestic violence (Pelcovitz, 2009). School is one place where a child can feel safe and shielded from the violence at home; teachers and school staff are often the only stable relationship the child has with an adult (Kearney, 1999).

With that in mind, and with assistance from the Verizon Foundation, National Law Enforcement Museum program staff are creating a program to provide information and training to Washington-area teachers, school resource officers, and other school staff on what domestic violence is, and how witnessing domestic violence affects children. The training will also give school staff the tools they need to provide students with an outlet to get support and stay safe.

The National Law Enforcement Museum is working on this program because domestic violence is a long-term critical issue for law enforcement. More officers by far are assaulted or injured during domestic disturbance calls than any other circumstance (Floyd, 2007). In addition, the very nature of law enforcement is to keep people safe. An important part of this program will be building respect, trust and confidence between school staff (including the law enforcement officers in the school) and their students. With this program, our goal is to make sure schools are not only safe, but also places where children can get the support they need. This initiative will support the Museum’s mission to encourage open communication and foster interaction between law enforcement and the community.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Contraband Weapons—Shivs and Shanks at the NLEM

In 2007, Louisiana State University (LSU) donated a collection of contraband weapons to the National Law Enforcement Museum. According to Barry Cowan, LSU Archivist, the weapons originally formed a display used by LSU’s Law Enforcement Training Program, which ran from 1953 through 2006. He says, “The LETP offered training for corrections officers, and I was told the display was designed to show students the types of weapons to look for when searching prisoners and their cells.”

Shivs. Contraband prison weapons, ca. 1960-1980. 2007.70. Collection of the NLEM, Washington, D.C.The term “shiv” is slang for any sharp, pointed object that is used as a knife, and can be created out of anything from a shard of glass to a hardened, sharpened toothbrush handle. Similarly, “shank” refers to a makeshift, knife-like weapon, and the two terms are often used interchangeably. The weapons seen here were all created from materials gleaned opportunistically; they show careful preparation and have been painstakingly sharpened, probably against a concrete floor or wall.

Shanks. Contraband prison weapons, ca. 1960-1980. 2007.70. Collection of the NLEM, Washington, D.C.
Contraband prison weapons, ca. 1960-1980. 2007.70. Collection of the NLEM, Washington, D.C.

Slashing razors. Contraband prison weapons, ca. 1960-1980. 2007.70. Collection of the NLEM, Washington, D.C.Mundane, easily available prison items are prime sources for contraband weapons. Dining utensils, machine- and wood-shop parts, and even meat bones left over from prisoner meals have been fashioned into lethal shivs and shanks. Toothpaste has been known to be used as a hardening agent when combined with paper, and thread pulled from prison uniforms or bedding is useful for “fishing” underneath doors or passing notes and other objects from cell to cell. The type of materials used, such as thread, cloth scraps, foil, etc., make contraband easy to hide, and corrections officers are carefully trained to control access to potentially dangerous materials and effectively search prisoner cells and common areas for hidden contraband and caches.

Correctional safety hygiene products, ca. 2008. Prop Collection of the NLEM.  Shown is clear toothpaste, flexible handled toothbrush, “no-shank toothbrush,” disposable razor, unsharpened safety orange flexible pencil.One commonly made contraband weapon was a slashing razor, assembled by melting a razor blade into the plastic handle of a toothbrush. The correctional system has introduced the use of safety items like the “no-shank toothbrush” (seen in the lower left of the safety items image, above the flexible pencil) and specially-designed disposable razors such as those produced by Bob Barker Company, a corrections supply firm who donated these items to us.

Correctional safety hygiene products, ca. 2008. Prop Collection of the NLEM. Shown is clear toothpaste, flexible handled toothbrush, “no-shank toothbrush,” disposable razor, unsharpened safety orange flexible pencil.

These items demonstrate the wide variety of objects in our collection. They document both the dangers that corrections officers face—there are close to 600 corrections officers on the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial—and their response to those dangers. We will incorporate these objects into exhibits in the Museum and preserve them for future study.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Prohibition Inspector's Donated Badge Tells a Story

Chris Cosgriff is the founder of the Officer Down Memorial Page, Inc., and PoliceLink.com, two of the most popular law enforcement websites on the Internet. In 2009, with the approval of the officer’s family, Chris donated Inspector William Payne’s prohibition enforcement badge to the National Law Enforcement Museum. We asked Chris to write about this donation.

Prohibition was one of this country’s darkest periods for law enforcement. Local, state, and federal law enforcement officers were being gunned down in city streets, basements of blind tigers, and in the hills and forests while searching for illegal stills. One of the most aggressive of these dry raiders was Inspector William Payne, who served with the Virginia Department of Prohibition Enforcement—the precursor to today’s Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.

Virginia Prohibition Inspector's badge, ca. 1919. Gift of Chris Cosgriff. 2009.7.1. Collection of the NLEM, Washington, D.C.

Badge, ca. 1919. Gift of Chris Cosgriff. 2009.7.1. Collection of the NLEM, Washington, D.C.

Inspector Payne was gunned down in Alexandria County (later renamed Arlington County), Virginia, on February 21, 1919. At the time, he held his department’s record for the highest number of arrests. Demonstrating his dedication to the job, he had already been shot and wounded during another raid the previous year.

His story and legacy, along with his actual badge, were passed down through his family for almost 90 years. The badge, the only original Virginia Prohibition Inspector badge known to exist, ended up with his granddaughter, who donated it to the Officer Down Memorial Page several years ago for safekeeping until the National Law Enforcement Museum was ready to accept donations.

The badge is now where it belongs and will forever be a symbol of the supreme sacrifice that five Virginia Prohibition Inspectors—and hundreds of other brave local, state, and federal law enforcement officers—made during Prohibition. It will be one of several objects that will rotate on exhibition in the Museum's “Gangsters and G-men Time Capsule.”