D.C. has a Brand New Museum! What Families Need to Know About Visiting the National Law Enforcement MuseumBy Kim Humphrey
Posted Nov 06, 2018
The long-awaited National Law Enforcement Museum finally opened its doors to the public on October 13th. Located in Judiciary Square directly across from the National Law Enforcement Memorial, the Museum boasts an impressive collection of historical artifacts and many thought-provoking exhibits designed to bridge understanding and strengthen the relationship between law enforcement and the communities they serve, which is desperately needed in today's highly charged environment.
I visited with my 9-year-old daughter just a few weeks after the Museum opened. We received complimentary admission in exchange for sharing our experience with our audience.
You enter the Museum at street level through the soaring glass pavilion, proceed down to the second level for ticketing - the museum store and a small cafe are also located here - and then down once more to the ground level where all of the exhibits are located. While not a huge space, the layout is modern and open, easy to navigate with kids, and every exhibit is thoughtfully designed to engage and immerse visitors in the law enforcement experience.
The first thing that grabs your attention when you descend from the Museum's entry to the second floor is this U.S. Park Police helicopter 'flying' above the exhibits below. We later learned this is the helicopter that rescued survivors of the Air Florida flight that crashed in the Potomac River in 1982. You can view real footage of the crash and rescue operation on a screen located below the helicopter.
The best thing about the Museum, particularly for kids, is that almost every exhibit is hands-on and interactive, allowing you to truly "walk in the shoes" of law enforcement officers. The Museum's most immersive exhibit is the Cop Training Simulator where visitors are led through a realistic, intense training scenario complete with two (simulated) weapon-yielding volunteers. The Museum staff warned me that this is considered a "PG-13" attraction and not recommended for children under 12, so we were unfortunately not able to experience it. This is something to keep in mind if you are visiting with small children. I was disappointed I didn't have my teenage boys with me to try it out.
Learn What it's like to be a 911 Operator/Dispatcher
One of my daughter's favorite exhibits was 911 Emergency Ops where you sit at a simulated 911 operator terminal, don a headset and see how many emergency calls you can field in 3 minutes. When the call comes in, your job is to decide as quickly as possible - via touchscreen buttons - what questions to ask the caller and what kind of emergency situation you have on your hands, and then dispatch the appropriate number of police and/or ambulance units.
She re-visited this several times to see if she could improve her response time! Warning: Some of the calls involve mature content that young children may find distressing, including a young girl reporting domestic violence between her parents and a child abduction.
Walk in the Paws of a Police Dog
The Being an Officer exhibit allows you to walk in the shoes of many different kinds of law enforcement officers, including bomb techs, covert ops, and SWAT teams. The kid favorite here is the K9 police exhibit, which includes a variety of hands-on (and nose-on!) displays that demonstrate the important role of man's best friend in law enforcement. My daughter got a big kick out of the 'smell test' display used to demonstrate the power of a dog's snout in sniffing out crime. I'll warn you that not all smells are pleasant ones, so sniff at your own risk!
Lock 'Em Up!
Get a taste of what it's like on both the right and wrong sides of the law in the Corrections exhibit. The Museum acquired prison cell grates and furnishings from the former Lorton VA Correctional Complex to give visitors an authentic feel for what it's like behind bars. As you can see, my daughter was not impressed with the bathroom situation. Hopefully, a motivation to stay on the RIGHT side of the law!
Become a Detective and Solve a Case!
Take the Case was our favorite exhibit in the Museum. If you're a fan of crime shows like Law & Order and CSI like I am, then you're going to love this one. Here, you get to learn about different techniques detectives use to solve crimes -- from examining and following evidence to learning about the value and reliability of eye-witness testimony and interrogation techniques.
Determining which objects may contain DNA evidence
There are a variety of hands-on stations here that teach you about forensic evidence - from DNA to ballistics to blood. We looked at hair and fiber samples under a microscope, compared shoe prints to a cast of a shoe print from a crime scene, used special light to illuminate a fingerprint on a soda can, and examined different skull fractures to determine the weapon used in a crime.
We also watched videos about three very different real-life crimes, examined evidence collected during their investigations, and learned how detectives used this evidence to solve the crimes and ultimately get convictions. This was really fun and interesting, akin to an episode of your favorite crime show drama but you get to participate in solving the crime!
Play I Spy
The Museum has a large collection of historical law enforcement artifacts, including items from the September 11th terrorist attacks; a motorcycle and vest used by an undercover agent to infiltrate a notorious motorcycle gang; and even Former FBI Director, J. Edgar Hoover's desk and office furnishings.
The Museum's Reel to Real exhibit features a collection of toys and memorabilia from cop TV shows and movies, including a costume used by actor Peter Weller in RoboCop2. There is a monitor where you can view scenes from different shows and movies and vote for your favorite scene, line, etc. My daughter thought that was a lot of fun even though she had never seen or even heard of any of them!
Honor the Fallen
We ended our day by visiting the Hall of Remembrance, a tribute to officers who have lost their lives in the line of duty. This room is appropriately closed off from the open space of the Museum, providing a quiet place for reflection. Just like the rest of the Museum, this is an interactive space designed to forge a connection between the community and law enforcement. You are able to scroll through photos of fallen officers on a touch screen, read their stories and even write a tribute about them. Items left at the Memorial are also displayed here.
Visiting the National Law Enforcement Museum With Kids
While there are a few things that may appeal to younger children, I'd recommend that children be at least 7-years old to enjoy the Museum. Children younger than that would likely get bored quickly, as there is not enough to keep their attention. Note that some of the exhibits contain mature content that may not be appropriate for or may upset younger children, so use your discretion. Older tweens and teenagers are the perfect age and would be able to participate in Cop Simulator Training.
Unlike other museums where you can spend 3 hours and come away feeling like you've only just scratched the surface, 2-3 hours is the perfect amount of time to experience everything the National Law Enforcement Museum has to offer, making this a great family outing.
The Museum has a small gift shop with fun items for purchase. My daughter talked me into a pair of play handcuffs. There is also a small cafe which was not open yet at the time of our visit.
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