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Thin Line for DC’s Newest Museum

Congress’ former cops will wait till after the midterms to visit National Law Enforcement Museum

Rep. Steve Knight, R-Calif., left, at his police academy graduation on Sept. 10, 1990, with his father, Pete Knight. (Courtesy Steve Knight)
Rep. Steve Knight, R-Calif., left, at his police academy graduation on Sept. 10, 1990, with his father, Pete Knight. (Courtesy Steve Knight)

When D.C.’s newest museum opens this weekend, former cops in Congress will be watching.

The “joys and pains of the thin blue line” will be on display at the National Law Enforcement Museum, said Rep. Val B. Demings. And that can only help “the relationship between law enforcement and the community.”

The Florida Democrat once served as Orlando’s first female police chief. Now she’s one of just over half a dozen House members who went from enforcing laws to making them.

With the House out of town for the final campaign sprint before the midterms, the cop caucus won’t be on hand Saturday for the museum’s grand opening in Judiciary Square. But they were quick to voice their support from afar.

A helicopter used to rescue plane crash survivors from the icy Potomac River is the museum’s centerpiece. Nearly 80 people died in that crash in the 1980s, but U.S. Park Police officers pulled five others to safety.

You can also see gangster Al Capone’s pistol, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover’s desk and a hat worn by Osama bin Laden.

And then there are the artifacts from Ferguson, Missouri, where a white police officer killed an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, in 2014. While protests against police brutality are still simmering around the nation, as of Wednesday, no group had announced plans to demonstrate at the opening of the museum.

Rep. Tom O’Halleran said he hopes the “thought-provoking exhibits give visitors a better understanding of the work officers do every day.”

The Arizona Democrat touted his personal experience as a former undercover detective and homicide investigator. “I know all too well the challenges and dangers many of these first responders face when they respond to calls, and I have seen the real sacrifices they make,” he said.

Former sheriff John Rutherford — a Florida Republican who represents the Jacksonville area — said he was eager to pay a visit and hopes the exhibits will highlight the links between police “and the communities they so courageously serve.”

History has a lot to teach about the role of police “in a country where all are equal under the law,” said California Republican Rep. Steve Knight, the first former Los Angeles Police Department officer to serve in Congress. “Law enforcement officers have been an integral part of our communities and our nation’s history since our founding.”

“I am proud to advocate for policies that support my brothers and sisters in blue,” he added.

Authorized by Congress in 2000, the museum is funded by private donations. That includes $18 million from Motorola Solutions — a company that makes body cams and other communications devices — and its charitable foundation.

And the museum is affiliated with the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, which maintains a national monument for those killed in the line of duty. Retiring Rep. Dave Reichert, a Washington Republican, has been working with the fund for years.

“Having served in law enforcement for 33 years, this museum means a lot to me,” he said. “It will be a place that honors the service and sacrifice of those who keep our families safe 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It is where the history of those who serve our communities on the front lines will be preserved for all to learn and remember their selfless sacrifice and dedication.”

Other badge wearers turned congressmen are Texas Republican Rep. K. Michael Conaway, who was a military police officer at the Army’s Fort Hood, and Louisiana Republican Rep. Clay Higgins, who was a police officer and sheriff’s department public information officer.

The National Law Enforcement Museum (444 E St. NW) opens to the public on Saturday with free outdoor activities from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Adult tickets are $21.95.