Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Why Should I Care About a Museum?

By Jim Donahue

It’s tough for everyone these days. Budgets are being cut. Vacant positions aren’t being filled. Some places have even had to layoff cops. Every group, organization, government, and charity seems to have more demands and fewer dollars to cover the needs.

At my house, I’m taking overtime and extra details or side work whenever possible to keep the bills paid. It’s tough right now.

The idea of a national law enforcement museum is really great. But, do we really need to spend money on that right now? How do I explain to my wife that I want to make a contribution to the Museum when money is needed so badly for other things?

First, anyone who is feeling this way can take a deep breath. It’s not how much is contributed by any one of us. If you want to Scotch tape four quarters to a card, stuff it in an envelope and send it off as your donation – that’s fine. If you don’t have an extra four quarters right now, that’s OK too.

Just remember that when you do have an extra buck, it would be welcomed by the NLEOMF to build the Museum. What is important is that we all contribute something, whether it’s cash, an item of memorabilia or our time to help with the project.


Remember the last time you were the target of disrespect from some ill-mannered, snot-nosed, dirtbag-in-the-making kid on the street? You might have been called a name or worse. You were treated like their worst enemy.

Do you remember how that felt? I do.

Maybe, those kinds of incidents would be less frequent if John Q. Public had a better understanding of what we are trying to do to protect them. Just maybe we would find that sharing our story would bring about a better understanding and more support for cops on the beat everywhere.


Answer: museums are places that both memorialize and validate many of America’s truly profound moments in history. They create a tangible history for experiences that can then be shared by those who weren’t there and for future generations.

Museums create a sense of respectability for an event or an organization, if you will. The list of museums is endless. But there are a few that I believe exemplify what I mean:

  • Civil War Museum, Harrisburg, PA

  • World War I Museum, Kansas City, MO

  • World War II Museum, New Orleans, LA

  • U.S. Marines Museum, Triangle, VA

  • U.S. Army Museum, Arlington, VA

  • U.S. Navy Museum, Washington D.C.

  • U.S. Air Force Museum, Dayton, OH

  • Henry Ford Museum, Dearborn, MI

The last entry on the list documents the Industrial Revolution in America. There is currently no national museum for law enforcement. Like the military, our work continues. We are the warriors that protect the homeland. Our Museum and our Memorial will never be finished.

There are thousands and thousands of artifacts from the policing experience scattered around our great nation right now. Most of them are examples of our best moments. A few represent our worst. Collectively, they make up the tapestry that is policing today.

Without a national museum as a focal point of assembly, we risk losing these treasures to history. The Museum will be at the crosshairs of our existence. It will be the living place that constantly changes in order to best tell our story.


There can be no denying that a chasm has developed between cops and certain segments of our population. In some cases, us guys in uniform have done things to make the situation worse. Whether intentional or not, it has happened.

The police cannot effectively police a society that doesn’t want to be policed. Public support is vital to success in our mission.

Creating a national museum is going to help us regain the public support that we once had. Not overnight, for sure. But, it will happen. School kids by the tens of thousands go to Washington D.C. on class field trips every year from around the country.

They can be exposed to our story. They can see first hand what we have done – and continue to do. They can use all of their senses to know more about the experience of being a cop. They can know what we have and will face. They will know that our goal is to protect them.

Those school kids will take pictures with their cell phones and send them off to their friends. They will go home and tell of what they’ve seen. Their attitudes about cops will change – even if only a little – and it will be better.

A few of them will be so touched that they will be led to a career in law enforcement. They will join our ranks and become our brothers and sisters.


Through our words and our deeds, we can have a dramatic impact on how individual members of society treat us. We can make them hate us – forever. We can make them love us – or maybe just stop hating us.

We need every supporter that we can get.

No, sending those four quarters to the Museum probably won’t have any effect on your next shift. But, if we all work together, it just might have an effect on the lives of the young cops who will follow in our footsteps in years to come.

This is a risk worth taking and a cause worth supporting.

Jim Donahue is a native of the Midwest, getting his education at Michigan State University. He is a certified police officer in Florida and veteran police trainer with over twelve years of instructional experience. His training focuses on safe tactics for officers using in-car technology.

During his years in Michigan law enforcement, Jim worked with U.S. Customs & Immigration at the Detroit/Canada border in the year following the attacks of 9/11. He has also worked as a reserve patrolman on the streets of a suburban Detroit community.

Jim has been named an Ambassador for the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund in Washington, D.C.

Jim is a competitive bodybuilder, with six contests to his credit.

1 comment:

  1. As the son of an Sgt. whose name now graces the wall, I will forever support the Memorial and its mission and cause. As a museum professional with an MA in History-Museum Studies, the idea of opening this museum is one that I can only dream of. My sister, without hesitation, donated some of my fathers' uniforms, patches, and books several months ago and as I am able, I too, will support the museum. When it becomes a reality, I hope to be there on its opening day, not only to show the same support the NLEOMF has shown my family, but to remember my father and every other law enforcement professional who is honored by the Wall.