WASHINGTON — Eighteen years after President Bill Clinton signed legislation authorizing its creation, the National Law Enforcement Museum is finally opening its doors.
Monroe County Sheriff Michael Neal, whose story is prominently featured at the museum, attended Thursday’s grand opening.
Clint Eastwood, the actor who portrayed San Francisco police inspector “Dirty” Harry Callahan on the big screen, assisted with the ribbon cutting. U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, former Attorney General John Ashcroft and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke delivered speeches.
The 57,000-square-foot, $100 million facility is in Judiciary Square, across the street from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial.
It opens to the public on Saturday, the culmination of two decades of lobbying, planning and fundraising.
Guests who entered the museum Thursday walked past a bullet-riddled green Arkansas Game and Fish Commission truck, which towers above the main floor.
Neal, an officer with the commission at the time, used the vehicle to stop two men who had killed two police officers, ramming it into a van containing Jerry Kane Jr., 45, and his teenage son, Joseph Kane.
Visitors are shown video of the May 20, 2010, rampage, which ended in the parking lot of a West Memphis Walmart.
Joseph Kane fatally shot West Memphis police Sgt. Brandon Paudert and officer Bill Evans during a traffic stop along Interstate 40.
The Kanes fled, only to open fire again when they were confronted outside the Walmart. They shot and critically wounded two more officers before Neal plowed into their vehicle at an estimated speed of 55 mph. The Kanes were shot to death by officers.
In an interview, Craig Floyd, chief executive officer of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, said the truck is “great evidence of law enforcement’s willingness to put themselves at risk for the safety and protection of others.”
“The front end is smashed. The windshield and the hood is full of bullet holes, and you see how close Mike Neal came to death as a result of his heroics that day,” Floyd said in an interview.
The display lists the names of the two fallen officers, who are also memorialized on the memorial.
A digital exhibit in the Hall of Remembrance enables visitors to find the names of thousands of public-safety officers who have died in the line of duty.
The museum expects to receive 400,000 visitors per year; about 100,000 of those will be school-age children, Floyd said.
“I want them to meet the officers. I want them to hear their stories, what they do, why they do [it], how they do it. A lot of these stories involve great courage, great compassion. Officers want to help people in need and I think that’s an important message for people to hear,” he said.
Neal, wearing his badge and his uniform, said he was glad that his wife and daughters would be able to see the display.
“This is a pretty special time. It’s pretty exciting,” he said.
The museum has more than 21,000 items in its collection. Roughly 2,000 artifacts are on display at any given time.
Visitors are able to tour a display of a 911 command center and see what it’s like to deal with simulated emergency calls. Or they can look for clues at a simulated crime scene.
Exhibits include early radar guns and a Drunkometer — a breath analyzer that was introduced in 1938.
Also on display: former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s desk; a replica of one of the Unabomber’s pipe bombs; a cap that once belonged to terrorist Osama bin Laden.
Hanging overhead, there’s a helicopter that flew over the Potomac River in January 1982, plucking survivors of a plane crash from the icy waters.
Thursday was the first time in at least six years that Neal had seen the bullet-scarred Game and Fish Commission truck.
“I really don’t have words to express the feelings and the emotions. It kind of brings it all back to life,” he said.
While the display brought back memories of a tragic day, Neal said he hopes the exhibit will be useful.
“Maybe something good will come of this sitting in the museum,” he said. “People get to learn the stories and see what really went on and what law enforcement really goes through.”
Much of the museum was still closed off when Neal visited Thursday. He plans to return today to see the rest.
“So far it’s amazing,” he said. “We just got a surface tour. I can’t wait to really go through it.”
Print Headline: Arkansas sheriff features in national museum; hero of 2010 clash attends D.C. opening