Detroit Police display 150 years of history in museum

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Detroit — Police recently stumbled onto Jimmy Hoffa’s fingerprints, which had been hidden for years.

The discovery didn’t help investigators find the legendary labor leader, who has been missing since 1975 — but it made for a nice addition to the new Detroit Police museum.

A card containing Hoffa’s fingerprints after one of his many arrests, discovered behind a filing cabinet in the former Detroit Police headquarters at 1300 Beaubien, is among the items displayed in the museum, which opened Tuesday.

“This has far exceeded my expectations,” Detroit Police Chief James Craig said before Tuesday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony. “My first day as police chief wasn’t at 1300 Beaubien; it was here (in the new Public Safety Headquarters, which opened in June, 2013). I envisioned a museum at 1300 Beaubien on the first two floors, with maybe a hotel on the rest of the floors. But that takes money.”

Instead, a room on the new building’s second floor was allocated for the museum, which includes artifacts spanning the police department’s 150-year history.

Jeffrey Lemaux, 54, head of the Detroit Police Historical Society, and the new museum’s curator, called the facility “a work in progress.”

“We’re still hoping to get people to donate artifacts,” said Lemaux, who retired from the department in 2012 after 27 years.

There have been previous efforts to set up a Detroit police museum.

A space was set aside in a small room near the lobby at 1300 Beaubien, and there also was a small museum set up in 1987 at the Women’s City Club at 2110 Park, but those efforts petered out for various reasons.

Cathy Govan, director of the Detroit Public Safety Foundation, which is funding the museum, said it’s important for people to recognize the city’s history, including its police department.

“History is very important,” she said. “People don’t think about all the firsts the department has had, and all the blood, sweat and tears police officers have given over the years. It’s a real honor to be involved in this.”

Detroit’s police department was the first in the country to use patrol cars, the first to use traffic lights, and the first to use radios for patrol.

Among the artifacts displayed in the new museum: Badges dating back to the department’s founding in 1865; historic uniforms, helmets, photos, and “Officer Iron Mike,” a large iron body suit worn to negotiate with barricaded gunmen — and gun-women.

“The last time that was used was in the 1980s,” retired Detroit Police Officer Marvin Janes said. “There was a lady who’d barricaded herself in a house on Lakewood. She was in there for three or four days before they got her out.”

Janes, who, like Lemaux, collects Detroit Police artifacts, called his passion “an addiction.”

“My whole life has been about being a police officer,” he said. “I love this.”

The museum is open to the public, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. Admission is free, although donations are accepted.

Donors can either give items to the museum, or loan them for a specific amount of time. To donate, call the Detroit Police Office of Public Information at (313) 596-1450.

(313) 222-2134