‘Britain needs police museum’ says crime historian

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The fact Britain does not yet have a police museum is “astonishing”, according to a leading historian of crime and policing.

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Speaking after it emerged talks are underway to create a new Metropolitan Police museum and or exhibition, professor Clive Emsley told historyextra “it should have happened a long time ago”.

The exhibition would bring together artefacts from the Met’s 184-year history, including swords that were issued to officers when dealing with Chartist riots, and artefacts from policing during the world wars.

“It’s an outrage we have not got one [a museum],” said the Open University history professor and contributor to BBC History Magazine.

“It’s about time we got around to it. There are police museums in Rome, Paris and New York – everywhere except the place that claims to have the best police force in the world.

“There have been discussions about this since 1948. I wrote an article for the Guardian in the 1980s calling for a police museum, after delegates at an international conference I attended asked me why we didn’t have one.

“It would be fantastic if police artefacts were made available to view, but I hesitate to say the plans will go ahead this time because of the number of previous false starts.”

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It emerged yesterday talks are underway between The Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC) and the Museum of London to create a new police exhibit.

A permanent museum could also be created, possibly at the old Bow Street Police Station and the adjacent Magistrates’ Court.

Emsley told historyextra: “I think a police museum could be really illuminating, but it needs to be something more than just artifacts.

“For example, the New York City Police Museum has videotaped interviews with former police officers on a constant loop.

“That kind of thing engages people and would be welcome.

“You also need museum professionals to think about the best way of presenting the material. Some within the police tend to be rather too protective of their image and history, and think they know it better than anyone else.

“But it wasn’t the case that until 1829 London was a dangerous place, and then the Met came along and sorted it out. Academic historians have found it’s not quite that simple.”

Asked whether he thought a police museum would be well received in London, Emsley said: “Everyone is fascinated by crime and criminal literature is extremely popular, so I would have thought a serious museum which can make some very important points about crime would be welcome.

“There are some stupid ideas out there, such ‘criminals are a different race’ or  ‘all criminals have the potential to be murderers’. A sensible museum could engage with these.”

A Museum of London spokesperson said: “The Metropolitan Police holds incredible collections telling the story of crime and policing in London.

“There are a wide range of ideas for the future of these collections and we understand that discussions with many different stakeholders are taking place.

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“The Museum of London has itself been involved in some very early conversations about options for a combined Metropolitan Police Museum, but as yet no concrete plans have been made.”