A police museum planned more than 20 years ago is still in the works at Jack Evans Police Headquarters in Dallas and will even include artifacts from investigations following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
When construction began on the new police headquarters in 1991, a 4,000-square foot area was reserved to one day become the Dallas Police Department Museum. The museum exists as a foundation and artifacts are gathered, but soon another fundraising push will seek to provide what is needed to make the dream come to fruition.
Some items are now on display when you first walk in the door, including a suspended Bell helicopter and a 1928 Ford Model A police car, but the true treasures are still hidden in file drawers and archive boxes. From a Jack Ruby business card to the only full-auto 45.-caliber Thompson in the history of the department, one day officers and community alike will be able to get a true glimpse of history.
“When we started thinking about this, building this facility, someone had the wherewithal to say, ‘We need to have an actual museum’,” explains Assistant Chief Catrina M. Shead. “We had some people that were very forward thinking, and they thought about how to preserve the history of the Dallas Police Department.”
Not only was space allotted for a museum during the planning and design phase, but it was guaranteed when the city council approved a proclamation mandating the space cannot be used for anything other than a museum. Shead said initially several key donations came through, including one from the Community Foundation of Texas that “helped out significantly.”
The assistant chief, who joined the department 28 years ago, values what the final museum will mean to the public as well as officers. She points out there are standards such as procedural justice and implicit bias training that officers need to know as part of their profession. But, she adds there is another standard.
“An additional standard is to understand the history of policing, the history of policing in your state, and the history of police in your city. Then you layer that with the implicit bias and procedural justice, because you don't know why in certain areas of Dallas people feel a different way about police officers if you don't know the history of this city,” Shead explains.
Currently there is a video in production, with comments from both Chief Eddie Garcia and Mayor Eric Johnson, that will tell the story of why the museum is needed and attempt to help garner donations to complete the museum.
Shead points out that next year will be the 60th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the department has several artifacts related to that era, the arrest of Lee Harvey Oswald, and then his death at the hands of Ruby. She says the entire museum may not be completed by then but hopes some key artifacts from the events of November 1963 can be on display by then.
When you first walk in the main entrance of the Jack Evans Police Headquarters and glance to the left you see what many would simply call an old police car. But, there is more to the story.
It is a 1928 Model A Ford that was found in a barn in a suburb of Dallas. The Model A had been a fire department vehicle, but a former Dallas police officer with the love of, and talent for, restoring antique cars brought it back to life. The restoration left it in its current form, a depiction of a 1928 police car.
“It’s gotten all sorts of awards among people that restore cars. When we built the building, his family didn't want to inherit the car. So, they gave it to us,” says Senior Cpl. Paul Schuster, of the Police Facilities Management / Personnel Division.
Schuster, who is like a walking encyclopedia of the history of the Dallas Police Department, had a hand in planning the new police headquarters, and the museum. His involvement in the creation of a new headquarters began in 1991, when Schuster attended an International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) course on building police buildings.
“When we were designing the building, I went across the country looking at different police facilities. I went to the Toronto police headquarters, and they have probably a nicer police museum than any that I've seen here in the United States,” he explains. “So, when we were designing this building, I reserved this space to try to duplicate what Toronto did.”
While most of the history is not currently on display to the public, in addition to the Model A there is a Dallas Police Department Bell helicopter suspended overhead just inside the entrance to the building. Only if you take the staircase to the second floor is the significance revealed.
The department’s Helicopter Unit saw tragedy in 1984 and 1985, when three officers were killed in two separate incidents. One pilot died in an off-duty crash in 1985, however the 1984 duty crash killed both Lt. Robert L. Cormier and Chief Pilot James “Chuck” Taylor. Both men are represented in the lobby, if you know where to look.
Within the helicopter suspended overhead there are two mannequins, complete in flight suits and helmets. Those mannequins were crafted to look like the faces of Cormier and Taylor. On the second floor is a plaque telling of the loss, but even there you don’t see mention of their faces on the mannequins. It is more of a hidden tribute, but Schuster points it out.
The second floor of the museum space, although not typically visited by the public, is the route to some administrative offices. But, as Shead points out, it is a path that some must walk.
“I like the second level. And the reason why I like the second level is when a young person comes to apply for the Dallas Police Department, that's exactly the path that they take,” she explains.
Although not fully developed as a museum, several interesting items are on display – including a bullet-riddled door from a patrol car. It is an artifact kept from when a man in an armored van unleased a hail of gunfire on police headquarters in June 2015.
Schuster explains how a Dallas officer arrived on scene, stopped behind the van, then ran from his car to take cover behind a tree. No sooner than he did that, the suspect shifted positions and started firing from a gunport in the rear of the van, striking the patrol vehicle. In a storage room nearby, a shot up glass window from the front of headquarters is also preserved for potential display one day.
Rounding out the second floor are a display of old police motorcycles, a few display cases, and one corner that honors the five officers murdered in the July 7, 2016, attack on police. On that day, 12 officers and two civilians were shot after a gunman opened fire during a protest.
Nearby, a bust of Officer J.D. Tippit pays tribute to his ultimate sacrifice when he was killed by Lee Harvey Oswalt following the Kennedy assassination.
Also on the second floor is the main meeting room, which serves as the media conference room. The architect proposed placing a large badge on the wall in the front of the room. But Schuster was given a choice – have either the $26,000 stainless steel badge go in that room or the front of the building, where it is now located.
So, for the conference room Schuster found a solution, another way to have a large Dallas PD badge displayed prominently. He purchased a $1,400 solid block of wood, four inches thick and weighing 600 pounds, and gave it to his dad who hand carved it into a badge.
Although the museum is not complete and little is on display, there is a wealth of history locked away in secure rooms nearby. Eventually, some of those artifacts will be on display for the public.
Among those stored items are pieces of history connected to Kennedy’s assassination, such as the suit worn by Detective L.C. Graves as he and Detective Jim Leavelle were escorting Oswald when he was killed. The officer’s family passed it along to the police museum. In one drawer, amongst a collection of handguns, handcuffs, and holsters is a laminated and framed Jack Ruby business card.
As Sgt. Andrew Fuka, also of the Police Facilities Management / Personnel Division, and Schuster work through the artifacts, there are several framed items to note – such as copies of Oswald’s arrest report and the homicide report of the killing of Kennedy. The originals are secured in the city’s archives.
Fuka, a generation younger than Schuster, brings new blood to the mission of preserving the past and is on the board for the museum foundation, the entity that owns all the historical items.
Schuster picks up an 8x10 frame with a photo of a Dallas officer holding a revolver, then shares the story of how the picture was taken after the gun was taken away from Oswald during his arrest at a theater following the Kennedy assassination.
“He pulled the pistol on the officers as they were coming in the movie theater to arrest him and he grabbed the cylinder, so the gun didn't go off,” Schuster explains.
Nearby is another relic of the investigation following Kennedy’s death.
“This door was in our old building,” Schuster says as he points to an entire door, frame and all, leaning against one wall. “We grabbed it and brought it over here when we moved. This is the actual door at the homicide division. Oswald was interviewed in that room.”
Elsewhere in the room, archive drawers hold an assortment of old handguns, badges, hat pins, and more. As Schuster explains Dallas police only ever owned one Thompson submachine gun, he pulls out a drawer and there it is. He says it was purchased by the officer who later was the head of homicide during the Kennedy-Oswald investigation.
“Of course, departments were much smaller then so they would go out on raids and arrest people and stuff and face barricaded persons. Long before we had SWAT, you just went out, whatever your job was, and handled those incidents. So, he bought this at that time. I think in roughly the 1940s,” Schuster explains. “We had to get paperwork from the federal government when we started the museum saying it's alright for us to have this since it's fully automatic.”
The collection is packed into every corner of the room and includes some larger items like a bomb tech suit, a retired bomb robot, and even early body armor Schuster believes is from around the turn of the century.
The history lover is technically a part of history at the Dallas Police Department. Fuka points out that Schuster was the last officer to still carry a revolver, explaining that he only gave in and switched to a semi-auto when the department made him do so about two years ago.
Elsewhere in the headquarters, a collection of photos of each police chief illustrates the longevity of the department which began under Chief James C. Arnold. In 1881 the city shifted from law enforcement being handled by a marshal to being under the purview of a police chief and department. Back then, the chief was elected. Arnold served 16 years and Schuster says he would have remained chief longer if he had lived.
Schuster explains the three most powerful people in town back then were the police chief, the mayor, and the preacher of First Baptist Church, the largest church in town. The chief invited the preacher to go hunting down near Waco. As Schuster tells it, that preacher told the chief he had never been hunting but said he would go.
“The preacher was laying down his gun to cross the fence line and it went off and shot the chief. They brought the chief back to Dallas, and he died after three days,” Schuster says.
Since the police department was founded in 1881, there was excitement centered around the 100th anniversary in 1981. That excitement largely contributed to the massive number of artifacts now in the collection.
“In 1981 it was our 100th anniversary and so officers at our old building started collecting stuff to show during that year with the idea that they would finish a museum. Well, they never did,” says Schuster. “So, all the stuff that they had collected went to our library in an archive.”
“When we started working on this, we went over to the library to try and get pictures and they said, ‘Would you want to see the other stuff we have?’ So we go, and there's all this stuff that officers had already collected,” he explains.
He points out that although there is the 4,000-square-foot space reserved to house the museum displays, he almost needs that much space in addition just to archive and store all the artifacts since they cannot all be displayed.
Actually, he foresees that once the museum opens for the public the exhibits will periodically change.
“We're not happy with static displays. We're going to have displays that are going to be something such as in February highlighting the African American officers throughout the department. In July, we'll go ahead and highlight the July 7 tragedy,” he explains.
For more photos of the collection of artifacts not on display for the public, visit a gallery of photos here.