If you have any first responders in your family, or if you would like to learn more about the origins and the history of the officers in the Tampa Police Department, a visit to the Tampa Police Museum is a must.

The museum, located on the ground floor of the Tampa Police Department headquarters, honors officers killed in the line of duty, as well as preserves and displays historically important records, books and police equipment.

Much like I do with the military, I have always found the history and operations of police forces fascinating. A year before Tampa was officially incorporated as a city in 1887, the first police force was created in Tampa. At that time, the force was quite small, with only a Chief, an Assistant Chief and three mounted officers.

Today the Tampa Police Department has in its ranks more than 1000 authorized sworn law enforcement personnel positions and over 350 civilian and support staff personnel positions. At the Tampa Police Museum, I learned about many of the people who helped build the department, and especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty.

Just outside the museum, which is also next to the entrance of the police headquarters, is a large memorial to fallen officers. It is still a work in progress, and the department is in the process of raising funds for it, but is already an impressive and sobering sight.

When I first walked in the door of the museum, I was struck by how many artifacts had been placed in a relatively small space. There is a retired 1995 Kawasaki K2-1000 motorcycle on display, because the TPD’s officers have been using motorcycles for work since the early 1900s.

There’s a 1988 Dodge Diplomat car in the museum, which carries the name of “Sergeant Trusty.” It was equipped with a remote-controlled radio, so that when it was taken to schools and public functions, children could ask the car questions and Sgt. Trusty would answer.

The museum even has a TPD helicopter on display, as well as a Tampa City Jail door and a few robots, such as the first bomb-diffusing robot ever used by the department.

I spent most of my time, though, on two specific exhibits — the Memorial Wall and the Andy Wade criminology memorial. The Memorial Wall paid tribute to the 31 Tampa Police Officers who have been killed in the line of duty since James (John) McCormick became the first in 1895. Below the portraits of the officers on the wall is a book in which you can read each one’s history of service and an account of their death.

Andy Wade was a young man in Tampa who was an avid fan of criminology and traveled all over the country to speak with police departments with the goal of asking them to contribute to his 1920s to 1930s booking card collection. Those are the cards that have the mug shots, fingerprints and booking information for the alleged criminals who have been arrested.

Andy was able to amass quite a collection in his young life, which was tragically taken in a traffic accident in 1960, when he was just 20 years old. His parents donated the collection to the Tampa Police Museum after it opened in 1995. The cards are fascinating, and I took quite a while reading them.

Besides displaying the exhibits, the museum staff urges the teaching of police science and work by offering educational programs to the public, and they offer guided tours to school children on the history of the Tampa Police Department.

But even those of us who don’t plan on becoming a police officer in our lifetimes can learn something from the brave men and women who have chosen that path. After a visit to the Tampa Police Museum, I appreciated their sacrifices even more.

Debbie Flessner writes the Live Like a Tourist column for the Sun newspapers. You may contact her at dj@flessner.net.

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