The Waco Police Department’s storied past is one step closer to being told in a new way.
A police museum that has been in development for several years will have a home in the department’s new tower on Pine Avenue.
There, Sgt. Randy Lanier hopes to soon display the photographs of past officers, as well as the uniforms, badges and equipment of various eras — which includes a one-handed handcuff known as a “nipper,” popular in the early 1930s — for the department and the public to view.
For Lanier, the project was initiated by the discovery of a stained ledger from the 1920s, found in a former property room in the department’s previous headquarters at 721 N. Fourth Street.
Seeing the names on its crumbling pages detailing which officers worked which shifts — an archaic version of attendance sheets officers use now — Lanier immediately recognized its historic value.
He was told that Waco Police Chief Brent Stroman had proposed creating a museum for the department, and the sergeant soon was tapped for an active role in the project.
For the past three years, Lanier, as well as committee and board members, have put out calls for materials and helped gather mementos and artifacts related to the department. Most of the items were donated or loaned by family members of officers, as well as some retirees, Lanier said.
Lanier estimates that he has collected about 800 photographs in the process. Among them are photographs of officers dressed in full white “parade uniforms” in the 1900s, as well as images of the formal dances held by the
department in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.
The oldest artifact is probably a badge from 1900, while the most unusual is likely the “nipper” one-handed handcuff, which was donated by the family of Officer J.M. Baskin, who was killed in the line of duty in 1936, according to Lanier.
He envisions eventually creating separate sections in the museum devoted to particular units, including one for the K-9 unit, the boat patrol that once cruised the waters of Lake Waco and the motorcycle traffic units, among others.
Items for display also include an old radar gun from the 1960s or 1970s that looks more akin to a blowhorn than what most people would recognize today as a radar gun.
It goes to illustrate one of the big themes of the museum — how technology, as well as training, has changed the face of policing, Lanier said.
“(We’re) just preserving the history of what it was like to police in the early 1900s through the turn of the century,” he said.
Commander Randy Aleman, who also is involved in the project, described it as coming a long way since its inception.
But he said a substantial amount of work is needed to bring it to fruition. He pointed out that several people working on the project are full-time officers who can only put time into it as circumstances allow.
They also are having to learn how to assemble a museum — a process that can be a lengthy and complex endeavor, he said.
“None of us are full-time museum developers. None of us has that experience. We’re cops,” Aleman said. “It’s a slow process, but at least there are people who want to have a museum, and we have a lot of items collected.”
The room designated for the museum is still in need of remodeling, Lanier said.
And he needs display supplies, including picture frames, mannequins and display cases.
He hopes to see it open sometime next year, but said that will depend on an assortment of factors, including donations.
The museum is not funded through the city.
Sgt. Joe Wade, who retired from Waco PD in 2010 after 34 years, now serves on the police museum’s committee. He said the process requires a lot of investment but there is value in documenting the evolution of the department.
“Personally, I want to be able to do something that not only the active-duty (officers) and the retirees will be proud of, but the citizens will be proud of, also,” he said. “But it takes money to do that.”
At a glance
Officers are seeking display cases, mannequins and photograph frames for the police museum. They also are accepting monetary donations, which can be made through the Waco Police Association by writing a check with “Waco Police Museum” in the memo line. For more information about donating, contact Sgt. Randy Lanier at 749-9267 or by email at email@example.com.