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Identity & Community

History Center Exhibit Highlights A Century-Old Police Order

A national organization of police which began in Pittsburgh is getting its spotlight at the Heinz History Center this next week and a half.

In conjunction with the National Fraternal Order of Police’s 62nd National Conference and Exposition at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, an exhibit of Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) items will be on display from Tuesday until next Thursday, August 20.

In 2011, the Center received the Pittsburgh Police Historical Association Collection, which contains a lot of FOP items because of the order’s beginnings in Pittsburgh.

“It’s an important part of Pittsburgh history and it’s a story we’d like to tell down the road,” said Ruby.

100 years ago on May 14, 1915, the FOP was formed to help policemen negotiate better working conditions and fair pay.

“Any police could join and then they would use that as a voice for their needs and their rights and things like that to get better working conditions,” said Emily Ruby, curator at the center.  “At that time they were working really long hours and were paid pretty low.”

According to Ruby, two police officers had a conversation about how to get police to band together and ask for changes. These two were joined by 21 other men who met in Pittsburgh to form the order.

In 1918, FOP became a national entity, recognized for its dedication to representing the rights of police officers.

Today, the FOP has more than 325,000 members throughout the U.S.

The exhibit, located on the museum’s fourth floor, features several items used by local police in the past 100 years.

“Badges, and handcuffs, mug shots, we’ve got a tommy gun, some equipment related to police work like a lie detector test, some scuba gear, and the call box that the police use to call in crimes to the stations,” said Ruby.

Museum-goers can also expect to see police uniform and a 1960 polygraph machine used by the Pittsburgh Police during interrogations from 1966-1976.

After the exhibit ends, some of the artifacts from the drawers will go on display in the visible storage galley. The rest will go back into storage for another time.

“In a larger context, we’d love to do an exhibit on all of the more comprehensive collections we have related to crime and punishment; we have a lot of great artifacts related to some of the jails and things in the area,” said Ruby.