A museum dedicated to the work of the Delaware State Police.
When it comes to police museums, the one honoring Delaware’s finest is pretty unique. Where else can one find a pink granite check or a Volkswagen Beetle decked out in a trooper’s campaign hat?
But the Delaware State Police Museum and Education Center has a much more serious purpose: to memorialize the dedication of the men and women who have served the First State since 1923, and to give the public an idea of how the police do their jobs.
“What we have here has a lot of meaning to the Delaware State Police,” said museum director Kevin P. McDerby. “A lot of what we have here comes from former troopers or their survivors.”
The first thing visitors see when coming into the museum is its memorial wall, dedicated to the 23 troopers who have lost their lives over the years. Four of those were felled by gunfire, including Cpl. Stephen Ballard, who died in April 2017.
The walls of the main exhibit hall are lined with glass cases displaying decades worth of law enforcement equipment, ranging from rifles, shotguns, handguns, bulletproof vests and gas masks to handcuffs and training manuals.
One display that brings home the danger troopers face every day is a tan Stetson worn by Trooper Roger M. Thomson when he was fired upon on March 29, 1960.
According to newspaper reports at the time, Thomson and another officer had been sent to an address in Hockessin to investigate a telephone threat.
The men were greeted by a barrage of shotgun pellets and fire from a .22-caliber rifle that peppered their police vehicle. The officers fired back, and afterward Thomson noted one of the slugs had pierced his hat, barely grazing his scalp.
A more humorous display is a 40-pound slab of pink granite, presented to the state as payment for a $30.50 speeding ticket.
The stone check was sent by a Virginia monument designer who had been stopped Jan 17, 1981, outside Camden. Although a bank said it would honor the payment, the fine instead was paid by a court clerk so she could keep the unusual item.
Another stone on display is the memorial for “Captain,” the first state police patrol dog in the country. Captain, who served for eight years, died in 1964 and was buried at an animal cemetery in Stanton. Years later, learning the land would be sold, troopers volunteered to exhume the Doberman Pinscher’s remains, but found only his tombstone.
The museum also documents the stories about German Shepherds brought back from Europe in the 1920s. Because the state did not yet have an official K-9 corps, these animals were kept primarily as mascots, although they often guarded police stations when troopers were out on patrol.
Of particular interest to classic car aficionados is the 1971 Volkswagen known affectionately as Trooper Dan; the car, retired in 2000, sported a huge trooper’s hat and was used to impart bicycling and road safety tips to young children.
Three classic police cars -- all Fords from the 1940s -- also are on display, along with the uniforms worn by troopers of that era.
Although those vehicles are behind display ropes, visitors can take their place behind the wheel of a retired 1998 Ford Crown Victoria and activate its lights and siren.
Also on display is a 1973 Plymouth Fury restored by DSP Cpl. Ronald G. Williams Jr. The car was donated following Williams’ 2002 death in an off-duty traffic crash.
Museum board of directors member Edward Martin said that in keeping with the museum’s efforts in documenting police history, they’re working on a project to identify former troopers and civilian employees who have worked for the state police over the decades.
He estimates they’ve gathered information on only one-tenth of those former workers.
“We don’t have all of them yet,” he said. “We don’t even have all the information we’d like on the troopers. We have their names, but not their biographies.”
Martin, who also is a retired state trooper, said anyone who worked for the state police should contact the museum to add their information to the project.
“That would be a big help,” he said.
Museum funding is provided through paycheck deductions by state troopers and the facility receives funding through private donations, Martin said, as well as through state grant-in-aid money.
Martin urges Delawareans to stop by and visit the free museum as it tells not just the story of the police department, but of the men and women behind the badges they wear.
“They should be seen as dedicated community servants and as ordinary people,” he said. Learning about the police fosters better community relations, and the museum serves as a tool to help achieve that goal, Martin said.
“We want to expand our presence not only as a museum displaying artifacts, but as an educational center that focuses on current problems in the community and how to overcome those problems,” he said.