Did You Know: Phoenix Police Museum Traces Its History

May 23, 2014

(Photo by Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez - KJZZ)
An exhibit at the Phoenix Police Museum that commemorates the officers who have died in the line of duty.
(Photo by Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez - KJZZ)
Retired Phoenix police officer Mike Nikolis is the Phoenix Police Museum founder and curator.
(Photo by Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez - KJZZ)
Phoenix Police Museum curator Mike Nikolin walks through the old city hall fifth floor jail.
(Photo by Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez - KJZZ)
The first police helicopter acquired by Phoenix.
(Photo by Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez - KJZZ)
These are doors to two jail cells on the fifth floor of old city hall. Each door has a top window to look into the cell. The bottom was used for passing items like meals.

There is a place in downtown Phoenix that traces the earliest days of the city. And history isn’t always pretty.

On Washington Street in downtown Phoenix is the old city hall.  Did You Know the six-story building has gone through many changes over the years? Today it’s home to the Phoenix Police Museum.

“As people come into the museum the first thing they’re going to see is this jail rock," said Mike Nikolin, a retired Phoenix cop who served 32 years on the force.

“Back then they decided to take the river rock and use that for leg irons to shackle someone to that,” he said.

Nikolin is also the museum’s founder. He says when the old city hall first opened on 2nd Avenue in 1929 it was home to city offices, including the police. By the 1960s the city moved and this building was taken over entirely by the police department. In 1975 the police department also moved to a larger space, leaving the building barely used.

Then two years ago Nikolin brought the museum here, the same place where he once worked as a detective.

“Primarily the first exhibit deals with Henry Garfias and the city of Phoenix in the late 1800s. The weapons that you see are all real,” he said. Garfias was the first city marshal.

The exhibition hall is filled with items used by the department over its 100-year history. Handguns and booking reports of people arrested from the early 1900s. In the back of the room is the city’s first police helicopter, acquired in 1973. 

“This helicopter, other than absent of the fuel and oil equipment for it, it would start up and fly right now,” Nikolin said.

There’s also a memorial for every Phoenix officer who died in the line of duty. A sculpture of a police officer that looks like an angel stands above a coffin in the center of the room.  

There's also an exhibit on a uniquely Arizona case. Nikolin shows off what Ernesto Miranda was fingerprinted on. He was the Phoenix man at the center of the 1966 U.S. Supreme Court case that lead to police nationwide reading the Miranda Rights to criminal suspects in police custody. The exhibit highlights everything about the case.

And what’s a police museum without a jail? There is one on the fifth floor. It’s been closed for decades and it’s not open to the public. But I got a peek inside.

The place is dusty. Nikolin says hardly anyone comes up here. There are about 30 cells on the floor. Markings on the walls show where beds once hung. A toilet and a sink are all that remain inside each cell.