Musée de la Préfecture de Police
Hôtel de Police du 5ème arrondissement, 2nd floor
4, rue de la Montagne Sainte-Geneviève, 5th
Tel 01 44 41 52 50
Open Mon-Fri 9am-5pm, Saturdays from 10am-5pm.
Free entry, reservation required (phone or online)
This museum within the working police station of the 5th arrondissement presents the evolution and the role of the Parisian police from the 17th century to the present through important documents of events that have influenced the history of the city.
The museum was first established in 1909 by the Prefet de Police Louis Lépine. Its collections have grown over the years, but they seem to be having trouble getting a permenent space to house it. They’ve been on the 2nd floor of the modern police station of the 5th arrondissement for at least the past 20 years, and started undergoing renovations a few years ago that were then interrupted when the idea was floated to transfer it to 36 Quai des Orfèvres (Paris police headquarters on Ile de la Cité) after the main offices there were moved to the new Tribunale de Justice building at Batignolles in the 17th. As of fall 2020, no word about whether this will actually happen or not (personally, I think it would be a perfect way to use that historic space), the museum remains frozen in mid-renovation.
You’ll notice this when you visit, since about 2/3 of the museum is still in its old-fashioned (read: aesthetically challenged) “things in glass oxes against white walls with tiny text descriptions in French), and 1/3 of the museum is fresh and modern, with more interesting exhibits and explanatory text in multiple languages.
King Louis XIV created the office of Police Lieutenant in 1667. After the revolution, Napoleon restored order by creating the post of Prefect of Police. The museum traces this history, as well as the famous crime cases that hit the headlines (poisonings, the queen’s necklace scandal, famous gangsters, etc). There’s also a lot of explanation of how the police functions evolved as the city grew, and how modern technology helped in the apprehension of criminals.
There are plenty of weapons (both police and criminals), counterfiet items (including identity papers from WWII), and news clippings which will be a bit frustrating if you can’t read French). There’s also a scale model of the guillotine on display, plus a real blade (below).
While there are some signs in English, most of the museum is in French, so if you don’t have an app to translate, you can easily breeze through the small museum in 30 minutes. If you can read French, allow for at least an hour to read more in the sections that you find interesting. The museum itself is a circular circuit, with a glass case at the entrance/exit full of souvenirs like mugs and this cute tin of breath mints for sale.