August 22, 2013

2013 ARCA Art & Cultural Heritage Conference: Dutch Police Officer Ruth Godthelp Presented "The nature of crimes against Arts, Antiques and Cultural Heritage: A description of art-related crime in the Netherlands based on police registrations"

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

Criminology doctoral candidate and Senior Amsterdam Police Officer (at the serious and organized crime department at the Amsterdam Police in The Netherlands), Ruth Godthelp looked at more than 4,000 police reports to study art crime in The Netherlands in her presentation "The nature of crimes against Arts, Antiques and Cultural Heritage: A description of art related crime in the Netherlands based on police registrations" at ARCA's Art & Cultural Heritage Conference on June 22, 2013.

After a legal career as both a judicial assistant of the Public Prosecutor and as a lawyer, Ms. Godthelp joined the police and became the first official national police officer combating art-related crime. She recently started a PhD in Criminology (VU University Amsterdam) purely based on police registrations to purify the basic discussion about the actual scope and nature of art-related crime in the Netherlands.

Although the last decade art-related crime acquired increased attention within the policing and academic field, a description of the phenomenon is often made based on theoretical possibilities and only a few case studies. The question therefore arises whether these limited sources of information give an accurate reproduction of the actual nature and scope of art-related crime. This presentation presents provisional outcomes of an ongoing research project uniquely using police registrations of art-related crime in the Netherlands from 2007 through 2012 and aims to provide more insight into the offense itself (1) the suspect (2) and (3) the victims of art-related crime.

For this study 4,000 registered art-related crimes were extracted from the Dutch national police database and submitted to set definitions and operational approaches which narrowed the dataset down to 1,100 registrations. These were analyzed from the aforementioned angles (offense, suspect and victim).

A first finding showed that a large number of registrations were registered in such a restricted way that, although valuable art, antiques or (international) cultural heritage were involved, any indication regarding further investigation was lacking, which led to limited useful information. Further, the paper discusses the type of offense occurring in the dataset. It showed us mainly (targeted) burglaries from private houses, involving quite a share of modern art-objects. But also cases with constructions of money laundering within the commercial world of art, museum thefts, illegal import of cultural heritage, fraud and high quality forgeries and recurring suspects are discussed.

Although research based purely on police-registrations also has restraints (such as the effects of black number and priority based information) this innovative survey offers the possibility to purify the basic discussion about the actual scope and nature of art-related crime. In addition it could serve as a starting-point for further required empirical research and priority setting within law enforcement.

"The characteristics of the majority of suspects in art-related crimes in the survey were male, average age of 40-45 years old, and 30% were employed in the art market," Ms. Godthelp told the audience. "In one case, two paintings stolen from a private residence changed hands three times and all three dealers admitted that they didn't verify provenance but trusted the person they had bought the painting from. This shows how the painting moves to the licit art market."


In addition, the cases involved people known to the police and selling art for financial gain. "Three-quarters of the cases, from theft to recovery, operated within 100 kilometers," Ms. Godthelp said. "The majority of the motives appeared to be financial -- and in some cases -- that the art was stolen to sell for cash or for drugs. Sixty percent of the suspects had police records, including art dealers with multiple records."

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