August 23, 2013

2013 ARCA Art & Cultural Heritage Conference: Saskia Hufnagel Presented “Shifting Responsibilities – The Intersection of Public and Private Policing in the Area of Art Crime”

Dr. Saskia Hufnagel
by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

Criminal lawyer Dr. Saskia Hufnagel spoke on public and private policing in the area of art crime in her presentation “Shifting Responsibilities – the Intersection of Public and Private Policing in the Area of Art Crime” at ARCA’s Art & Cultural Heritage Conference on June 22, 2013.

Art crime is not always a ‘special’ type of crime. Most common forms encompass theft, fraud and forgery offenses and are, or should be, policed by local police agencies. However, most art crime is not detected without special knowledge. Whether a stolen painting or statue qualifies as ‘art’, needs to be discovered either by the victim, or the investigator. In fraud cases, police need to be able to determine the actual author of a particular artwork. Many officers would not be able to make these distinctions, having no specialized training on these matters and –in the case of Australia – not even a special national unit to refer these cases to. Art crime is hence often referred to ‘experts’ with special knowledge and even their own ‘intelligence’ databases. A prominent example for the privatization of intelligence in this field is the Art Loss Register, which investigates predominately art theft cases, either commissioned by private institutions or working together with police all over the world. The present paper will examine historically the interaction between public and private policing in the area of art crime intelligence with a view to common law jurisdictions, such as Australia, North America, and the United Kingdom. It will be assessed whether a shift toward private intelligence has actually occurred, why a shift might have been necessary, and what dangers private intelligence brings for the art market.

Dr. Hufnagel, a Research Fellow at CEPS, Griffith University, Australia and a Leverhulme Fellow at the University of Leeds, is the author of Policing Cooperation Across Borders: Comparative Perspectives on Law Enforcement within the EU and Australia (Ashgate, 2013). Together with Duncan Chappell, she is currently editing Contemporary Perspectives on the Detection, Investigation and Prosecution of Art Crime (Ashgate, 2013).

In working on the book with Professor Chappell, Dr. Hufnagel found that a private policing component was involved in nearly every case in art crime – from the use of the private database of stolen art operated by the Art Loss Register to security in museums and the use of private investigators in theft and fraud cases. “Problems arise where interests between public and private policing of art crimes oppose one another,” Dr. Hufnagel said. “It can be an overlap of competences and different interests. For example, private companies may want to recover paintings to give them back to the owners while police officers are more interested in arresting the offenders than in recovering the art.”

Rising values of art in the 1970s created a need to secure it using private means. “We want a free market of and access to art all over the world, yet this needs to be policed and self-regulated,” Dr. Hufnagel said. “With art increasing in value, the need for protection and the fear of loss became more prominent.” Dr. Hufnagel continued:

In the area of art crime prevention it can be observed that museums have to develop security mechanisms to protect their collections -- some imposed by government regulation, other required by insurances -- but not all museums have the means to do so. With regard to detection and investigation of art crime, private policing became prominent as overburdened police forces have limited resources and the criminal justice system can be too bureaucratic. Art crime is low on the priority list of most national police forces, which is why private security providers could close a gap in the market. A major problem for public police in the field is that the art community does not trust their ability and expertise. Police are not part of the art market and quite distant from this very unique community. They are supposed to help, but the art community doesn’t even expect them to. Furthermore, many actors in the market want to remain anonymous and therefore prefer private investigators.

In forgery cases, victims often do not want to report cases as they might face losing their property. If a forged work of art is not reported, it always risks being sold as an authentic piece.

Private firms can fill the gap between the art market’s expectations and the police’s experience. Experts often assist police in determining forgeries. However, experts can be corrupted and if, as it happened in the Beltrachi case in Germany, experts get paid not for their time, but receive a percentage of what the painting is sold for the risk of unreliable certificates of authenticity is high.

A way of closing the gap between public and private policing aims is to rely on security providers with knowledge of both sides. Many experts in private investigation are former police officers and understand the economic interests of the art market and the public safety interests of the police.

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