Last summer, ARCA awarded Mark Collins, a senior officer at the Ontario Provincial Police, the Minerva Law Enforcement Scholarship to attended the Postgraduate Certificate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection. Murray Whyte, writing for the Toronto Star in "Crimes of the art" (March 24, 2014), reports:
Last month, thieves stole work from a collective of Toronto artists. OPP officer Mark Collins is doing what he can to get it back and build some respect for a criminal realm worth $6 billion a year.
Collins, officially assigned as an investigator to the Alcohol and Gaming Commission, was in attendance at a fundraiser for Creatures:Collective, the site of a robbery on Feb. 13 of four pieces of art:
The crowd of mostly young, artfully dishevelled downtown sorts sipped bulk-quality wine and perused the offerings on the walls: small works, for the most part, were offered for auction by a dozen or so artists to help raise a little money to cover the victims’ losses and pay for what’s become, in hindsight, a glaring oversight. “A security system,” smiled Darren Leu ruefully, listing alongside it repairs to the back door and relief for the victims. Leu, the director of Creatures, chatted warmly and embraced a good many of the dozens of people who streamed in over the first hour of the event. He held a clipboard, tracking bids and handling of the auction. The gallery had a camera pointed at its front door, mounted on the wall across the street, he said. That morning, they found the camera oddly askew, directed at a storefront two doors down. “The first week of February was extremely windy,” he said. “But still, the way they came in made it seem like they knew the space.”
The Creatures: Collective case is being handled out of the Toronto Police Service’s 14 Division, with an unofficial assist from Collins based on his particular expertise. “A lot of police here just write art theft up like a stolen laptop or iPad. It’s not differentiated,” he says. “It isn’t following fingerprints; it’s getting images of the works out there and making them too hot for the thief to handle. But if you start telling police forces they don’t know what they’re doing with this stuff, you end up with a lot of hurt feelings.” Collins has always had a connection to art. “But I couldn’t draw a straight line with a ruler,” he said. “I might be able to do a Damien Hirst: I could pickle a shark, but it probably wouldn’t turn out as well.” Before getting involved in law enforcement, as a teen he worked as a night cleaner at the Art Gallery of Ontario. In 1992, he started policing traffic, writing tickets and plotting his next move. He became an investigator in 2000, but the idea of working with art lingered in the back of his mind. Then, a couple of years ago, he read Canadian author Josh Knelman’s book Hot Art and the light went off. “I talked to everyone in that book,” he said. “It made me frustrated: art theft is recognized as a serious crime, but it’s like the drug trade. No one knows how much it actually represents.” There are guesses. The most noted one is roughly $6 billion per year. Nonetheless, Collins is willing to start small. One of Chen’s stolen works was part of a triptych, priced at $400. “It’s kind of fun, putting it on Interpol or Scotland Yard, or the FBI and the international Art Loss (Register),” Collins said. Chen lost another work, a four-by-six-foot canvas he’d made with Kevin Columbus, destined for another show. “I guess it’s the ultimate compliment,” he said. Within hours of the theft, the pair set to work to replace the stolen painting. They finished it in a week. “It was just hateful,” he said. “We couldn’t let them take anymore.”