February 2, 2020

Dick Drent returns to Amelia to teach "risk management and crime prevention in museum security” at ARCA's 2020 Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection

By Edgar Tijhuis

This year, the ARCA Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection will be held from May 28 through August 12, 2020 in the beautiful heart of Umbria in Amelia, Italy. In the months leading up to the start of the program, this year’s lecturers will be interviewed. This week I speak Dick Drent, the Van Gogh Museum's former security director and on of the worlds leading experts on museum security.

Dick Drent
Though Dick and I both located in Amsterdam, I have to this interview via Skype as Dick is constantly flying around the world to assist museums from the US to the Far East and in between. When I talk with him to discuss his return to Amelia in 2020, Dick is heading for Dubai and Abu Dhabi as the first two emirates to talk about bringing proactive security to the UAE. Soon to follow by the other emirates.

Can you tell us something about your background and work?

My background is based on law enforcement with the Dutch police, where I worked for 25 years, mainly involving international investigations hinging on organised crime. In that capacity I worked for 15 years in the Undercover and Sensitive Operations Unit on counter-terrorism projects and on setting up, running and managing (inter)national infiltration projects. I also worked as the Liaison Officer for the Dutch Police to the UN War Crimes Tribunal at the Hague, a tribunal set up in 1992 for the prosecution of persons responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian law set up following the war in what is the former Yugoslavia.

In 2005 I was approached by the Van Gogh Museum to serve as their Director of Security, responsible for dealing with their threat and risk issues as it relates to the museum’s complex physical security as well as it's the museum’s approach to organizational, construction and electronic risk management. Leading up to my hire, these were not sufficient for a museum of this calibre and had resulted in the 2002 burglary of the museum in which two Van Gogh paintings were stolen. So, I was mandated to change and overhaul the museum’s overall security which I did, developing and implementing a new proactive security strategy which effectively assessed risk and minimized the potential of future breaches. Next to that I was pinpointed as chief investigator with the goal of getting the museum's two stolen Van Gogh paintings back. In 2016 after many years of tracing and tracking tips, gathering information, connecting with informants and conducting investigations all over Europe we were ultimately successful. Fourteen years after the robbery, and in close cooperation with Italy’s Guardia Di Finanza of Naples, we were able to recover the paintings at a house connected to one of the bosses of the Camorra organized crime clans in Naples. There, the paintings were seized by law enforcement authorities and when authenticated, were returned to the Van Gogh Museum where they have been restored and are now once again a part of the museum’s collection.

Recovery of the Van Gogh's
In 2014 I left the Van Gogh Museum to further develop my own business enterprise where I continue to be successful in an advisory and consultancy capacity, a segment of which is specialized on providing security and risk training as it relates to protecting cultural heritage. I have also expanded my company Omnirisk through a merger with the International Preventive Security Unit (IPSU) where knowledge and expertise is combined. We will operate under the name International Security Expert Group. (ISEG). ISEG works with experts from law enforcement and special forces from the military and will cover the full range of training and courses in security and safety for any situation in the world. Next to this I’m still busy with assisting museums and cultural projects all over the world to improve their security. At the moment I’m in touch with Mark Collins, a law enforcement officer from Canada and an ARCA alumnus, to set up training programs on proactive security in Canada.

What do you feel is the most relevant part of your course?


Dick Drent on a field trip during the
2019 program
As it relates to my course with ARCA, aside from creating security awareness in the broadest sense of the word, especially for those participants who have no security experience in their backgrounds, the most relevant part of my course involves a change of mindset. This is done by literally letting them climb into the skin of the criminal or terrorist, where they are asked to assume an adversarial role or point of view in order to understand how easy it is to commit an art-related crime. By considering, how they themselves would set about attacking a museum or an archaeological site or infiltrating a private institution with the intent and goal of stealing or destroying something, they are better able to see and understand the site's security vulnerabilities, by simulating a real-world attack to evaluate the effectiveness of a site’s security defenses and policies.

What do you hope participants will get out of your course? 

I want them to understand that the protection of cultural heritage doesn’t begin with chasing stolen, falsified, counterfeited, looted, plundered or destroyed art or heritage. I want them to learn that it starts with thinking about threats and actors, and risk in advance of an incident and exploring how we can prevent incidents before they happen. By changing from a reactive method of security as we know it, ergo, reacting to incidents after they occur, where, per definition, you are already too late to have prevented it), to a proactive strategy is what is needed for comprehensive security strategies. Pro-activity involves identifying the hazardous conditions that can give rise to all manner of risk, which we address in a variety of methods, including predictive profiling, red teaming, utilizing security intelligence and other proactive approaches which lead to the actual protection of cultural heritage.

A second thing I know for sure the participants come away with from my course is that when finished they will have a strong understanding of how security should, or more correctly, has to be an intrinsic part of any organisation. It’s not unusual for those who study under me, to say afterwards that they will never be able to walk into museum again without looking for the security issues at hand and in their head making a survey how easy it would be too…… For them, the days of solely enjoying a museum or art will be over. Forever.

In anticipation of your courses, what book, article, or movie would you recommend to participants? 

Next to reading everything that is mentioned on the advanced reading lists we provide to participants, I would highly recommend reading the book: Managing the Unexpected (2007) by Karl E. Weick and Kathleen M. Sutcliffe. This book discusses the ideas behind the High Reliability Organization (HRO) and it's principles. In my opinion every organization that is involved in the protection of cultural heritage, should be managed as an HRO. Read it and you will find out why.

Is there anything you can recommend about the program or about it being in Amelia or Umbria? 

Coffee break during the conference
An added value to your investment in following this program in Amelia is the opportunity to develop one’s network with other participants and with all the professors and lectures who come to Umbria because of ARCA and the ARCA conference. This sometimes isn’t obvious in the beginning, but I am still in contact with a lot of the participants and presenters from the previous year’s courses and conferences and have also been able to connect them to other people in my network long after the summer is over. So, for a future career, even it is not clear yet what or how that career will look, this program offers opportunities too good not to make use of! Tip: Print business cards to give to the people you contact and ask for theirs. Make them notice you, by your questions and drive to learn

Regarding Amelia, Umbria and of course Italy as a whole, there are not enough words even to begin to explain why someone should travel around in this big playground where every stone represents a part of history. Not to mention the beautiful food, wines and various dishes they serve in all the different regions and the friendship you can experience if you are really interested in the people and the country. It’s worth soaking up and living it!

What is your experience with the yearly ARCA conference in June?

Throughout the years that the Amelia Conference has taken place, I have watched it become more and more focused and specialized. The number of attendees has also grown from 40-50 at its start to well over 150 attendees, even without using publishing or marketing tools. That is what a conference should be about, interesting topics, good speakers, interesting discussions and the opportunity to network and get to know people. Due to my work, I am not always able to attend every year and feel this as a missed opportunity to grow and to extend my knowledge and network. For the participants it is very important to be there and to connect with the people that could be interesting for their line of work or career or just because it is good to meet interesting people. This applies also the other way around. I’m looking forward to meeting all of the participants during this coming 2020 program!

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For a detailed prospectus and application materials or for general questions about this postgraduate program please contact us at education@artcrimeresearch.org 

Edgar Tijhuis is Academic Director at ARCA and visiting scholar at the Institute of Criminology in Ljubljana. He is responsible for the postgraduate certificate program in the study of art crime and cultural heritage protection. Since 2009, Edgar Tijhuis has taught criminology modules within the ARCA program.

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