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July 16, 2011

Ludo Block on "European Police Cooperation on Art Crime"

by Mark Durney, founder of Art Theft Central

Ludo Block, a former Dutch police officer and current investigator at Grant Thornton, recently submitted his doctoral dissertation on the topic of police cooperation in the European Union. While his dissertation focuses on EU policy-making in relation to police cooperation, Mr. Block focused his panel lecture at ARCA’s third annual International Art Crime Conference on transnational police cooperation in crimes against art.

Unfortunately, art crime is often overlooked by law enforcement due to the lack of political priority. Whereas most members of the European Union do not maintain law enforcement units to investigate art crimes, a few countries such as France, Spain, Greece, and most especially Italy, maintain special units to curb the problem. Italy has organized its data management capabilities, its art crime experts, and investigative capacity under the Comando Carabinieri per la Tutela del Patrimonio Culturale with over 300 staff. Furthermore, it has trained officers at the local level in order to enable them to effectively investigate crimes against art. Also, the Carabinieri play a major role in the annual art crime courses offered to senior law enforcement by CEPOL, the European Police College.  Some other EU Member States maintain centralized units but these are usually staffed with only a handful of experts.  In mother Member States, data management on art crimes is insufficiently organized and as a result, reliable statistics on the scope of art crime are hardly available.

Throughout his research, which featured interviews as well as extensive research, Mr. Block found that the countries that placed art crime high on their policing agendas largely drove the European Union’s cultural heritage protection policy. In spite of various attempts since 1993, only recently in 2008 the  European Union passed new policy aimed at increasing police cooperation; however, as yet it did little to enhance the cooperation between the member countries. Mr. Block stated that in practice law enforcement efforts in a majority of the member countries rely on the personal dedication of a handful of specialized art crime investigators. In cases that involve transnational crimes, most investigators take advantage of their informal relationships with other investigators in order to pursue crimes that extend beyond their borders.

The European Union is in the process of developing an art crime database for its member countries.  In 2008, Europol, the European Union’s criminal intelligence agency, declined to participate in the project but Interpol, which has a long history of supporting the fight against art crime, quickly agreed to  convert their database to the EU member states' needs. According to Mr. Block, combatting art crime starts with proper data management on the local level where art crimes are usually first registered.