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July 17, 2011

Saskia Hufnagel on “Harmonising Police Cooperation in the Field of Art Crime in Australia and the European Union”

Saskia Hufnagel in Amelia, Italy
by Kirsten Hower, ARCA Intern

Dr. Saskia Hufnagel, a Research Fellow at the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Policing and Security (CEPS) at Griffith University in Queensland, presented “Harmonizing Police Cooperation in the Field of Art Crime in Australia and the European Union,” at ARCA's third annual International Art Crime Conference in Amelia.

Her research project was originally meant to focus on the collaborative effort of Australia and the European Union, but became a project centered more on the need for cooperation in both systems. As Dr. Hufnagel said, she was doing “the dance of presenting a research project that doesn’t exist.” Her project, therefore, became more focused on the comparison between Australia and the European Union concerning perception, priority, policing, and reactions towards art crime.

Dr. Hufnagel demonstrated in her presentation that Australia, in general, does not put a policing priority towards art crime, because of the perception that art crime is a financial matter compensated by the insurance companies.

“Generally there is a lack of recognition which leads to a lack of resources,” Dr. Hufnagel said.

Australia’s nine territories therefore do not allocate funds towards investigation and prevention of these crimes, Dr. Hufnagel said. Accordingly, they also do not feel the need to enhance cooperation amongst the states and territories to combat the problem. It is difficult to generate support for the problem because in Hufnagel’s words, “we don’t know how much art crime is going on in Australia” due to the fact that most crimes are not reported.

Dr. Hufnagel stated that there is not a strong focus on art crime research in Australia and that the last funded research related to art crime from a practical policing perspective was conducted in 1999 by a single individual, who was not granted sufficient resources to finalize his research, which undermined the effectiveness of his conclusions. Art crime is a very sensitive issue and cooperation is not only necessary between different law enforcement agencies, Dr. Hufnagel said, but also between the museums and galleries and police, which is probably even more difficult.  Police cooperation between Australia and neighboring countries concerning drug smuggling is relatively high, but unfortunately, when it reaches the bounds of art crime, the differences in culture seem to impede effective cooperation. Dr. Hufnagel compared this to the European Union, which has divisions of laws to each of the countries that do not aid fellow countries in the fight against art crime.

Speaking passionately about the need for appreciation of art crime, Dr. Hufnagel said, “Art is really important to our lives because our lives are so limited…art allows you experience a vast range of emotions, cultures and situations you could never perceive otherwise.” She intends to continue her research into art crime and to raise the field’s status in the realm of police enforcement with the hope that something will be done to further cooperation and collaboration in Australia and the European Union.