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The art of museum security.

THE TIME TO WORK ON RECOVERING A stolen collection is now, before a theft occurs. While that statement may seem strange, museum administrators can take many steps that substantially improve their chances of recovery and successful prosecution later. Furthermore, those steps can be started and often completed thoroughly, systematically, and at minimal expense before a theft takes place. If a museum administrator waits until a theft occurs, performing appropriate posttheft actions effectively may be impossible.

The ideas set forth here have emerged from 15 years of experience investigating museum thefts with the FBI and include many valuable insights obtained from museum security professionals. The theft prevention responsibilities of museum administrators are beyond the scope of this article. In some instances prevention is not successful and the somewhat different law enforcement point of view must be considered. The most effective time to consider that perspective is before a theft occurs.

The following topics, chosen because they are important and often neglected, are discussed: employees, rewards and publicity, a distribution list, liaison with law enforcement, value, the time frame of the theft, photographs and descriptions, and a sample broadcast letter.

Employees. Unfortunately, museum employees must be considered suspects as well as witnesses in most thefts that are discovered. Sometimes, no one at a victim institution can furnish a complete list of current and recently terminated employees, independent contractors, volunteers, and others who know the contents of the institution and have access to the premises. Also, biographical, physical, and personal data on those people is often either unavailable or difficult to obtain.

The task of establishing and maintaining a system to keep such information on hand is insignificant compared to the difficulty of obtaining that information after a theft has been discovered. Employee data maintained in personnel records does not usually contain the information required to conduct an appropriate investigation after a theft occurs. Therefore, administrators should consider maintaining the employee data necessary for both personnel and possible law enforcement purposes.

Of course, a thoroughly planned preemployment screening policy serves two purposes-employee data gathered is useful after a theft, and the policy itself reduces theft by screening out applicants likely to steal. When developing or updating a preemployment screening policy, include

* data and records about volunteers, independent contractors, and other persons with access to museum assets, as well as traditional employees;

* photographs of all such persons;

* fingerprints of those persons; and

* sections 10.1 through 10.5 of Suggested Guidelines in Museum Security as adopted by the ASIS Standing Committee On Museum, Library, and Archive Security.

Including those considerations in planning or evaluating a preemployment screening policy not only reduces museum thefts but also prepares museums to cope with one. At that time, police agencies can quickly receive material to help them conduct a more effective investigation.

Rewards and publicity. Rewards and publicity are related issues. A reward offer in conjunction with timely and appropriate publicity generates recoveries and prosecutions. The major problems with offering rewards are financial: avoiding the payment of ransom on a no-questions-asked basis, and avoiding unwanted contractual liability.

The most frequent controversies about publicity center around whether it will encourage future thefts and whether it will embarrass someone connected with the victim institution. These policy issues should be discussed and resolved in advance with input from financial advisors, legal counsel, insurance professionals, law enforcement officials, and even news media representatives.

One major institution was unable to decide about publicity and a reward until several weeks after a major theft had been discovered. By then, the news media were no longer interested in publicizing the theft intensely. The reward offer and press release, therefore, had practically no impact.

Other publicity issues concern the logistics of transmitting information to the news media quickly. These issues need to be resolved ahead of time because the news media will not publish stories that are even the slightest bit old. If they will not publish a story on the theft, they cannot be of help. This news media attitude toward occurrences they consider old may seem illogical, but it is a fact of life. Some methods of expediting the release of information to the press include the following:

* Design a theft press release in draft form.

* Designate one or more official spokespersons.

* Plan a method for locating an official spokesperson quickly. This is a problem that can be addressed, at least in part, with modem technological devices such as pagers and cellular telephones.

Distribution list. Compiling a list of potentially helpful parties and giving them a photograph and description of and reward information about one or more stolen objects is time-consuming. Most of this can be completed before a theft occurs.

Most institutional curators can identify the collectors, collectors' associations, other institutions, dealers, publications, scholars, and experts worldwide who come in frequent contact with objects in their field. Every curator should have an updated mailing list of those parties to use in the event of theft. If, however, compiling such a distribution list in-house is undesirable because of a need to conserve curatorial administrative time, a security consultant can be hired to do it.

The second most potentially helpful group is law enforcement. Because of the nature of most museums and their collections, a list of law enforcement agencies must be international in scope and include customs agencies. Curators can identify countries as well as US states and cities where significant collecting and dealing of objects in their field occurs. Almost any law enforcement agency can identify appropriate customs and law enforcement agencies in those countries, states, and cities. Again, an updated law enforcement mailing list should be maintained. (See Exhibit 1.)

Liaison with law enforcement. Depending on a museum's location, federal, state, county, or city law enforcement has investigators in place who will most likely be assigned to a theft at a particular institution. Museum administrators should attempt to identify those investigators and periodically invite them to observe museum facilities and administrative operations. A few hours invested each year can pay handsomely in increased law enforcement familiarity and efficiency when a theft occurs.

If possible, each museum should also conduct a law enforcement orientation program. Such a program should be designed and implemented by the museum's security consultant and professional staff for police personnel who may not be well versed in art and cultural property theft.

Responding law enforcement personnel usually need extensive and time-consuming education before they can launch an intelligent investigation. This is particularly true of thefts at museums, because each institution is complex and unique. Prior liaison significantly reduces posttheft education of law enforcement and thereby saves valuable, even vital, time.

Value. The monetary value of stolen objects is extremely important to a criminal investigation. All too often, the values of museum objects are not known with any certainty. The administrative demands on a nonprofit institution make constant inventories and appraisals impossible. But any accommodation of the need for accurate values-perhaps with some help from an institution's insurance carrier-improves the situation that law enforcement usually encounters.

The importance of the realistic value of stolen objects to a criminal investigation does not involve the mere collection of statistics. Rather, a known value helps answer such questions as the following:

* What type of theft statutes have been violated? Many statutes require minimum values before a violation occurs.

* What underworld elements are most likely to handle merchandise of this value?

* What type of commercial dealers are likely to become innocently involved with items of this value?

Time frame of theft. Narrowing the time frame of a theft can reduce a group of hundreds of suspects and witnesses to a handful. This procedure can be a particular problem for museums because narrowing the time frame requires frequent inventories and extensive records of the movement and location of objects in a collection. However, any administrative systems available to improve inventorying and record keeping should be used.

For example, high-valued items could be inventoried weekly. Another security measure many museums use is requiring security officers to inspect every object on display during every shift. This inspection is recorded on a special gallery inspection form.

Photographs and descriptions. Photographs and accurate descriptions of stolen objects are obviously important to an investigation.

Sometimes descriptions of objects in collections do not include unique features that would later identify the objects if recovered. Such deficiencies should be identified and remedied. Photographs serve two basic purposes after a museum theft: investigation and identification. In most cases, simple, small, black-and-white photographs are sufficient for investigation and can determine if a certain object might be the one stolen. Such photographs are the practical choice.

However, more elaborate identification photographs are required to determine whether a questioned object is positively identical to the one stolen. Identification photographs can be taken in color, of the undisplayed side or sides of the object, and at angles and of details that show unique characteristics. Also, written descriptions that include precise details and measurements should supplement and confirm the identification photographs.

Sample broadcast letter. A sample broadcast letter is presented as both a sample and a summary guide to procedures that a victim institution should consider soon after a theft has occurred. The letter is designed for simultaneous, effective communication with both law enforcement agencies and appropriate parties in the civilian sector. It should be modified to fit the needs of each institution. Much of the information it contains can be gathered or made quickly obtainable before a theft occurs. The letter (see Exhibit 2) is divided into three parts - the body, a distribution list, and the data and photograph page.

These points are designed to start museum security professionals down the path to recovery. Preparing for a theft as much as possible in advance greatly increases an institution's chances of recovering its property.

About the Author ... Robert E. Spiel, Jr., CPP, is president of Robert E. Spiel Associates Inc., which provides art investigative expertise to galleries, dealers, appraisers, museums, and corporate and private collectors. He is a member of ASIS, the International Association of Professional Security Consultants, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Arts Club of Chicago.

Exhibit 1 Distribution List

Send this list with each letter-except any letter to the news media-so that each recipient is aware of all other parties notified, and all parties can easily communicate. The news media does not need this information.

* city police department (Include the case number if possible.)

* city or regional FBI office (See inside front cover of telephone book. Include case number if possible.)

* your state police

* local county law enforcement

* police departments of other appropriate large US cities

* FBI offices of other appropriate cities and states (Contact local FBI office for addresses.)

* state police in other appropriate states (Contact state police headquarters in the state capital for addresses.)

* county law enforcement in neighboring or other appropriate counties

* national, federal, provincial, and city police in appropriate foreign countries (Identify these agencies by contacting consulates, embassies, or local law enforcement.)

* customs services of appropriate foreign countries (Identify these agencies by contacting consulates, embassies, or local law enforcement.)

* Interpol Headquarters, 26 Rue Armengaud, F-92210 Saint-Cloud, France

* Interpol (USA), US Department of Justice, 9th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20530

* US embassies in appropriate foreign countries

* International Foundation for Art Research, 46 East 70th Street, New York, New York 10021

* your insurance company

* dealers and auction houses worldwide that specialize in the objects stolen

* museums worldwide that display the type of object stolen

* experts, scholars, private collectors, and associations that deal with the object stolen

* local daily newspapers

* other appropriate news media

* magazines specializing in the type of item stolen

Exhibit 2

Sample Broadcast Letter Dear Sir or Madam:

A total of _______objects were stolen from our museum recently. The theft occurred on________ during the period from ____________to__________ I have enclosed a photograph of each object, and I placed descriptive data in the margin of the photograph. The total value of the loss is between $ _____________and $____________ I would deeply appreciate any suggestions, further publication, or other assistance that you can furnish concerning our loss. Please also feel free to contact whichever of the governmental agencies in the enclosed distribution list is most convenient to you.

A reward fund has been established for information that proves to be of value in this matter. (Discuss this language with legal counsel.) Your cooperation is deeply appreciated. Sincerely,
COPYRIGHT 1991 American Society for Industrial Security
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:includes related information
Author:Spiel, Robert E., Jr.
Publication:Security Management
Date:Feb 1, 1991
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