Tens of thousands of works of art are stolen every year. In 1998 alone, according to Interpol, more than 60,000 works of art were stolen. In January 2013, two men were sentenced for attempting to sell a stolen Matisse painting. Last December, a woman pled guilty to transporting a stolen bust of Benjamin Franklin. In September 2012, a Renoir painting stolen in Houston was added to the FBI’s Top Ten Art Crimes list.
ABC News quotes Interpol as saying, “Art theft is a crime exceeded in dollar value only by drug trafficking, money laundering and arms dealing. Estimates have put the losses at $4 to 6 billion worldwide.”
The most spectacular art heist in modern history occurred at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston on March 18, 1990, where two thieves dressed as Boston Police officers talked their way inside, subdued the staff, and walked away with $300 million in Degas, Rembrandts, a Vermeer and a Manet. The thieves still have not been caught.
Museum Security Challenges
Theft is not the only threat faced by museums. In addition to art theft, damage to inventory, much of which may not even be on public display, is another concern.
In a North Carolina museum, a Sunstates security officer recently discovered a serious water leak in a storage area. Had this leak not been discovered quickly, it could have caused millions of dollars of damage.
The purpose of art is to stoke people’s passions, and this occasionally happens in the negative. Vandalism to works deemed “offensive” to various sensibilities also presents a threat.
Best Practices for Museum Security
Museums are typically quiet, low-activity environments, making it easy for security officers’ vigilance to wane. Contrast this with occasional periods of high activity, when large crowds are passing through. The contrast creates unique security challenges.
To address these challenges, Sunstates President Glenn Burrell identifies these best practices for museum security:
- Recruit security officers who have a real interest in the museum itself, such as art or history aficionados. Encourage a sense of participation and vested interest in keeping the exhibits safe.
- Educate security officers about the exhibits, and cross-train personnel in various positions. Visitors often assume that officers are guides or regular museum staff. As part of their PR responsibilities, they should know the fundamentals of the pieces themselves.
- Quickly identify individuals of interest. Then, have officers trade coverage to provide discreet visual surveillance. This practice requires efficient communication between security officers.
- Move security officers around the facility to create the impression of a larger staff, which is a useful deterrent.
Contact Sunstates Security today to discuss your unique security needs.
“Art Theft.” Federal Bureau of Investigation. fbi.gov.
Chang, Andrew. “Art Theft: Big Money, Big Problems”. ABC News. March 19, 2013. Abcnews.com.