Preventing Art Theft

By Susan Feinberg | Aug 15, 2008




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Art theft is a growing problem in America’s museums. According to the FBI and Interpol, theft from collections held by cultural institutions is the third-largest illegal trade after drugs and weapons.

The majority of art thefts are inside jobs, and thieves often do not get caught. Steven Layne, founding director of the International Foundation for Cultural Property Protection and The Protection Alliance, said many museums are not adequately prepared to deal with the problem.

“Their prevention strategy is to stick a Band-Aid on something that should have been fixed a long time ago,” he said. “With some museums, you’re lucky if there’s an alarm system. Others are relying on residential types of alarms, which are really inadequate to protect valuable collections.”

Many large and mid-sized museums are using technologies such as electronic access control systems and intrusion detection. Video surveillance is frequently used to protect specific exhibits. Some museums are beginning to use biometric access control systems to protect their collection and storage areas. But there still is a wide gap in knowledge and implementation of advanced technologies.

“There is a lot of discussion right now about video analytics, which is still in the developmental stages,” Layne said. “With this technology, a camera can determine whether actions of certain individuals or activities within a room it is observing are suspicious. If so, that would be sufficient to sound an alarm.”

Layne said a comprehensive museum security plan must combine well-trained security personnel and cutting-edge electronics.

“You can have the best systems in the world, but that doesn’t mean anything unless you have people who can respond to them properly,”

he said. “Museums need to create training programs for security personnel that clearly establish operational procedures.”

About The Author

Susan Feinberg is a Florida-based veteran journalist with more than 20 years business writing experience. She may be reached at [email protected].

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