Most thieves who break into residencies are amateur criminals. They steal frequently, but they stick to low-key homes and businesses, attempting heists they know they can pull off. However, there are thieves who could be considered professionals. You’ve seen them in films and on television many times. These burglars sneak their way into museums or art galleries in creative ways to take valuable works of art. Hollywood doesn’t lie when it portrays this breed of burglar. They are very skilled because they work in a high-risk business.
According to the FBI, art theft is the third-highest grossing criminal career behind drugs and arms. Like the drug and arms black markets, art theft is often tied to organized crime syndicates, and the money made off of selling art has funded terrorist activity. In fact, looted antiquities sold in 1999 helped fund the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The FBI has a task force entirely devoted to catching art thieves.
If you are the owner of an art gallery or antique shop, are thinking about opening one, or if you are an art collector, you should take precautions to protect your merchandise. Expensive pieces of art are targeted by skilled thieves and could end up funding something terrible. Fortunately, keeping the artwork safe takes just a few simple steps.
1. Catalog Everything
Art doesn’t have serial numbers like gadgets do. Your phone, computer and television can all be tracked by the number printed on the back. It is important that you take down notes about the art you are selling because the paintings you display don’t have these numbers. Write down a description of the object including title, artist, date or period it was made in, materials used, measurements, inscriptions and markings, and any other distinguishing features that will help police. Keep a digital and written copy of this data.
2. Get to Know Local Law Enforcement
Your business will benefit from a solid relationship with local authorities. The more the police hang around your establishment, the less likely art thieves will target it. Furthermore, having a good relationship with police will give you opportunities to pick up tips for protecting your collections. Don’t be afraid to ask about tactics burglars use and for ideas to amp up security. Local police know the area and have encountered thieves in the past.
3. Install Security Systems
Alarm monitoring and security camera systems will go a long way toward protecting your art investment. Install cameras in strategic positions so that a monitor can see all the pieces in your gallery. Check to see that there are no blind spots once you’ve hung the cameras. Hang motion sensors by every entry point, including windows and service entrances. You can use glass-breaking detectors on windows and gallery frames. Business security packages come with the SMART Connect app, which allows you to watch live and archived video feeds from your smartphone. This allows you to keep an eye on your gallery while you’re away.
Put your monitors in a visible area. Have your security guard sit at the front desk, watching the camera feeds. When guests enter, they’ll immediately know that there are eyes on the art. Some criminals won’t bother attempting theft if they don’t think they will succeed.
4. Prepare and Educate Your Staff
Help the staff at your gallery prepare for crime. Ask local law enforcement to give a talk to your employees about theft and how to react if they encounter the criminal. This kind of education will help keep your staff safe and could potentially deter crime. Your employees need to feel confident because theft can be an emotional experience. Should a burglar enter the premises when someone is there, your staff will experience stress. Support them before and after the fact.
5. Watch Your Guests
Be diligent as you welcome visitors to your gallery. You’ll have a variety of guests, including buyers, artists, tourists, art enthusiasts and even potential undesirables. If you have a bad feeling about someone in your gallery, keep your eye on them. You can even go so far as to make them uncomfortable enough to leave. Follow them as they view the art and ask questions about what they think. However, be careful not to alienate your guests. Only use tactics to get rid of those people who give you a very bad feeling.