Art Beat Constables

Lucian Harris of the Art Newspaper has an article on efforts of the London Metropolitan Police to recruit volunteers. Shockingly, the center of the second-largest art and antiquities market in the world, London, has only four full-time officers in its Art and Antiquities Unit. Furthermore, the Art squad has been told that it could become disbanded if it does not become 50% self-financing by 2008. What precisely “self-financing” would be does not appear clear to me. In response, the squad has been recruiting volunteers from museums, universities, and insurance companies to serve as Special Constables who will spend one day every two weeks patrolling markets or doing undercover work. The volunteers will receive training in police procedure and specialist art squad techniques.

The goal of the effort is to build bridges between the police and the art world. Perhaps the program will garner results, but I’m highly skeptical. What self-respecting art dealer would risk damage to his reputation by putting on a police uniform and patrolling the streets of London, looking for stolen masterpieces (such as Camden Passage, pictured here)? The measure seems a bit bizarre, and if authorities in London are actually serious about limiting the trade in illicit cultural property, there are much better, more practical ways to proceed. Authorities could start by amending the extremely weak Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Act 2003.

This measure seems to me a public relations jaunt, and one that carries a substantial risk of backfiring. Could you imagine the Italian Carabinieri adopting such a scheme? I think not.

(Image Courtesy of Channel 4)

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