Thursday 21 November 2013

Policing the Past

In most countries of the world, the public is enjoined (and obliged by law) to accord archaeological sites and monuments due respect and not trash them for personal entertainment and profit. Archaeologists and the authorities actively fight the criminals that ignore the law. In Britain trashing sites and assemblages for personal profit and entertainment is tolerated and even encouraged at state level and by many archaeologists. Not surprisingly, Britain now has a huge problem with heritage crime.
The Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) is leading a new working group that will spearhead a national policing response to heritage and cultural property crime in the UK. Launched this week, the taskforce will include cultural sector representatives such as English Heritage, Arts Council England and the British Museum Portable Antiquities Scheme, as well as the police, the newly established National Crime Agency and other law enforcement professionals. It has been tasked with creating a joined-up strategy to combat the UK’s growing problem of anti-social behaviour and crime against cultural property and the historic environment.
It seems likely that the group will recommend the creation of a national policing unit for heritage and cultural property crime, with dedicated heritage crime liaison officers in each local force. There will probably be established a nationwide intelligence database to collate information and analyse trends to share crime prevention resources and advice; and boosting public awareness by encouraging people to become heritage and cultural property champions in their communities.
Chief constable Andy Bliss, who is chairing the working group, said in a statement: “In economically challenging times we have already seen that criminals have adapted, seeking opportunities to profit from vulnerabilities in these sectors… " [...]  profits from the theft of art and antiques by organised gangs total over £300m a year in the UK - second only to drug dealing. Only around 10% of stolen art and cultural objects are recovered, and conviction rates are lower still. It also shows that organised crime gangs are becoming increasingly aware that cultural property theft has a “significantly higher return... with a much lower associated risk” than other criminal activity, and are using the internet to identify both targets and marketplaces for stolen objects. 

The strategic assessment can be downloaded here (pdf) Who sees a problem with the EH definition of "heritage crime" on page 12? What is missing?

Source:  Geraldine Kendall, Police to develop national strategy for tackling heritage crime, Museums Association  20.11.2013.

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