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Reporting Art Stolen by an Unknown Suspect

Most crime victims do not know the identity of the suspect who has targeted them. The victim first learns about the crime upon coming home to a ransacked house or a business that has been burglarized. The following steps should be taken to notify the police, minimize contamination of the crime scene, and provide information needed to recover the stolen property.

1. Upon discovery of the crime, call the police immediately. If the suspect is still there, do not confront him. If you do not know whether the suspect is still at the location, retreat to a neighbor’s house or your car. Use a cell phone or a neighbor’s phone to make the call. Tell the dispatcher where you can be found and what you look like. Try to keep an eye on the location from a distance until officers arrive. When they get there, identify yourself and quickly brief them on your observations, the layout of the location, and whether there are any guns inside.

2. If you discover the crime and are sure the suspect is gone, call the police and protect the crime scene. Although your first impulse will be to clean up the mess, repair damage, open drawers, and inventory your loss - refrain from doing so. Once the crime scene has been contaminated, it can never be put back in its original condition. Patrol officers arriving at the scene will make arrangements to have the scene processed for evidence. This may include a fingerprint technician, a photographer, or a criminalist. The evidence collected may be the only means to identify the perpetrator and recover your property. Valuable evidence is often invisible until examined with special lights, powders, or sprays. Some of the things evidence technicians will be looking for include: fingerprints, dirt and dust impressions, footprints, blood traces, tire marks, and tool marks.

Fingerprints Dirt/Dust Impressions

Blood Traces
Tire Marks
Tool Marks

3. After the crime scene has been processed, conduct an inventory to discover what has been stolen. You may not have all the information available at the time of the initial report taken by the patrol officer. This is to be expected. The officer will give you a yellow receipt from the Preliminary Investigation Report (crime report). This is not a copy of the crime report – only a portion of it. The unique report number (DR No.) in the upper right box will not be complete because this requires data entry into a computer at the police station. The receipt will give instructions on how to obtain a copy of the completed crime report. Even if a copy is not needed for insurance purposes, it is a good idea to order your own copy and store it in a safe place. Your art may not surface for many years and there is no guarantee that the police will still have the report on file proving you were the victim of a crime. You may be given a Victim’s Supplemental Property Loss Report to fill out to provide a more complete description of the property taken. When you describe the property, use the Object ID Checklist. This will ensure that you provide a description that will make your property unique and identifiable. Providing photos of your art will greatly increase the chances of recovery. When you have completed the form, you can mail or deliver it to the detective at the local police station.

4. After the crime report has been taken, it will usually take a day or two for the report to be approved, duplicated, and distributed to detectives. If the detective has not contacted you within a few days, call the police station and find out who is handling your case. Initiate a dialog with the detective, providing any additional information, theories, or suspicions you might have about the case and offering any assistance the detective might need. This may include getting additional information about the property taken and coordinating efforts with the detective to distribute crime alert flyers to dealers, auction houses, and galleries where the property might surface. Show an interest in your case. Keep a chronological record of all your efforts to find and recover your property in case the issue of due diligence arises later.

5. Make sure the detective reports the stolen art to the Art Loss Register and the FBI’s National Stolen Art File. In some cases, Interpol should also be notified.