The AP has an interesting article talking about some studies of the way ARPA prosecutions tend to go. The basic gist is that only a small number of people convicted end up being sentenced to prison, and of those that do most get less than a year; one study found that in ten years 83 people were convicted, 20 were sentenced to prison time, and of those only 7 got more than a year. Cases that do end up being prosecuted are generally successful in getting convictions, but prosecutors are unable to pursue about a third of the cases they get for lack of sufficient evidence. Another study of the same period found that about 94% of violations only resulted in misdemeanor tickets, although many could likely have been prosecuted as felonies if the agencies involved had the resources to do so. About 840 looting cases on federal land are reported each year on average, and many more are certainly not being reported, but the resources to go after this stuff are just not there. As we’ve seen in the recent cases centered on Blanding, these investigations can get very complicated very quickly, and it takes a lot of time and money to follow through on them.
This should put the remarkably light sentences that Jeanne and Jericca Redd got in some perspective. Given how these things go, they actually ended up with rather more severe punishment than usual. Perhaps the unfolding investigations throughout the Southwest will lead to some changes in how the government handles these cases, but if so it’ll take a lot to counteract the current situation. I think part of the problem, though surely not all of it, is that so few law enforcement personnel are experienced with and focused on this sort of investigation. The AP article mentions that efforts by the Park Service to train federal prosecutors in handling antiquities cases have not been very successful. One option might be to set up (and adequately fund) a special police force, perhaps a branch of the FBI, to handle crimes related to antiquities and other cultural resources. This is what Italy does, and it’s been much more successful in combating looting and art theft than the US authorities have. Something to think about, anyway.