Oakland Museum Improves Security Following Recent Gold Thefts

The 19th Century pioneer-era quartz and
gold box recently stolen from the Oakland

The Oakland Museum of California and other museums in the San Francisco Bay Area are beefing up their security systems in the wake of two recent robberies valued at more than $800,000.

Two more museum-related thefts involving $3 million worth of gold have occurred outside the San Francisco Bay Area over the past 12 months.

Police believe the rising prices of gold, fueled by speculators who are hedging against hard-pressed economic times, may also have contributed to the recent theft at the Oakland Museum.

Since 2008, the price of gold has risen from the average price of $871.96 to an estimated average of $1,571.52 as of 2011, the World Gold Council reported.

Police arrested Andre T. Franklin, a 45-year-old parolee with 10 prior felony convictions, last Sunday on suspicion of robbing the Oakland Museum twice, according to an article by the Oakland Tribune.

Franklin allegedly made away with a historical 19th Century pioneer-era quartz and gold jewelry box. Police found evidence that linked Franklin to the burglaries and helped them recover the box last Monday at a business they declined to identify.

The quartz and gold jewelry box has been in the Oakland Museum’s permanent collection since the 1960’s, and was stolen Jan. 7, 2013, according to Museum Director and CEO Lori Fogarty.

The previous burglary occurred on Nov. 12, 2012 when a thief made off with gold nuggets and other items from the same collection.

According to an article by the Oakland Tribune, Oakland Police believe Franklin was responsible for the November 2012 break.

A close up of the details depicted on the valuable
jewelry box.

“I understand that the public is upset, disappointed, and critical of the fact that the Oakland Museum of California was the victim of two thefts over the last three months,” Fogarty says. “We, the OMCA staff and board, are equally upset and are taking substantial measures to ensure the enhanced safety of our holdings.”

Since the recent break-in, the OMCA has been working with the Oakland Police Department to upgrade their security system. According to Fogarty, the museum has recently added 24-hour onsite coverage of the museum’s history section, specialized security coverage to the perimeter and grounds of the museum, and has installed additional cameras, alarms and barriers throughout the building.

Meanwhile, in the city of Mariposa, 165 miles east of San Francisco, thieves went after the gold. On September 28, 2012, $2 million dollars worth of gold gems were stolen from the California Mining and Mineral Museum in Mariposa. The museum is home to 13,000 artifacts, some even dating back to the 1848 gold rush.

“It’s nature’s art, it’s the way gold comes out of the ground and crystallizes. It’s very sought after by collectors,” Ron Iudice, California Mining and Mineral Museum Assistant said.

On February 1, 2012 the Siskiyou County Courthouse in Yreka lost $1 million dollars from its $3 million gold display. The robbers escaped the courthouse with historic gold nuggets mined by some of the first settlers in the remote California-Oregon border.

Minors and other residents donated much of the gold as well to the collection over the past century while other pieces were purchased with county funds, said Claudia East, Vice President of the Siskiyou County Historical Society Board.

“The historical pieces, if they aren’t found, they’re absolutely irreplaceable.” East told the Record-Search Light of Redding.

The Siskiyou County sheriff’s office still offers a $50,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the two alleged thieves. The reward increased from $15,000 dollars to the current $50,000 dollars by the Siskiyou County Board on November 6, 2012.

According to the Merced Sun Star, three men were arrested November 13, 2012 for the robbery of the California Mining and Mineral Museum in Mariposa following a long and thorough investigation.

The San Francisco Bay Area is home to 25 major museums. The California Academy of Science, the San Jose Museum of Art and the Asian Art Museum are among the largest. None have reported any missing exhibits.

However, the Academy of Science reported that a DSLR surveillance camera was stolen recently. The museum employs a 24-hour security system in order to protect their collections, guests and exhibits, Alex Yow, Senior Security Supervisor of the Museum said.

The overlapping system consists of closed-circuit surveillance; motion detection censors inside and outside the building, alarms and fire detection and suppression systems, according to Yow.

“Our biggest security threat is fire rather than thefts.” Yow said. “It can destroy entire collections in a matter of minutes.”

The San Jose Museum of Art has not experienced any past or recent thefts, Deputy Director Deborah Norberg reported.

“We are always very cautious about our security system,” Norberg says. She declined to discuss the type of security used in the museum.

Museums in the Bay Area follow a similar protocol in the event of a theft or a break in, according to Yow and Oakland Museum of California Communications Director, Kelly Koski,

During a typical break-in at a museum the police are notified first by automatic censors. Then a police investigation including crime scene surveys, interviews of witnesses and employees, and reviews of surveillance footage is opened, police said.

“The police handle all facets of investigation and help advise on additional security measures to prevent future break-ins.” Koski says.