“It’s a strange case,” he said. “It could have been anybody. They have a good security system there, good electronic equipment. Someone made a human error and let someone in. It all goes back to the human element.”
Guards at the Gardner are commonly in their late teens or early 20s, and many are art students from nearby schools and universities, sources said. The turnover rate among guards is high, they added.
Keller said inexperience and inadequate training for security guards is a problem at museums across the country and may have played a role in the Gardner robbery.
“In countries like Sweden, it’s a career position,” Keller said of museum security. “Here, you leave guard work and move on to McDonald’s. We have to take guard work more seriously.”
Guards in the United States generally are not paid enough, do not receive enough training and are not mature enough to handle the demands of the job, he said.
“I was a cop,” he added. “If two guys come to the door saying they’re cops, I’d say, ‘I want to check with your dispatcher.’ A younger or less experienced man might feel intimidated.
“This is a problem with private security all around the country. Just think if this happened at a nuclear power plant or an airport.”
Keller said the museum’s decision not to have alarms automatically notifying the police was sensible, given that false alarms would be numerous.
An automatic report to the police would also make it difficult for guards to patrol the museum for possible fires, a far greater threat to an old museum like the Gardner than theft.
“You can’t have the high level of intense motion detection that museums like if it goes to the police station,” he said. “It’s like having a smoke alarm in the kitchen. You want it there, but it goes off all the time.”
Karen Winter, who served as a guard at the Gardner four years ago, said guard jobs at the museum were popular sources of part-time income for students.
“We’d just watch for people who look suspicious, see if people were just hanging around there,” she said. “You had a guard in every room and a few others with walkie talkies.”
Winter described Grindle, the director of security, as a hard-working professional and generous boss.
“He’s the best boss I ever had,” she said. “He works Thanksgiving and Christmas himself to let all his guards go home to their families. He’s a professional. This must be just terrible for him.”
As news of the heist spread yesterday, Gardner officials began receiving condolence calls from around the globe, museum director Anne Hawley said.
In an emotional news conference yesterday afternoon, Hawley said the theft has devastated the New England art world and made her feel “as if I have experienced the death of a dearest friend.”
In addition to the Vermeer and the Rembrandt, the stolen works included “A Lady and Gentleman in Black,” also by Rembrandt, a self-portrait etching by Rembrandt, “Chez Tortoni,” by 19th century French master Edouard Manet, ‘‘Landscape with an Obelisk,” by Govaert Flinck, five works by Edgar Degas and the museum’s oldest piece, a Chinese beaker from the Shang Dynasty.
“A part of our heritage has been stolen from us,” Hawley said. “It was a barbaric act.”
“I would characterize it as a tragedy,” she added. “These are priceless works and they cannot be sold, so a dollar value is irrelevent.”
Nonetheless, the fact that the museum did not have theft insurance surprised some observers, who had earlier suggested that ransom through an insurance company could have been a motive for the robbery.
Wanger, the Gardner’s spokesman, said the permanent collection was covered for damage to individual art works that occurred during restoration or conservation attempts, but not for theft. He said he didn’t know if the museum was covered for fire damage.
Wanger said that even if the works had been insured, the money collected for them could not have been used to add to the museum’s collection, according to provisions of the will of the museum’s eccentric founder, Isabella Stewart Gardner.
Gardner’s will also stipulated that paintings could not be moved from where she left them, which sources said had in the past presented difficulties for the museum’s security force.
But yesterday, most security specialists were focusing on what Keller called “the human element.”
Michael Snyder, regional manager of ADT, the nation’s largest provider of security systems for museums, said, “Normally, in a place like a museum, with hundreds of millions of dollars, the electronics back up the guards who back up the electronics.”Continued...