The Function of Interpol – Part 1
It was obvious that the opening up of borders within Europe would significantly place an opportunity for criminal gangs to take their operations out of their homelands and to expand into other European countries. The free trade agreement within the EEC did alleviate some of the tax benefits of transporting goods from one country to another, but that was not the only problem. As criminals started to operate in alien countries, the local police forces did not know who these people were. They had never faced them before and so were at a distinct disadvantage trying to prevent them committing crimes in their own countries.
Interpol was an answer to solve this dilemma, as it is an international police agency that helps other law enforcement agencies around Europe and the world to track criminals operating across borders. Police agencies share information and Interpol gathers it and stores it in one database for access by individual law enforcement agencies.
What is Interpol?
To date, Interpol has 186 members which represent law enforcement agencies around the world. It is a fully autonomous body and does not represent any one country. Also, it is politically neutral with no bias on religion or race. The cross-border crime that it is focused on includes the sexual abuse of children, terrorism, international fugitives, organized crime syndicates, and computer crime including identity theft. It also is aware of the huge problem of human trafficking, drug smuggling, intellectual property crimes, fraud, money laundering and environmental crime.
Stolen art is a great example of where Interpol particularly can be effective. Stolen art has always been an international crime because collectors and dealers operate all over the globe. Interpol has a database crammed full of stolen pieces of art, so dealers can reference it and ensure they are not buying stolen goods.
Interpol is not like other law enforcement agencies, it rarely makes its own arrests and there are no Interpol policemen putting criminals away in some specific jail. Interpol serves its member law enforcement agencies by acting as a liaison between them, providing database assistance and communications. This interaction and aid between countries is vital to halt international crime. Each member state of Interpol has their own language, bureaucracy and, of course, culture, and this sometimes conflicts with other member law enforcement agencies when they have to work together.
It is the information that Interpol has in its database that is crucial to their successful operation. Interpol sees a bigger picture of international crime than individual police forces, which tend to focus within their own borders. Interpol is very effective at tracking criminals around the world and once identified will contact the local law enforcement agency and pass on all the relevant information.
The database operated by Interpol is comprehensive and includes mugshots, fingerprints, lists of wanted felons, DNA samples, and all manner of travel documentation. For instance, their stolen travel documentation database has over twelve million records. In part two we look at the other vital work that Interpol gets involved in to protect Europe and further afield.