100 years of international police cooperation
Participants at the first International Criminal Police Congress, held in Monaco in 1914, expressed 12 wishes for the future of international police cooperation.
Over the past 100 years, the criminal landscape has evolved significantly while technology and police tools have been transformed beyond recognition. Despite this changing background, several of the original principles from 1914 remain fundamental to the work of INTERPOL today.
Outlined below are the goals from the meeting in 1914 contrasted with INTERPOL’s current activities.
The Congress expressed the wish to improve direct contacts between police forces in different countries, in order to facilitate investigations that crossed geographical borders.
National Central Bureaus (NCBs) have become the lifeblood of INTERPOL. They are the contact point for all INTERPOL activities in the field, providing the crucial link between national police and the Organization’s global network of 190 member countries.
NCBs cooperate together on cross-border investigations, operations and arrests and share vital police information on a daily basis. INTERPOL also enables direct and personal contact for police and other experts in the form of operational meetings, working groups and conferences, where they can discuss common issues and share expertise.
The Congress recognized the need for swift communications between countries if criminals were to be quickly located and arrested. It expressed the wish that judicial and police authorities should be able to use international post, telegram and telephone services free of charge.
Communications technology has evolved immeasurably over the past century. In 1935 the Organization launched its first international radio network, providing an independent telecommunications system solely for the use of national criminal police authorities.
Morse code is firmly consigned to the past as INTERPOL now connects the world’s police via I-24/7, its secure, web-based police communications system. More than 17.5 million messages are transmitted annually via I-24/7, which also gives NCBs real-time access to INTERPOL’s range of databases. The extent of change in this area would have been difficult for police in 1914 to imagine.
The Congress realized a common language needed to be chosen, in order to harmonize communications between countries. French was designated as the international language, with Esperanto mentioned as a possibility for the future, should it become sufficiently widespread.
Although Esperanto was never adopted, French remains an official language, along with English, Spanish and Arabic. INTERPOL staff represent great linguistic diversity, with around 100 nationalities employed at the General Secretariat and Regional Bureaus.
In particular, the staff of the Command and Coordination Centre are fluent in several different languages (including non-official ones), so as to provide an instant response to any country facing a crisis situation, and to facilitate communications between national police forces.
Training was considered vital, both in terms of training in forensic science for law students, and investigative training for police officers.
Today, INTERPOL offers an impressive range of training courses, from supporting police in using INTERPOL tools and services, to specialized crime and investigation areas. In 2013, some 11,000 participants benefited from courses coordinated by INTERPOL.
An online portal, the INTERPOL Global Learning Centre, complements traditional training methods with e-learning modules. This is particularly effective given INTERPOL's international membership and the need to work across geographical boundaries and time zones.
The INTERPOL Global Complex for Innovation (IGCI), currently being constructed in Singapore, will provide a new dimension to INTERPOL’s capacity building activities. It will carry out research into training and methodology and transfer the findings into police activities on the ground, while also developing quality standards and accreditation.
As criminals often change their appearance or travel with fraudulent identity documents, the Congress saw the need to document the ‘biological features’ of criminals.
Forensic expertise and the exchange of forensic data has become increasingly important to international investigations. INTERPOL maintains a databases of fingerprints and DNA profiles, allowing police across the world to make connections between criminals and crime scenes.
Today, the fingerprints database contains more than 198,000 records and led to more than 1,200 identifications in 2013. INTERPOL's DNA database was created in 2002 with a single record, but by the end of 2013 it contained more than 140,000 DNA profiles contributed by 69 member countries. A project to adopt the use of facial recognition software is in the early stages of development.
Given the variety of classification systems in use, the Congress recognized the need to create a system of standardized and centralized international records.
Today, we provide our member countries with instant, direct access to a range of criminal databases containing millions of records, contributed by countries across the world.
Databases include information on nominal details, stolen and lost travel documents, stolen works of art, stolen motor vehicles, DNA, fingerprints, child sexual exploitation images and firearms. Information can be accessed in real-time, and technical solutions exist to give access to frontline officers in strategic locations such as airports and border points.
INTERPOL member countries conducted more than 1.2 billion searches of its criminal databases in 2013, accounting for an average overall rate of 3.3 million searches per day or 38 searches per second. These results would have been unimaginable in the days when data was compiled and analysed manually using card index files.
Extradition was a key discussion point at the Congress, with four wishes related to this topic. Participants saw the need for a model extradition treaty, the speedy transmission of extradition requests, and for the request to act as a basis for provisional arrest.
Today, Red Notices are perhaps INTERPOL’s most emblematic tool. They are issued at the request of member countries to seek the location and arrest of wanted persons with a view to extradition or similar lawful action. Nearly 9,000 Red Notices were issued in 2013.
While these Notices are transmitted electronically via secure police channels, the actual request for extradition – a judicial procedure between countries – is still largely dependent on traditional modes of communication, such as postal mail or diplomatic pouch, which are less secure and less efficient. INTERPOL is developing an “e-extradition” initiative to help standardize and streamline the transmission process while ensuring the absolute security of the information in transit, and respecting legal obligations and institutional practices.