Participants at the first International Criminal Police Congress, held in Monaco in 1914, expressed 12 wishes for the future of international police cooperation. Although the world has changed immensely over the century, these principles continue to underpin our work today. Our forefathers showed great vision!
The meeting brought together police officers and judicial representatives from 24 countries to find ways to cooperate on solving crimes, notably arrest and extradition procedures, identification techniques and the idea of centralized criminal records.
Outlined below are some of the goals from the meeting in 1914 contrasted with our 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 our activities in the field, providing the crucial link between national police and our global network of member countries.
NCBs cooperate together on cross-border investigations, operations and arrests and share vital police information on a daily basis. We also bring police and experts together for 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, we launched our 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 we now connect the world’s police via I-24/7, our secure, web-based police communications system. Millions of messages are transmitted annually via I-24/7, which also gives NCBs real-time access to our 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 (1955) and Arabic (1999). Our staff represent great linguistic diversity, with around 100 nationalities employed at the General Secretariat and its Regional Bureaus.
In particular, the staff of the Command and Coordination Centre are fluent in several different languages, so they can support member countries.
Training was considered vital, both in terms of training in forensic science for law students, and investigative training for police officers.
Training is still considered a priority today, as we offer a range of courses, from how to use our databases and services, to specialized crime and investigation areas. Thousands of participants benefit each year.
An online portal, the INTERPOL Global Learning Centre, complements traditional training methods with e-learning modules. This is particularly effective given our international membership and the need to work across geographical boundaries and time zones.
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 as criminals travel more than ever and use fake ID documents. Our forensic databases allow police to prove or disprove identities and match criminals and crime scenes across borders.
Today, we have databases on fingerprints, DNA profiles (since 2002) and facial recognition images (since 2016). Together they lead to thousands of identifications each year. Our forefathers, taking paper and ink fingerprints, could never have imagined the technology ahead of them.
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. These include information on names of criminals, stolen travel documents, works of art and vehicles, firearms, biometrics and child sexual exploitation images.
The response time for a query is less than a second! For many years, our records were kept on paper and data was compiled and analyzed 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 our 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. Thousands of Red Notices are issued each year and transmitted to all countries electronically via secure police channels.
We are developing an electronic initiative to help countries standardize and streamline the extradition process, which is a judicial procedure between countries and still largely dependent on traditional modes, such as postal mail or diplomatic pouch.