An initiative being carried out jointly by INTERPOL and the regional police chiefs’ body targeting vehicle theft and other serious crimes in east Africa has identified hundreds of suspect cars in its first few days of operation.
During the first phase of Operation ‘Umoja’ in Tanzania from 18-19 April, 29 vehicles were identified by local police as stolen based on checks against the INTERPOL stolen motor vehicles (SMV) database, 32 had been tampered with and 31 were under investigation.
Almost 20 per cent of the vehicles checked on the first day were found to be suspect. Sixty-seven illegal firearms were also recovered and 141 individuals were determined to be illegal immigrants.
From 24-26 April in Kenya, of the 107 vehicles identified as stolen by police – based on checks against the SMV database and also training provided during the operation – several had been purchased legally by a minister and members of Parliament in Dubai, which has been cited in recent years as a major transit point for cars stolen from Japan, South Africa, the United Kingdom and other countries.
The main key to the success of the operation was the INTERPOL SMV database. A s of the end of 2005, the database contained 3.3 million records submitted by 96 member countries. During the year, an average of 1,500 vehicles per month were identified as stolen by law enforcement officers checking against the database.
The region’s technical infrastructure makes it difficult to extend access to the INTERPOL global police communications system known as I-24/7 to officers in the field. The I-24/7 system gives authorised users in all member countries direct access to databases and resources at the INTERPOL General Secretariat.
This was overcome by providing laptop computers and encrypted disks with the records contained in the SMV database, updated weekly, to allow officers to conduct checks at remote checkpoints.
The initiative, co-ordinated by the INTERPOL General Secretariat and the Sub-Regional Bureau in Nairobi, came out of a recommendation by the Eastern African Police Chiefs’ Co-operation Organisation (EAPCCO) . Similar operations will take place in southern and central Africa this year .