Combatting crime on an international scale

Michael O’Connell

Interpol is working to keep future generations safe with its cross-border initiatives to prevent and solve international crime in its 190 member countries

This year saw the Commonwealth celebrate 40 years of youth development and empowerment through its Youth Programme, while on 12 August the theme of the United Nation’s International Youth Day focused on Youth Migration: Moving Development Forward. Just three days earlier, Adnan Mevic visited Interpol’s General Secretariat in Lyon, France. Mevic was symbolically declared the world’s six billionth citizen by the United Nations when he was born in Bosnia and Herzegovina in October 1999. These combined events remind us all of our important role in making sure that tomorrow’s citizens grow up in a safer world. 

The 53 countries of the Commonwealth, which collectively represent one third of the world’s population, include more than one billion citizens aged under 18. This young community is brimming with goodwill, dreams and aspirations for its own self-development, empowerment and lifestyle choices. These young citizens constitute our most important asset for future peace, security and prosperity. Many of them take for granted that, during this journey of self-discovery, they will inherit a world that ensures their protection and promotes freedom of international movement, enabling them to explore the world’s cultural diversity and build tolerant communities which live in peace with one another. 

At the 2013 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Sri Lanka, the Commonwealth Youth Council will hold its first General Assembly. It will allow Heads of Government to reflect on the policies and measures they utilise to protect the youth, supporting well-managed migration mechanisms, which mitigate the risk of exploitation of vulnerable people and better protect Commonwealth countries and their neighbours from crime. 

The 53 countries of the Commonwealth generate one fifth of the world’s gross domestic product. This produces a vibrant commercial landscape but also presents governing bodies with a significant challenge in ensuring a secure environment that maintains law and order for safer communities. It is with this in mind that all 53 Commonwealth countries are members of Interpol. 

Interpol is the world’s largest police organisation, with 190 member countries. Created in 1923, it facilitates cross-border police co-operation, supporting and assisting all organisations, authorities and services whose mission is to prevent or combat international crime. The countries of the Commonwealth make up more than a quarter of this Interpol community and have at their disposal a myriad of sophisticated, global policing tools and services that operate 24 hours a day, every day of the year. 

Among these policing responsibilities sits the growing need for national administrations and law enforcement to deliver effective border management solutions. Having recognised the impact of the increase in global population on international movement and border security, Interpol has revitalised its border management programme. Currently, the world averages an additional billion people approximately every 12 years, with the global population predicted to grow from 6.89 billion in 2010 to 7.66 billion in 2020. 

The negative impact of the 2008 global financial crisis was significantly underestimated. Income, output and trade declines have generally exceeded forecasts. Predictions have also emerged of an equally sharp decline in the intensity of migration worldwide, and in many cases we have seen a reversal of such flows. The latest data released by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) shows the total global migrant stock has only been marginally affected by the crisis. 

We have seen the global number of international migrants increase from 155 million in 1990 to 214 million in 2010. The world’s population is still on the move and these numbers will continue to grow and the patterns change. It is clear that no matter what immigration policy is implemented by a country or regional group, managing human flows and commodities at borders remains a pivotal component in an effective security strategy. 

Reaping the benefits of managed migration in established and emerging economies requires an awareness of this challenge and the need for policy-making bodies to pay even closer attention. Crucially, police and their border security partners need to build their capacity as a cornerstone for growth in these areas. 

However, current practices with reference to countries’ joint responsibilities in maintaining border security show a less complete picture than we might expect. Whilst we know that Commonwealth countries represent more than a quarter of Interpol’s 190 member countries, their collective use of the organisation’s border security systems amounts to only 16 per cent of the global searches against Interpol’s police databases. They also contribute only ten per cent of Interpol’s global police records and achieve an operational return on this police intelligence of 11 per cent of worldwide hits. Furthermore, of the totality of the Commonwealth’s collective activity, more than 60 per cent emanates from just one of its member countries – the UK. 

“Global economic prosperity and security needs action, not back-to-back statements or tired, rehearsed exchanges,” Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron said in issue 4 (2010) of Global. 

Interpol has demonstrated its willingness to implement action. It has changed its approach to this challenge and is now seeking to support law enforcement officers in the field with new capabilities. Our philosophy of effective border management is to provide high quality tools and services that deliver an integrated defence to the contemporary threat of border security. 

With ready access to heavily populated, regulated migratory routes, with overburdened border security and police officials, there is often little need for organised criminal networks to turn to complex, unregulated travel routes. Anonymity and untraceability are key elements as individuals dissolve into the migratory soup of passenger flows, poor detection and screening systems, to become a needle in the haystack. 

To help us better protect our youth and future generations, Interpol provides a series of border security detection systems to scan this environment for threats: 

– The Interpol Stolen and Lost Travel Documents database helps identify the illegal use of passports reported as lost or stolen.

– Interpol holds more than 38 million records of stolen and lost travel documents

– The Interpol Travel and ID Documents Reference Centre helps identify counterfeit travel and identity documents

– Interpol’s system of notices provides international alerts regarding international criminals – for instance fugitives, terrorists and travelling sex offenders – and missing persons

– The Interpol TDAWN system (Travel Documents Associated With Notices) helps to identify criminal subjects linked to their travel documents 

However, not being content with these sophisticated border screening systems, Interpol has gone even further. Through the evolution of dynamic partnerships – for example with Canada through an investment programme from its Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development – and the Interpol Integrated Border Management Task Force, we have strengthened our integrated operational response based on our highly professional capacity-building and training programmes. 

By consolidating training with real-time operations, we are able to deliver sustainability to investment. Through the Integrated Border Management Task Force, we are now able to implement border security operations in a variety of specialised crime areas: Operation Stop – classic border security at international transport hubs

– Operation Hawk – counterterrorism security focused on border crossing points

– Operation Icebreaker – precursor chemical detection and seizure capabilities

– Operation Lionfish – maritime narcotic and firearm trafficking capabilities 

This is just the beginning of a new phase of operational capabilities created by Interpol. When these activities are joined with the Interpol border security data systems, they create a sophisticated global security solution that can be further enhanced when linked into countries’ own national security systems. 

Opportunities are plentiful for an established community such as the Commonwealth of Nations to revisit an old friend – Interpol – in order to develop complementary international policing initiatives that support our joint mission and vision of a safer world for all. The challenges presented by the Commonwealth Youth Council to their leaders and policy-makers are to protect the young and vulnerable from exploitation, including trafficking and other trans-border crimes, and to enable their freedoms through secure and safe travel. As such, we should aspire to allow young people to inherit sophisticated integrated border security systems. Our joint legacy should be better protection for our communities and national economies from international crime and terror groups. 

Interpol can work as an active partner with Commonwealth countries to deliver on this aspiration. The more countries that put Interpol’s border management tools and services into place, the more difficult it will become for criminals to travel the world undetected. Young people will be able to feel more secure in the knowledge that their leaders are ensuring the best use is made of existing technology and resources to keep them safe. 

In conclusion I highlight the words of Katherine Ellis, director of Youth Affairs at the Commonwealth Secretariat: “Let us commemorate this International Youth Day by recommitting to the young people of the Commonwealth and the world.” 

Interpol stands ready to lend its support to this challenge. 


About the author:
Michael O’Connell

Michael O'Connell is the director of Interpol and chair of the Interpol Border Management Programme


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