- Investigators of organized crime
- Special investigative techniques and intelligence gathering
- Rights of victims and witnesses in investigations
Published in May 2018
Regional Perspective: Pacific Islands Region - added in November 2019
This module is a resource for lecturers
Investigators of organized crime
Cases against individuals participating in organizing criminal groups usually develop in the following manner: a law enforcement agency establishes a reasonable belief about the existence of (organized) illegal activity in its jurisdiction. Depending on the jurisdiction, a case initiation report is prepared and reviewed by a prosecutor or an investigative judge for sufficiency. Then further evidence is gathered to determine whether there is enough proof for formal charges to be brought.
The enforcement of domestic laws against organized crime is not standardized. Some jurisdictions have specialized enforcement units to investigate only organized crime cases, whereas others have no distinct organized crime enforcement unit(s). In any case, as organized crime cases can be complex and require some degree of specialization, there is a need for multiagency task forces to focus on specific crimes or organized criminal groups of concern for crimes such as human trafficking, drug trafficking, wildlife crime, falsification of medical products, financial crimes and cybercrime.
Professional networks of law enforcement personnel often exchange information on a reciprocal basis. For those networks to be effective, confidence first needs to be established. In practice, this cooperation is sometimes undermined by competing national agendas, limited communication and information-sharing, mistrust as well as significant capacity differences between countries. Of course, compatible laws are necessary to provide a basis for transnational law enforcement efforts. These enforcement efforts are made easier by the wide adherence to the Organized Crime Convention and its Protocols, which provide the legal basis for law enforcement cooperation. In this context, articles 27 and 28 of the Organized Crime Convention are of particular relevance.
The practical problems of investigative cooperation at the international level are significant. Many countries have multiple agencies with enforcement authority (e.g., national police agency, customs services, local police agencies, specialized organized crime agencies), so jurisdictional issues and communication are crucial considerations. There are also logistical problems with disparate information technology, language barriers, differential access to resources and specialized equipment, and procedures for obtaining approvals for information access and use of special investigative techniques.
Despite these obstacles, countries recognize that the threat of transnational organized crime activity forces them to be more interdependent, because there is no other way to build cases against offenders who communicate, organize and move people, goods, services and illicit profits across borders.
Law enforcement agencies from different countries have thus expanded the scope of their activities abroad. Law enforcement liaison officers assigned to another country are often affiliated either with the embassy of the country they represent, or an investigative unit or task force. Liaison officers are usually responsible for establishing a communications channel between their agency and its counterpart in a foreign country, acting as the "human interface" between different organizations.
INTERPOL is the largest institution for international police cooperation and it devotes considerable effort to transnational organized crime.
The world's largest international police organization: INTERPOL
With 192 member States, INTERPOL is the world's largest international police organization. Its goal is to enable police around the world to work together to make the world a safer place. In order to effectively fulfil its cross-border activities, INTERPOL functions under international law. It is recognized as an international organization by the United Nations and in 1996, the United Nations General Assembly conferred INTERPOL observer status.
Contrary to what some might think, INTERPOL is not a supranational police agency with investigative powers and it does not send officers into countries to arrest individuals. All investigations and arrests in Member States are carried out by the national police in accordance with national laws. Each Member State has an INTERPOL National Central Bureau, which is staffed by law enforcement officers and acts as a designated contact point.
Notably, the Constitution of the organization specifies that international police cooperation is to be conducted within the spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This commitment to human rights is expressed, for instance, through the Organization's cooperation with international courts and tribunals and through the careful processing of personal data. In a similar fashion, clear guidelines on neutrality have been laid out, which forbid INTERPOL to undertake any activities of a political, military, religious or racial character.
At the very core of INTERPOL's mandate lies the exchange of police information. The organization manages secure communication channels that connect National Central Bureaus in all Member States, along with other authorized law enforcement agencies and partners, and which give access to a range of criminal databases. INTERPOL offers to its Member States a system of information exchange, the "Notice System", which is used by competent authorities to communicate information about crimes, criminals and threats. The information disseminated via this system concerns individuals wanted for serious crimes, missing persons, unidentified bodies, possible threats, prison escapes, and criminals' modus operandi. ( INTERPOL, 2018)
The picture below shows the types of notice that INTERPOL's General Secretariat can issue, at the request of National Central Bureaus:
Current list of wanted persons ( Red Notices)
Current list of missing persons ( Yellow Notices)
In addition to INTERPOL, there are regional organizations with a very similar structure and mandate to INTERPOL. Europol is the law enforcement agency of the European Union that handles criminal intelligence and combats organized crime. Its mission is to support its Member States in preventing and combating all forms of serious international organized crime and terrorism. ASEANAPOL, AFRIPOL and AMERIPOL are similar law enforcement organizations in Asia, Africa and the Americas, respectively, designed to promote and carry out investigations of crimes that cross-national borders.