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Back to Archives | Back to October 2003 Contents 

Cross-Atlantic Law Enforcement Cooperation: What Police Chiefs Should Know about Europol

Manfred Seitner, Head of Unit, Europol, The Hague, Netherlands

A significant step forward in the fight against terrorism and international organized crime was taken in December 2002 when the United States of America and the European Union Police Office (Europol) signed their second cooperation agreement. Since last December, U.S. law enforcement agencies and Europol have been able to share information and intelligence about suspicious persons and activities, as well as swap information on a strategic and technical level.

Formal cooperation between U.S. agencies and Europol was initiated in wake of the tragic events of September 11, 2001. The European Union immediately implemented a number of measures to bolster the fight against terrorism. These measures included provisions to promote close and direct cooperation with Europol, and, at the same time, reinforced bilateral bonds that had already existed between law enforcement in America and police in Europe.

Within three months of the terrorist attack, a strategic and technical agreement was signed. The data exchanges mainly dealt with terrorism and drug matters. Yet legal obstacles, such as fundamental differences in legal systems and data privacy principles, excluded the exchange of personal data. Negotiations went on and, in a spirit of good will and creativity, the challenges of harmonizing significant differences in the approach to criminal justice in America and Europe have been overcome. Since the signing of the agreement, an FBI liaison officer has worked closely with Europol in the Hague, Netherlands, on counterterrorism matters; Europol has signed an implementation agreement with the U.S. Secret Service on combating counterfeiting of currency; and Europol has opened a liaison bureau in Washington, D.C.

The new agreement aims at enhancing cooperation of the European Union member states, acting through Europol, and the United States, in preventing, detecting, suppressing, and investigating criminal offenses, in particular by facilitating the reciprocal exchange of information, including personal data. Priority areas for this cross-Atlantic cooperation are terrorism, illicit drug trafficking, illegal immigration, trafficking in human beings, child pornography, money laundering, and the forgery of money.

Contacts have been established between Europol, through its liaison office, and a large number of federal U.S. agencies in the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security. The main counterparts are the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Enforcement (BICE), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Secret Service, and the U.S. National Central Bureau of Interpol. But the agreement also allows for and encourages cooperation between Europol and state and local agencies.

What Is Europol?

Europol is the European Union law enforcement organization that handles criminal intelligence. Its aim is to improve the effectiveness of, and cooperation between, the competent authorities of the European Union member states in preventing and combating serious and organized crime. The mission of Europol is to make a significant contribution to the European Union's law enforcement action against organized crime, with an emphasis on targeting criminal organizations.

Established in 1992 and based in the Hague, Europol started limited operations in 1994 and commenced its full activities in 1999. It supports law enforcement activities in E.U. member states against serious crime where an organized structure is involved and two or more member states are affected. Europol supports member states in four main areas:

  • By facilitating exchange of information: Member states have seconded liaison officers to Europol, where they, as representatives of their national agencies and in accordance with national law, exchange information and support cross-border operations. Each member state has between one and seven liaison officers at Europol, representing police, gendarmerie, customs services, immigration authorities, and other law enforcement organizations. In total, 70 liaison officers represent 15 countries.
  • By providing operational analysis of data related to terrorism and international organized crime and provided by member states: Approximately 60 analysts are working on analytical projects in various crime areas. Europol is also promoting criminal analysis and harmonization of investigative techniques within the member states.
  • By generating strategic reports, threat assessments, and crime analysis on the basis of information and intelligence supplied by member states, generated by Europol or gathered from other sources
  • By providing expertise and support for investigations and operations carried out within the European Union, under the supervision and legal responsibility of the member states.

Europol is in the process of establishing a central computerized system, the Europol Information System, for storing information on crime, criminals, and criminal organizations, designed for direct input and access by member states in different languages. There are currently 400 staff members from all 15 member states. Europol is designed to provide an effective, fast, and multilingual service 24 hours a day.

In the field of external relations, Europol improved its international law enforcement cooperation by, in addition to the U.S. agreements, signing agreements with a number of countries in Europe and overseas. In addition to the 15 present member states of the European Union, Europol is establishing cooperation agreements, including secure communication networks, with more than 30 countries and international organisations.

In mid-2004, 10 countries will join the European Union, adding 75 million people to the roughly 300 million who already live in member states.

Europol Liaison Bureau in Washington, D.C.

In order to enhance its cooperation with U.S. law enforcement agencies at all levels and of all types, Europol has opened a liaison bureau in Washington, D.C. The office is hosted by the European Union representation and is staffed by two experienced liaison officers.

The main tasks of the liaison officers are to explore, develop, and ensure contacts between the United States and Europol, to facilitate the exchange of information, and to gather relevant information as requested by member states and Europol. The D.C. office also serves as point of contact for U.S. law enforcement officers who deal with criminal cases involving, apart from the United States, two or more EU countries.

For more about Europol, go to www.europol.eu.int. To learn how your agency can cooperate with Europol, write to Mr. Henny de Valk or Mr. Pascal Tocquec at Europol, Delegation of the European Commission, 2300 M Street, NW, Washington, DC 20037; call them at 202-862-9655 or 202-862-9656; or send an e-mail message to valkh@europol.eu.int or tocquecp@europol.eu.int.

 

From The Police Chief, vol. 70, no. 10, October 2003. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.








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