In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section International Police Cooperation

  • Introduction
  • Historical Overviews
  • Globalization and Global Policing Initiatives
  • Legal and Political Considerations
  • Theoretical Perspectives
  • Contemporary Cooperation Practices
  • Contemporary Threats
  • Current and Future Challenges

Criminology International Police Cooperation
Joseph Schafer
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 October 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 March 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0153


The idea of international cooperation among police agencies and other facets of the criminal justice system has taken on heightened significance. Criminals and criminal enterprises do not restrict their activities to existing geopolitical boundaries. This circumstance has only accelerated in recent decades with both the softening of some regional borders and the acceleration of computing technologies into our lives. It is now easier than ever for criminals, terrorists, and other motivated offenders to leverage technology to conduct operations at greater distances. These distances provide both physical and legal protection for offenders, while complicating governmental efforts to detect, disrupt, and investigate transnational crimes and illicit activities. International police cooperation is also observable in the trend to introduce blended police and military responses to stabilize and (at times) democratize nations in crisis. Though the need for international cooperation is apparent, bringing about successful cooperative schemes is a difficult process. Nations differ in the structure and procedures associated with their justice systems; in effect, they have differing standards and rules for how their justice systems work. Nations have different cultural values regarding human rights, civil liberties, the role of government in the lives of the citizenry, and the nature of police operations and interactions with the public. Nations have varied political systems for creating and enforcing laws. Nations have varying levels of professionalisms within their policing systems and differing economic capacities to fund public safety and national security operations. At the most fundamental level, nations at times differ in what behaviors constitute a violation of criminal law. All of these factors complicate developing effective international cooperation among nations, even when there is a predisposition to unite. The challenges are further enhanced by the introduction of nationalism, historical regional conflicts, and the varying personalities and egos of those charged with representing the policing interests of their respective nations. Despite these many obstacles, there are examples of effective efforts by nations and police forces to cooperate in the furtherance of law enforcement and national security objectives. Interpol and Europol represent two of the best examples of how cooperative ventures can be established, managed, and sustained. Both also provide important lessons in how various barriers can impede or altogether negate efforts to ensure more effective transnational policing efforts. Their histories and experiences are instructive both for their successes and their failings.

Historical Overviews

Transnational cooperation efforts involving the police date to the mid-19th century when many Western nations were modernizing and professionalizing their policing and security services. It is informative to understand early efforts aimed at enhancing collaboration, communication, and partnerships among police forces. Gerspacher 2008 provides an overview of the ebb and flow of police cooperation across time. Though emphasizing cooperation among police forces in a single nation, the historical analysis of cooperation within Australian policing in the early 20th century offered by Finnane and Myrtle 2011 sheds important perspective on how relationships emerge. Deflem 2002a examines the forces and factors leading to the rise of Interpol in the years before World War II, including consideration of the role of the Nazi regime in establishing police cooperation in Europe. Sheptycki 1998 demonstrates that highly successful collaborations can emerge in smaller regional niches, though politics, personality, and position can influence the efficacy and viability of such ventures. One of the most insightful considerations of recent police cooperation efforts is found in Deflem 2002b, a book that provides a very strong historical and theoretical examinations of this subject. Among the more recent examples of sustained police cooperation is the emergence of Europol with the establishment of the European Union (EU), which is carefully detailed in Monar 2012. Reflecting the priorities and concerns of the time, Europol was initially focused on organized crime, as demonstrated in Gregory 1998. Over time, however, Europol has taken a broader focus to include issues of crimes against children, as described in Lewington and Olsen 1994.

  • Deflem, Mathieu. 2002a. The logic of Nazification: The case of the International Criminal Police Commission (“INTERPOL”). International Journal of Comparative Sociology 43:21–44.

    DOI: 10.1177/002071520204300102

    The article examines how the emergence of the International Criminal Police Commission (now known as Interpol) was influenced by the rise of the Nazi regime in Germany. Though historical in nature, the events illustrate the complex power dynamics that can shape the formation and orientation of international police cooperation.

  • Deflem, Mathieu. 2002b. Policing world society: Historical foundations of international police cooperation. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    An historical analysis of the social forces leading to the rise of international police cooperation in the first half of the 20th century. The text focuses particularly on the subject of cooperation between the United States and European nations.

  • Finnane, Mark, and John Myrtle. 2011. An exercise in police co-operation? The origins of the Conference of Australian Police Commissioners. Australian Journal of Politics and History 57:1–16.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-8497.2011.01579.x

    A detailed discussion of the historical forces leading to the emergence of cooperation strategies within Australian policing services in the early decades of the 20th century. Though focused on cooperation within Australia, the article offers important implications for the emergence of these efforts on an international level.

  • Gerspacher, Nadia. 2008. The history of international police cooperation: A 150-year evolution in trends and approaches. Global Crime 9:169–184.

    DOI: 10.1080/17440570701862892

    An historical overview of transnational collaboration between police forces, emphasizing the cyclical nature and shifting emphases of such cooperation. The article argues the rise of the global fight against terrorism has renewed the political will to support international initiatives.

  • Gregory, Frank. 1998. Policing transition in Europe: The role of EUROPOL and the problem of organized crime. Innovation: The European Journal of Social Sciences 11:287–306.

    The emergence of the EU and the subsequent establishment of Europol demonstrate the challenges and potentials of various forms of intergovernmental cooperation. The author examines the early efforts to establish Europol and how its contributions to organized crime reduction were juxtaposed against its initial structure, resources, and capabilities.

  • Lewington, Frances, and Ann-Kristin Olsen. 1994. International police cooperation on crimes committed against children. Child Abuse Review 3:145–147.

    DOI: 10.1002/car.2380030212

    A concise review of how the United Nations and Interpol advanced efforts to address crimes against minors. The article examines the legal and procedural steps leading to the establishment of an INTERPOL working group created to study and address this category of crimes.

  • Monar, Jörg. 2012. Justice and home affairs: The Treaty of Maastricht as a decisive intergovernmental gate opener. Journal of European Integration 34:717–734.

    DOI: 10.1080/07036337.2012.726011

    The author provides an important historical analysis of how the Treaty of Maastricht advanced the development of the EU, including the establishment of Europol and Eurojust. The lessons learned hold important implications for establishing more effective forms of transnational governmental cooperation, including those emphasizing matters of crime and justice.

  • Sheptycki, James W. E. 1998. Police co-operation in the English Channel region 1968–1996. European Journal of Crime, Criminal Law and Criminal Justice 6:216–235.

    DOI: 10.1163/15718179820518502

    International police cooperation can emerge as more localized effort. Drawing on a range of historical data, the author explores how intelligence efforts and criminal investigations functioned among agencies in northwestern Europe. Various political shifts and changes in key personnel representing agencies and nations resulted in dynamic stages of cooperation.

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