The term transnational policing entered into use in the mid-1990s as a description for forms of policing that transcended the boundaries of the sovereign nation-state (Sheptycki, 1995). It is distinguished against the terms ‘international policing’ and ‘global policing’. The former term would seem to indicate only those types of policing that are formally directed by institutions usually responsible for international affairs (for example the State Department in the US, the Foreign Office in the UK, etc.). The latter term would seem to indicate only those forms of policing that are fully global in scope.
Transnational policing pertains to all those forms for policing that, in some sense, transcend national borders. This includes a variety of practices, but cross-border police cooperation, criminal intelligence exchange between police agencies working in different nation-states, and police development-aid to weak, failed or failing states are the three types that have received the most scholarly attention.
Historical studies reveal that policing agents have undertaken a variety of cross-border police missions for many years (Deflem, 2004). For example, in the 19th century a number of European policing agencies undertook cross-border surveillance because of concerns about anarchist agitators and other political radicals. A notable example of this was the occasional surveillance by Prussian police of Karl Marx during the years he remained resident in London. The interests of public police agencies in cross-border co-operation in the control of political radicalism and ordinary law crime were primarily initiated in Europe, which eventually led to the establishment of Interpol before the Second World War. There are also many interesting examples of cross-border policing under private auspices and by municipal police forces that date back to the 19th century (Nadelmann, 1993). It has been established that modern policing has transgressed national boundaries from time to time almost from its inception. It is also generally agreed that in the post–Cold War era this type of practice became more significant and frequent (Sheptycki, 2000).
Not a lot of empirical work on the practices of transnational information and intelligence sharing has been undertaken. A notable exception is James Sheptycki's study of police cooperation in the English Channel region (2002), which provides a systematic content analysis of information exchange files and a description of how these transnational information and intelligence exchanges are transformed into police case-work. The study showed that transnational police information sharing was routinized in the cross-Channel region from 1968 on the basis of agreements directly between the police agencies and without any formal agreement between the countries concerned. By 1992, with the signing of the Schengen Treaty, which formalized aspects of police information exchange across the territory of the European Union, there were worries that much, if not all, of this intelligence sharing was opaque, raising questions about the efficacy of the accountability mechanisms governing police information sharing in Europe (Joubert and Bevers, 1996).
Studies of this kind outside of Europe are even rarer, so it is difficult to make generalizations, but one small-scale study that compared transnational police information and intelligence sharing practices at specific cross-border locations in North America and Europe confirmed that low visibility of police information and intelligence sharing was a common feature (Alain, 2001). Intelligence-led policing is now common practice in most advanced countries (Ratcliffe, 2007) and it is likely that police intelligence sharing and information exchange has a common morphology around the world (Ratcliffe, 2007). James Sheptycki has analyzed the effects of the new information technologies on the organization of policing-intelligence and suggests that a number of ‘organizational pathologies’ have arisen that make the functioning of security-intelligence processes in transnational policing deeply problematic. He argues that transnational police information circuits help to “compose the panic scenes of the security-control society”. The paradoxical effect is that, the harder policing agencies work to produce security, the greater are feelings of insecurity.
Police development-aid to weak, failed or failing states is another form of transnational policing that has garnered attention. This form of transnational policing plays an increasingly important role in United Nations peacekeeping and this looks set to grow in the years ahead, especially as the international community seeks to develop the rule of law and reform security institutions in States recovering from conflict (Goldsmith and Sheptycki, 2007) With transnational police development-aid the imbalances of power between donors and recipients are stark and there are questions about the applicability and transportability of policing models between jurisdictions (Hills, 2009).
Perhaps the greatest question regarding the future development of transnational policing is: in whose interest is it? At a more practical level, the question translates into one about how to make transnational policing institutions democratically accountable (Sheptycki, 2004). For example, according to the Global Accountability Report for 2007 (Lloyd, et al. 2007) Interpol had the lowest scores in its category (IGOs), coming in tenth with a score of 22% on overall accountability capabilities (p. 19). As this report points out, and the existing academic literature on transnational policing seems to confirm, this is a secretive area and one not open to civil society involvement.
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... The terms international policing, transnational policing, and/or global policing began to be used from the early 1990s onwards to describe forms of policing that ... in variable ways to practices and forms for policing that, in some sense, transcend national borders ... Historical studies reveal that policing agents have undertaken a variety of cross-border police missions for many years (Deflem, 2002) ...
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