Devotees of detective novels will be familiar with the police complaint about too much red tape hampering their ability to get the job done. Those forms you have to fill in when you beat a confession out of a suspect down at the station, or the bureaucracy associated with planting evidence on the person whom you know did it but can’t quite prove it. How do you share the proceeds among the team from a payment for not looking in the back of the lorry at the crucial moment? Oh, the formality of it all.
Despite that jaded feeling, I cheered inside when a real police officer made a real complaint about real bureaucracy. Specifically, Detective Superintendent Jill Bailey of the Metropolitan Police, who runs a series of murder squads in south London, thinks that she would be better able to investigate crimes if cross-border cooperation was easier. She says:
“We do not have direct contact with our counterparts in the Greek authorities because we have to use letters and protocols to reach them.”
Those letters and protocols arise because of the dictates of national sovereignty. Every country tells itself that it needs to restrain foreign police forces and treat them with suspicion. What ought to be a practical matter of dividing up the work in the shared pursuit of criminals becomes a complex exercise in diplomacy and tact, not always the most pronounced characteristics of police officers.
For example, the European Arrest Warrant institutes direct communication between law enforcement agencies in different countries to bring suspects face to face with their accusers. It replaced the extradition procedure which was a much more lengthy and cumbersome process. There are still more safeguards needed to make the EAW work better, ensuring that the rights of suspects are properly protected after transfer to another country to face trial, but the idea that cross-border cooperation in the enforcement of criminal law should become more practical and less bound by protocols is a good one.