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This is a continuance of this question regarding Interpol.

The answer to that question left a hole; who's going to be the international pursuer in the classic, world-wide cat-and-mouse game? It is a trope in media that there's a single agent in charge of catching some criminal, who'll pursue them to all corners of the earth. This trope is popular because it gives the pursuit a far more personal edge. I always thought such agents would be from, or authorized by, Interpol. Apparently however, Interpol does not have agents.

However, I'd still think there is some room for officers from other countries to take part in pursuits in different countries, especially when the countries involved are perhaps a part of some international alliance of sorts (like Interpol).

Let's say there is an agent who is an expert on some international criminal, who comes from country A. The criminal is presumably in country B, and both country A and B are cooperative in the relevant ways. Would it be possible and plausible for law enforcement/the government in country B to authorize the agent to pursue the criminal in country B? If so, how would this process take place? I reckon there is a lot of variability and details, so any referrals to places where I can read up on various specific cases would be nice.

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5 Answers 5

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  • Various EU countries have agreements on cross-border law enforcement. This may include joint patrols, with authority switching between the officers depending on which side of the border they are on. It may also include the permission for hot pursuit across a border even if no officer from the other side is present, as long as the host country informed as soon as practical.
    This would be a regional thing. You might see Polish police in the German state of Brandenburg, but not in Lower Saxony, and Dutch police in Lower Saxony, but not in Brandenburg.
  • In 2002, there was a case of bank robbers in Germany who took hostages and drove eastward. Because of the risk to the hostages the car was not stopped in Germany, and neither was it stopped when it crossed into Poland. There, it was pursued by Polish and German police, with German liaison officers in the Polish HQ. As the criminals crossed the border from Poland to Ukraine, the Germans had to stop. (A few hours later, a Ukrainian police general supposedly told them that he used to be KGB, and that the criminals could surrender or die. They surrendered.)
    This is another example of the lack of universal world police. It is a case-by-case solution between friendly countries.
  • There are also EU-wide and even greater agreements on information exchange and the mutual enforcement of judgements and warrants. That is, country A transmits an arrest warrant and country B assumes that it is valid until proven otherwise. Unlike the first bullet points, this is not the case you are asking about ...
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See the scenario adjudicated in R. v. Hape, 2007 SCC 26.

The Supreme Court of Canada quoted a principle of international law from I. Brownlie, Principles of Public International Law (6th ed. 2003), at p. 306:

The governing principle is that a state cannot take measures on the territory of another state by way of enforcement of national laws without the consent of the latter. Persons may not be arrested, a summons may not be served, police or tax investigations may not be mounted, orders for production of documents may not be executed, on the territory of another state, except under the terms of a treaty or other consent given.

In this case, Canadian RCMP officers were allowed by the Turks and Caicos Islands to continue their investigation on the Islands, under the authority of a supervising local superintendent.

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  • Does the USA have standing agreements with its neighboring nations? Looking at flight data, US law enforcement helicopters appear to frequently dip into airspace of other nations. This would appear to be "police investigations on the territory of another state". Commented Sep 1, 2023 at 8:37
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No

Law enforcement agencies generally cooperate with each other. This cooperation may be liaison, sharing data, on-the-ground assistance (particularly from more developed to less developed countries), and even joint operations, but a police officer in a foreign jurisdiction without authority is a tourist and has just as much power.

So there are no trans-national detectives pursuing wrongdoers across the globe. In multi-jurisdiction countries, there are not even trans-State/Provence police. There are particular arrangements between different jurisdictions (usually neighbours) that may allow cross-border police activity of various sorts.

For your situation, Country A would request the assistance of Country B in apprehending the criminal. Agents from A might come to Country B if invited to render assistance but on-the-ground police work would by by Country B’s police. If they were successful in making an arrest, then Country A would request extradition which can be a drawn-out process.

We might look to the example of Julian Assange.

In 2010, Sweden issued a European-wide arrest warrant for him and he was arrested by the UK police; Swedish police were not involved. Mr Assange appealed against the warrant, lost, broke bail and then sought asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.

In 2019, Sweden withdrew the warrant and, for unrelated reasons, Ecuador withdrew their asylum and invited the UK police in to make an arrest; no Ecuadorian police were involved. Note that this was an arrest by UK police in the UK: embassies are not foreign enclaves but by international law and practice, the host country does not enter or enforce their laws without being invited.

He was sentenced to and served 50 months for breaching the UK Bail Act. During that time, the USA unsealed a number of indictments against him for which he was formally arrested by UK police; no US police were involved.

He remains incarcerated in HM Prison Belmarsh as a flight risk while the extradition process works its way through the UK courts. He lost his final appeal against the extradition on 6 June 2023 and the next step will be that arrangements will be made for his transfer from UK corrections to the FBI. Whether this means he will be taken by UK police to America for transfer there or whether FBI agents will travel to the UK and do the transfer in London remains to be seen.

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    “So there are no trans-national detectives pursuing wrongdoers across the globe. In multi-jurisdiction countries, there are not even trans-State/Provence police.” This is false in many multi-jurisdiction countries. Canada has the RCMP, the US has federal agencies, Germany has the BKA, etc.
    – cpast
    Commented Aug 30, 2023 at 13:28
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    @cpast - yes, but federal agencies will not intervene in state law enforcement. Their jurisdiction is federal laws, not New Jersey law.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Aug 30, 2023 at 14:21
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    No, but also Yes. Jen's answer points out a case where it did happen. Commented Aug 30, 2023 at 15:01
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    @DaleM But your answer "No" is still incorrect because the question is "Is there such a thing as specific agents/officers legally pursuing international criminals across borders?", right? I have posted a bunch of links above that confirm that this is the case.
    – user44312
    Commented Aug 31, 2023 at 6:28
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    @Gantendo the answer "no" is correct in the overwhelming majority of cases. "yes" is the exception so I'm happy that it remains the headline answer in light of the OP's question.
    – Dale M
    Commented Aug 31, 2023 at 6:37
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The principle you are looking for is "hot pursuit" and it is very limited

It essentially holds that law enforcement in direct pursuit of suspects can, at times, cross international borders.

According, at least, to wikipedia, it is a part of martitime law, but is otherwise not a codified section of international law. However, it has been invoked on a number of cases, including by the USA pursuing taliban members into pakistan, and for a number of other questionably legal cross border attacks. I'd argue in these cases, rather than being a solid legal code, it is more of a way of saving face - otherwise, a military incursion into someone else's territory can be an act of war, and countries generally don't wish to look weak by allowing raids. However, hot pursuit turns it into a legalish action, or at least not an automatic declaration of war.

It ended up codified, at least in english common law, in part because of the pursuit of border reivers across the english/scottish borders - pursuit was allowed over the other side's border, but while the trail was "hot" - not less than a few hours old.

In Europe, part of the Schengen agreements include provisions for cross border pursuits, but, generally, these are laid out precisely in local agreements.

The linking principle, in these, is urgency. There exists, sometimes, some provisions to allow law enforcement agents to cross borders, in cases where suspects might otherwise escape. This is expected, I think, to be immediate - your helicopter can see the fleeing suspects, your military/police is currently actively chasing them. You would be expected to contact the country whose territory you entered, and to hand over as soon as possible the pursuit to their law enforcement.

It's not going to hold for an international manhunt - countries do, frequently, set up international task forces to hunt for someone. But arrests would be made by law enforcement from the country that the suspect is currently in. It's also possible that military or law enforcement could deploy in a foreign country. But this would be at the express invitation of the countries' government.

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  • Rereading the question, and I should probably edit this. There isn't anything, in principle, stopping a country from borrowing a law enforcement official from another country, credentialing them in some way to give them legal powers, and then letting them work. The issue is more that there's significant work to do that. It'd be easier to make an expert on, say, art forgery, into an advisor for the case - they don't kick down doors, but they help with the investigation.
    – lupe
    Commented Sep 2, 2023 at 0:28
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Nearly everything about criminal law enforcement in the State of the Vatican City is handled as if it the latter were part of the Republic of Italy. If you get caught stealing someone's wallet in St. Peter's Square you'll be prosecuted in one of the Republic's courts. A prominent exception (and I'm guessing all exceptions to this are prominent because they're exceptions) is when the pope's butler stole some secret documents and leaked them to the press. He was prosecuted and convicted in a Vatican court and sentenced to imprisonment in one of Italy's (not the Vatican's) prisons. When the American comedian Don Novello was arrested in Vatican City by the Swiss Guard on charges of impersonating a priest, I suspect that that would have been prosecuted in a Vatican court as well, and that "impersonating a priest" is not a punishable offense under Italian law. (But if you impersonate a priest in order to defraud people of money, as Lenny Bruce did, I suspect that would be punishable in Italy.) However, the charge against Novello was dropped because his impersonation of a priest was merely a joke—a part of his comedy act.

So I suspect Italian police are permitted to pursue a fleeing suspect into Vatican City.

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  • BTW, I suspect a majority of crimes in Vatican City prosecuted in Italian courts are thefts of wallets and purses in St. Peter's Square. Millions of tourists visit there every year. Commented Sep 9, 2023 at 18:00

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