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Interpol is the acronym for the International Criminal Police Organization. It is an international organization of police forces from 176 countries designed to coordinate international law enforcement. Interpol furthers mutual aid and cooperation among the police forces of its national members in order to prevent and inhibit crime.
Interpol was established in 1923, with the General Secretariat—the international headquarters—located in Lyons, France. Delegates from member countries meet once a year to discuss police problems and admit new members. Each member nation maintains and staffs its own national central bureau. In the United States, the bureau is located in Washington, D.C. The U.S. bureau is under the direction and control of the Departments of Justice and of the Treasury, and is staffed by personnel from those departments.
The General Secretariat is supported by membership dues. Its budget is based on the Swiss franc, since that is a stable currency. Approximately five percent of the total budget is paid by the United States.
Interpol is forbidden by its constitution to undertake any intervention or activities of a political, military, religious, or racial character. Each national central bureau coordinates and responds to inquiries received from local and foreign law enforcement agencies. Each bureau also arranges for resolutions adopted by Interpol to be applied at the national level, and works to ensure that the basic principles laid down by Interpol's constitution are followed. National central bureaus are linked electronically to the Interpol General Secretariat's main database in Lyons.
The organization uses a system of international notices (circulars) to inform peace officers in the national bureaus of cases where known criminals abandon their usual residence and travel abroad surreptitiously. The color coded circulars are distributed by Interpol Headquarters to member countries within twenty days of their issue, or, in urgent cases, the same day. In the case of a fugitive whose arrest is requested and whose extradition is likely, a wanted notice containing details of the arrest warrant and the offense committed is circulated.
In addition, Interpol conducts investigations of criminal activities, including drug trafficking, terrorism, counterfeiting, smuggling, organized crime, and new forms of economic crime. It conducts criminal history checks for visa and import permits and traces vehicle registration and ownership. Interpol also performs humanitarian services such as locating missing persons and providing notification of serious illness or death.