Catching Criminals, With an Assist from Exchange Programs

June 28, 2017

Professional exchange programs can have immediate results, even on issues as complex as international crime.

A few weeks ago, three Romanians were arrested in Jamaica for credit card fraud. At the time of the arrest, Jamaican police official Kevin Francis was on an International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) in New York focusing on “Combating Transnational Crime: Global Cooperation,” Kevin sketched out the details of the case for a co-participant at the summit, Alex Arghir, a Romanian judge and president of the Bucharest Sector 2 First Instance Court. Alex told Kevin the suspects were “well-known scammers.”

“We are now planning to do further collaborations,” said Kevin. “We will definitely be working together.”

“Combating International Crime: Global Cooperation,” organized by the State Department in cooperation with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), brings more than 70 judicial, law enforcement, and security officials to New York City annually to explore the structure of the U.S. criminal justice system and U.S. responses to a range of threats. It is the culmination of a three-week professional exchange with participants from across the globe as part of the “Towards a More Safe and Secure World” initiative. Linda Piccirilli and Chris Halecki, program officers at the State Department’s New York Program Branch, created this law enforcement summit more than a decade ago so that disparate security sector professionals could come together to build lasting relationships – the foundations of both our diplomacy and, increasingly, our safety. Without exchange programs like this one, Kevin and Alex would never have met, and on your next trip to Jamaica, you could well have been the victim of a Romanian credit card scam.

“Our goal was to help the United States improve security and intelligence gathering beyond our borders to a global level. The security experts we have here in New York are a very real commodity whose knowledge can help protect millions of people. We felt like we had a responsibility to share that knowledge,” said Linda.

The real-world benefit to the United States is the personal connections that our security professionals form with their international counterparts, leading to collaborations on intelligence gathering, cyber-security challenges, and law enforcement training, which in turn bring better results in countering violent extremism, protecting our borders, and bringing international criminals to justice.

Iain Bailey, a detective with the Metropolitan Police Service of the United Kingdom’s New Scotland Yard, put it succinctly: “Intelligence is only good when it’s hot. And personal connections are the life blood of investigations.”

“I thought I had quite a bit of knowledge [about the U.S.], but after three weeks in the country, I realized how small that was,” said Iain. “Before I came, we had been looking to bring economic sanctions against some key criminal figures. Now, I am going to send my management team to meet with their U.S. counterparts to sign a Memorandum of Understanding. This is a tangible result: we are working together to stop criminals.”

Bureaucracy is rarely glamorous. And State Department international exchange programs don’t often make splashy headlines. But on a daily basis, the program officers who work on these exchanges create opportunities, facilitate connections, and solve international problems. So, when you hear on the news about an international crime bust, or the next time you go on a vacation abroad and return without incident, keep in mind that an exchange program may well have played a role.