Cross-border law enforcement operations are no threat to Gibraltar’s British sovereignty and jurisdiction, the Royal Gibraltar Police said yesterday.
In a detailed and lengthy statement, the RGP said that they key message underscored by Gibraltar’s international policing cooperation was that the Rock was tough place for criminals.
The RGP’s statement sought to address any concerns in the community about recent joint operations with Spanish law enforcement agencies which had led to arrests in Gibraltar and the Campo, and have seen local officers deployed in Spain in support of their Spanish counterparts.
Last week, a major anti-drug trafficking operation carried out in regions across southern Spain drew the assistance of the RGP in an unprecedented scenario in modern times.
RGP officers were present at some of the 24 searches conducted by Guardia Civil officers in a number of localities within the neighbouring Campo de Gibraltar region.
The RGP said it was “significant” that the news was first confirmed to the press by the Guardia Civil itself.
It added that although the vast majority of the public has understood the valuable asset that cross border police cooperation represents, it also gave rise to “misunderstanding” in some quarters.
RGP Commissioner Ian McGrail said: “This is already happening and the working relationship with law enforcement agencies in Spain – the Guardia Civil and the Policía Nacional – has entered a new phase of structured collaboration where we all share the same aims: to disrupt, thwart and prevent crime, and bring criminals to justice on both sides of the border.”
“As far as the Royal Gibraltar Police is concerned, the overriding message from the organisation is that Gibraltar is not and will not be a safe haven for crime, a soft target to be used by those with heinous and criminal intentions.”
“Collaborating with other police forces and keeping well-oiled channels of communication and exchange of evidence open, will serve to reinforce the Rock’s security profile and its efficiency in the repression of criminal activity.”
“International police cooperation has become a welcome norm, an accepted practice for the good of society as a whole.”
Mr McGrail emphasized that besides the mechanisms for exchange of information, it was also important when circumstances and the needs of an investigation warrant it, for police forces to have a physical presence and investigative support outside their own home soil on foreign territory, to give greater, even visual representation to the transnational nature of the law and how the pursuit of crime can be taken beyond the respective frontiers of police organisations.
He said the public should not be alarmed thinking that recent developments in respect of the RGP’s cross border police cooperation will result in Guardia Civil, Policía Nacional or any other foreign police force patrolling the streets of Gibraltar.
In the statement, the RGP explained that if there are circumstances that merit the presence of foreign officers on the Rock, this would always take place under the jurisdiction and command of the RGP.
These officers would have no executive powers and would be accompanying local officers, the RGP said.
These are the same arrangements that apply when Gibraltarian police officers are called to provide assistance abroad in the course of an investigation with local ties.
“International police cooperation is a normal, tried and tested routine procedure undertaken by the vast majority of countries around the world to their mutual advantage, to preserve law and order and protect the rule of law,” the statement read.
“In the same way as the saying ‘Crime knows no frontiers’ has become a sad global reality of modern life whose pernicious effects are frequently evidenced in media bulletins, conventional societies and democratic governments are obliged to counter this fact by ensuring that law enforcement cooperation can overcome national, political and geographical barriers in pursuit of critical police investigations and to uphold the rule of law, through the seamless exchange of information and evidence, and by supporting each other in the face of the growing challenges of organized criminal activity.”
The RGP underscored that at no time and in no way does this cooperation undermine British sovereignty, jurisdiction and control of policing on the Rock.
It explained that it is a common occurrence for police officers from foreign countries to be invited to home soil in order to collaborate in the detection of suspects, to further complex investigations and assist in cross border operations.
Internationally recognized Police Liaison Officers are a common sight all over the world, and can be seen at European football matches, at major tourist resorts, even on both sides of the Channel Tunnel between England and France.
In the past it was more often the case that this cross border law enforcement cooperation was made possible by senior officers, who recognized the intrinsic positive value of fostering close ties with police forces in other jurisdictions.
“It was mostly dependent on the individual chemistry of those in key positions who understood the benefits and value of fully fledged police cooperation and mutual assistance strategies in the fight against crime.”
“However the personal relationships though valuable as a networking tool in policing environments, were voluntary engagements, ad-hoc arrangements not grounded on solid legal instruments that provide greater long term certainty and a clear, well-regulated, permanent methodology of action backed by lawful international mechanisms.”
Under local legislation the Commissioner of Police has powers to direct officers to operate abroad in the course of a police investigation in order to detect and prevent criminal activity.
Numerous other judicial gateways exist in the European Union to facilitate and cement international police cooperation, including the European Investigation Order, the provisions for Mutual Legal Assistance on criminal matters, the Joint Investigation Team and the European Arrest Warrant among others.
In the past, Gibraltarian police officers have undertaken operational duties as far afield as North and South America and the Caribbean, always at the invitation of the host country and in Europe, they have deployed in Germany, Spain, UK, and also Morocco, conducting inquiries and assisting local police with inquiries and sharing information and evidence gathered in Gibraltar.
The RGP’s expectation is that post Brexit and in conjunction with our UK counterparts, there will be a sufficiently wide berth for Europe wide law enforcement cooperation to continue as close as possible to the extent that we enjoy now.
The reverse is also true, as letters of request for visits from foreign police organisations have also been accommodated after the competent authorities in Gibraltar have sanctioned these.
“We have also received uniformed Scottish and Irish police officers during European football matches to observe and support local police operations, also representatives from Guernsey Police for the Island Games,” the RGP said.
Even examining magistrates have been known to visit the Rock as part of an official investigation, it added.
These official international police exchanges in all fields of policing activity, whether it be economic crime investigations, securing cyberspace for people and businesses, countering the threat of terrorism and organized crime or training courses, are becoming more and more commonplace.
And, the RGP said, they yield positive outcomes to all those who form part of the wider co-operation system.
“It is happening too, with Spain where law enforcement collaboration has existed for decades and in recent times, great strides have been made through joint operations, in developing elements of mutual trust and confidence building measures to foster a relationship that can be of benefit to the safety and security of people on both sides.”