International Police Cooperation in Northern America: A Review of Practices, Strategies, and Goals in the United States, Mexico, and Canada

Mathieu Deflem
Google Scholar | ResearchGate | ORCID

This is a copy of a chapter in International Police Cooperation: A World Perspective, edited by Daniel J. Koenig and Dilip K. Das, pp. 71-98, Lexington Books, 2001.
Also available in PDF format.

Please cite as: Deflem, Mathieu. 2001. “International Police Cooperation in Northern America: A Review of Practices, Strategies, and Goals in the United States, Mexico, and Canada.” Pp. 71-98 in International Police Cooperation: A World Perspective, edited by Daniel J. Koenig and Dilip K. Das. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.

[consult the PDF version for the tables]

In this chapter, I present an overview and discuss some implications of contemporary practices of international police operations in Northern America. Specifically analyzed are dimensions and concerns of international law enforcement activities involving police from the United States of America, Mexico, and Canada. I devote attention to the existing structures and processes of international police strategies, the goals that these strategies are intended to achieve, the dynamics of continuity and change they are influenced by in their actual implementation, and some of the achievements realized and problems encountered.

This chapter is organized as follows. I first present a brief historical overview of international police work in Northern America. Then I analyze the most important contemporary dimensions of international law enforcement in the United States, after which I discuss international police work in Mexico and in Canada. In line with the other chapters of this volume, I will for each country analyze major issues, forms, and structures of international police work as well as identify some of the strengths and limitations. Finally, I will offer suggestions on future developments of international police work in the countries analyzed, as may be anticipated on the basis of current conditions. Most of the data for this research were provided by official government hearings, congressional testimonies, and newspaper sources, which were retrieved through the computerized database of Lexis-Nexis. Also consulted were various internet websites and relevant sources from the scholarly literature.


International policing in Northern America was historically less well-developed than in Europe (which is not surprising given the multitude of European national states and their geographical closeness), but it nonetheless has antecedents going far back in the respective histories of the United States, Mexico, and Canada. Among the more important chapters of the history of international police work in Northern America can be mentioned the policing initiatives involved with the changing borders of the three countries considered here. Foreshadowing some aspects of present conditions on these matters, American police in past centuries entertained easier relationships with its Canadian than with its Mexican counterpart. Indicative, for instance, is that the International Association of Chiefs of Police since its inception in 1901 counted mostly American and Canadian police among its members, without many representatives from Europe or Latin America.

U.S.-Mexican police relationships were historically dominated by issues surrounding the control of the Mexican border. Depending on political conditions in Mexico and hampered by the country's various periods of turmoil, police collaboration and bilateral treaties between the USA and Mexico were never easily achieved. Border controls in Northern America also centered on smuggling activities. The U.S. Customs Service, created in 1789, fought smuggling by either cooperating with foreign governments or by sending its own agents abroad.

Relationships between police of countries in Northern America and those in Europe were historically not as prominent as they are today. The geographical distance with the European mainland presented a physical barrier which could not easily be transcended. Furthermore, the United States did for a considerable period of time not have a federal police force of sufficient organizational strength for other national police to collaborate with.

Relationships with Europe would not be intensified until after the formation of the International Criminal Police Commission, the forerunner of Interpol, in 1923. But, as will be explained below, though the United States, Canada, and Mexico joined Interpol many years ago, relationships with Interpol have never been very extensive and the international police network remained dominated by European police until very recently. Interestingly, police of Latin America were the first to organize international cooperation as early as 1901, when the idea to foster collaboration was suggested at an international conference. However, these initiatives did not produce any lasting results and although they at times attempted to include the United States and Mexico, they typically remained restricted to South-American countries, especially Brazil, Argentina, and Chile.

In sum, what this brief review reveals is that U.S. law enforcement remained rather insulated from cooperation with foreign police and that whatever contacts that did take place across American borders were intended to serve nationally defined interests. Additionally, relationships of United States police with Canada, on the one hand, and with Mexico, on the other, were quite different. These historical patterns, it will be shown, are still relevant today.


Law enforcement in the United States is largely the responsibility of local governments, specifically at the municipal and state levels. Over the years, however, federal police duties have expanded to produce a multitude of law-enforcement agencies. Most all of these agencies have international police tasks, but two federal police forces, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), stand out. Next to these, American police is also involved in bilateral and multilateral collaboration initiatives.

1. Issues, Forms, and Structures of American International Policing

The Federal Bureau of Investigation

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Justice. The international duties of the FBI comprise: 1) enforcement of federal violations with international dimensions (e.g., terrorism, drug trafficking, and extradition); 2) maintenance of a system of liaison agents abroad; and 3) international police training programs.

The FBI’s system of foreign agents is operative in all continents of the globe. In March 1997, the FBI (which employs some 10,000 agents in total) had 82 agents and 61 support employees in 30 countries around the world. In 1996, these offices handled over 3,000 cases and over 5,000 lead assignments. One function of the FBI’s system of legal attaches (the so-called LEGATs) is to provide assistance and training. Mainly for that reason, the FBI opened an office in Moscow in July 1994 (Asnis 1996). Cooperation between police from the United States and Russia comprises various activities and involves federal as well as local police (Vassalo 1996). Russian police are involved in training operations with the FBI in the United States. And the liaison system is used to tackle international crime and the increase of specific types of crime in areas of the world outside the U.S., especially the growth of organized crime in Russia. Similarly, FBI legal-attaché offices have been opened in Estonia, Ukraine, and Poland.

The FBI, furthermore, engages in criminal investigations abroad and can assist in arrests on foreign soil. An official government directive of 1989, the so-called Barr opinion, authorizes the FBI to aid with extraterritorial arrests (Woods 1996). But the Mansfield Amendment specifies that U.S. police cannot actually participate in foreign arrests.

The international training program directed by the FBI has recently undergone an important development. Since many years, the FBI has been training foreign police agents in the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Virginia. Additionally, the FBI has been the main agency to set up the International Law Enforcement Academy in Budapest, Hungary. Opened in April 1995, the Academy offers to students from Russia, Eastern Europe, and the Baltic states courses in advanced techniques to combat modern crime with respect for human and civil rights. The FBI has also set up police training programs in other countries, especially with a view of tackling the rise in international crime related to drugs and terrorism.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration

Established in 1973, the United States Drug Enforcement Administration is the primary American agency responsible for the fight against illicit drugs. Thus the DEA is also responsible for programs associated with drug enforcement at the U.S. border as well as abroad and serves as liaison with various organizations involved with international drug control. In the DEA’s Operations Division is located the Office of International Operations to oversee its international work. The DEA plays the leading role in U.S. world policing and has more officers abroad than any other American police agency.

DEA agents are stationed in towns at America’s borders and near major ports of travel by air and at sea. Most recently, the U.S. Justice Department has stepped up its efforts alongside the 2,000 mile U.S.-Mexican border where the DEA cooperates with other police agencies. The Southwest Border Project, in particular, is a major investigative anti-drug effort involving FBI and DEA at the U.S.-Mexican border. At the U.S.-Mexican border, nearly one hundred DEA agents are currently stationed to target the operations of the Mexican drug cartels.

The DEA has a foreign liaisons system even more extensive than the FBI’s. In 1994, more than 300 DEA agents (out of a total of about 3,000 special agents) and some 120 staff persons stationed in 73 foreign locations. By 1996, about 500 DEA agents were stationed abroad. In various countries of the world, but mainly in the so-called drug-producing nations, DEA agents also collaborate with foreign police in investigative work and in training programs.

Interpol Washington

The International Criminal Police Organization, better known as Interpol, is a cooperation of 176 member states and aims to provide and promote mutual assistance between criminal police authorities within the limits of national laws and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The United States originally joined Interpol in 1938. Authority for Interpol in the U.S. rests with the Attorney General, but while originally the FBI represented the United States in Interpol, from the late 1950s onwards it was the responsibility of the Treasury Department. In 1969, the U.S. National Central Bureau (USNCB) was established within Treasury. Currently the Bureau, or Interpol-Washington, is an office directed by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and managed jointly by DOJ and the Treasury Department. USNCB is headed by chief Shelley Altenstadter, a former U.S. Customs official, employs some 81 people, and is functionally divided in five divisions. The Alien/Fugitive Enforcement Division coordinates work surrounding international fugitives from justice. The Financial Fraud/Economic Crimes Division handles economic crimes, while the Criminal Investigations Division focuses on a variety of international crimes and the Drug Investigations Division on drug crimes in particular. The fifth division is State Liaison. The investigative staffs of these divisions exist exclusively of state and federal agents from various police agencies. The Financial Fraud/Economic Crimes Division, for instance, is staffed by agents from the U.S. Customs Service, the Secret Service, the Internal Revenue Service, and the Postal Inspection Service. The USNCB is also linked through a liaison system with various local police in the United States and through an automated information network with Interpol Ottawa in Canada.

American Involvement in Multilateral and Bilateral Police Cooperation

American participation in multinational efforts of law enforcement is not very well developed. Mention can be made of American participation in Interpol and law-enforcement projects directed by the United Nations, but, clearly, the United States has an ambivalent relationship with these multinational agencies (Zagaris 1996a). Instead, unilateral and bilateral cooperation strategies are favored by American police. Next to the FBI and DEA, many other American police agencies are (often simultaneously) involved in international police work. First, there are various local and state police forces with international assignments. Examples are the San Diego police and other municipal forces close to the border. Additionally, local police is involved with training programs with foreign law enforcement personnel. Furthermore, the following federal agencies have important international police tasks: the U.S. Coast Guard, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (including U.S. Border Patrol), the U.S. Customs Service, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the Secret Service, the Internal Revenue Service, the Postal Inspection Service, the Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs in the Justice Department, and the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (McGillis 1997).

The American "war on drugs" is a major factor in the internationalization of American police power. It influenced the work of many other agencies to also become more international in scope. U.S. Customs Service in Southern California, for instance, stepped up law enforcement efforts against the flow of drugs from Mexico to the U.S. The U.S. Marshals Service is also affected, for among its tasks are fugitives, terrorism and drug trafficking. The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) within the U.S. Department of Transportation is also involved in the fight against drugs, specifically the flow of drugs over the high seas and waters that are under U.S. jurisdiction.

The U.S. State Department is increasingly involved in international police matters because the U.S. government views the international crime problem as a component of foreign policy and national security, not just a law enforcement issue. The State Department has a division specialized in International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs and its Bureau of Diplomatic Security has agents at embassies and consulates throughout the world.

Another important recent development in the internationalization of U.S. policing relates to the increase in monetary crimes (money laundering) and the accompanying rise in organized crime. International fraud schemes operated by mail and phone from Canada to the USA, for instance, are handled by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and U.S. Customs. Mention should also be made, finally, of the rise of private initiative in international police work. The National Insurance Crime Bureau, for instance, cooperates with the FBI on cases involving stolen cars (U.S. House 1995:16).

Protecting America at Home and Abroad

Next to the war on drugs and the rise of monetary crimes, the defense of the American border and the protection of American interests in political stability abroad have done most to intensify U.S. involvement in international police work.

Sealing the Border

In terms of control of America’s borders, the Immigration and Naturalization Service is mainly responsible for administering and enforcing the nation’s laws on immigration (U.S. General Accounting Office 1996). Three of the principal enforcement divisions of INS are Border Patrol, Investigations, and Inspections. Investigations and Inspection are responsible for 1) identifying criminal and illegal aliens, 2) reviewing employers’ records to look for unauthorized labor, 3) investigating smuggling, 4) inspecting passengers aboard ships and airplanes entering the country, and 5) enforcement of laws against drugs and smuggling.

U.S. Border Patrol, created in 1924, operates alongside of Investigations and Inspections. By 1994, there were more than 4,000 Border Patrol agents stationed in 145 stations. Agents are required to patrol the border to prevent smuggling and illegal entry and apprehend smugglers and illegal aliens after entry. Most recently, the strategy has been to station more and more agents at the borders in a very visible fashion in order to deter aliens from attempting illegal entry. As of early 1996, new agents have been stationed at the control posts and new equipment, including a computerized fingerprint tracking system, and new fencing have been added. Since April 1997, Border Patrol is in the process of upgrading its weaponry to include semi-automatic guns. Also, military forces have joined in the fight against border crimes and, relatedly, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) has a division of agents specialized in international enforcement, especially of gun and liquor smuggling.

The American Export of Democratic Policing

As part of the U.S. policy to foster the development of democratic regimes abroad, American police also aid in promoting the rule of law, especially to create independent but effective systems of police in various parts of the world and particularly in the new democracies. Special mention should be made of the U.S. police training program which was put into practice when in 1994 President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was restored to office in Haiti. Supported by the U.S. Justice Department’s International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program, the FBI directed a National Police Academy in Port-au-Prince, with instructors from the U.S., France, Norway, and Canada. The U.S. in the meantime withdrew from the program and left control to a U.N.-mandated civilian police.

2. Achievements and Limitations of American International Policing

There are various vices and virtues of American participation in international law enforcement. Reviewing these, mention can first be made of the uneasy membership of the United States in Interpol. The international organization has often been criticized for a number of reasons, including its Nazi past, its negligence in fighting terrorism and Nazi war criminals, its inclusion of nations suspected of involvement in terrorism (Deflem 1996a). Interpol often also faces local resistance and limits placed by host governments. From the U.S. point of view, there has never been much enthusiasm for Interpol, because the network is thought to be slow and dependent on national governments (Anderson 1997).

Additionally, the U.S. war on drugs, while entailing impressive and technically sophisticated operations, has according to many observers had little effect on the availability and price of drugs. Mostly, it seems, there occurs only a dispersion of the problem: the drug trade moves away from locales with heightened enforcement activities into regions were policing activities are relatively few or ineffective. Some observers even suggest that the very strategy of prohibition is not only inefficient and costly but also a major cause of criminal activity, because it leads to the formation of organized gangs violently taking and maintaining control of the drug trade (Nadelmann and Wenner 1994). Hence, the very strategy of prohibition, national as well as international, is questioned (Nadelmann 1998; Gardner 1993). Others, however, feel that only better and more international police cooperation within a prohibitive framework can lead to reduce the flow of drugs.

Serious issues, moreover, are posed by the military involvement in American border control operations and the redefinition of border policing as a "militarized" national security issue (Dunn 1996). At the border, especially with Mexico, the INS and other U.S. police have reportedly been guilty of an excessive use of force, leading to serious concerns surrounding human rights (Holmes 1998; Martinez 1994; Nunez 1992; Dunn 1996:85-90).

Furthermore, there are some remarkable manifestations of differential enforcement at the United States’ two borders. Indeed, the role of Border Patrol greatly expanded during the 1980s but mainly for reasons of a greater protection of the U.S. economy from a "Mexican invasion" of illegal workers, a Canadian-American equivalent of which is absent. Assisted by many other law enforcement agencies, Border Patrol’s means of policing have expanded and become more sophisticated to target the U.S.-Mexican border as a "war zone". INS also made the U.S.-Mexican border its top priority because the drug trade has shifted to that country. Currently plans are to increase the number of the Patrol agents to a total of 7,000. The northern border, in comparison, accounts for only 1% of all of the Patrol’s arrests.

Perhaps most critical is that American law enforcement at the borders and abroad is mostly, and despite participation in cooperation efforts, unilaterally involved in international activities. This may create, and has in fact often created, tensions with foreign police because of a perceived American autonomy which impedes cooperation. Similarly, moreover, there occur problems within the United States because of a lack of inter-agency cooperation. Often, indeed, various U.S. agencies work on the same issues, but hardly together. Past problems include failure to participate in one another’s fugitive task forces, disagreements over responsibilities, and failure to cooperate with the apprehension of foreign fugitives.

On the international level, lack of cooperation and distrust between American law enforcement officers and police of other nations are even more poignant problems. Particularly troublesome to American law enforcement is the lack of professionalism and the corruption of police abroad, for which reason U.S. police sometimes forgoes cooperation altogether and works abroad unilaterally. But this is no perfect solution either, as the case of Alvarez-Machain will illustrate.

Since the early 1980s, when U.S. and Mexican authorities began cooperating in the fight against drug trafficking, DEA special agents have conducted numerous operations in Mexico. On February 7, 1985, one such agent, Enrique Camarena-Salazar, was kidnapped by drug traffickers in Guadalajara, Mexico. He was tortured and killed. Several Mexican nationals were tried and convicted for the crime. Humberto Alvarez-Machain, a Mexican physician, was suspected to have aided in the torture. In 1990, Alvarez-Machain and others were abducted and brought to the United States, where they were arrested by DEA officials. DEA agents, it was revealed, had assisted in the kidnapping (Aceves 1996; McDonnell 1996; Michell 1996).

A district court in California ruled that the abduction violated the extradition treaty between the U.S. and Mexico. The United States appealed and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the ruling. On June 15, 1992, the United States Supreme Court reversed the decision (U.S. v. Alvarez Machain 1992). Based on the so-called "Ker-Frisbie" doctrine, the Court decided that the transborder abduction of Alvarez did not violate conditions of the extradition treaty between the U.S. and Mexico. The trial against Alvarez-Machain started on December 1, 1992, in Los Angeles, but two weeks later, the judge in the case granted a motion for acquittal because of a lack of evidence.

The Supreme Court was heavily criticized in the United States because its decision in this case could lead to a state of lawlessness and because it could hinder further international cooperation. U.S. Congress held hearings on the matter and legislation was proposed. Abroad, the decision was also criticized and, as a result, several countries sought that their extradition treaties with the U.S. would contain a prohibition on transborder abductions. Mexican authorities threatened to suspend cooperation with U.S. law enforcement agencies. The Mexican Foreign Ministry announced that all foreign national participating in law enforcement activities in Mexico would be arrested. All cooperation with the DEA was initially suspended. Following negotiations between Mexican and U.S. officials, then President Bush announced that the U.S. would no longer engage in transborder abductions. The Department of Justice in August 1992 issued a memorandum that specified that U.S. law enforcement agencies could not partake in abductions abroad. After President Clinton took office and talked with then Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari, he also expressed opposition to transborder abductions. In 1994, the U.S. and Mexico officially agreed upon a "Treaty to Prohibit Transborder Abductions."


In Mexico, the police function is assigned to federal and local levels of government. Even more so than in the United States, however, it is mainly Mexico’s federal police which is involved in international police tasks. Most strikingly, the story of Mexican involvement in international police work relates to problems and failures much more than any achievements.

1. Issues, Forms, and Structures of Mexican International Policing

The Mexican Federal Judicial Police

The Federal Judicial Police is Mexico’s national law enforcement agency.It answers to the Mexican attorney general and is responsible for the enforcement of serious federal crimes, such as drug trade, arms running, and piracy. The federal police also entertains a system of liaison officers posted with Mexican consulates. Over the years, political instability has affected Mexico’s police tremendously, particularly through the changing perception of the police involvement in the drug trade. Mexican police, indeed, is widely reported to be involved in the trade of drugs, actively through assistance or passively through corruption. In August 1996, more than 700 of the about 4,400 federal police agents were dismissed. In the border state of Baja California, the entire federal police division was replaced. Relatedly, federal police can often not rely on local police in Mexico to aid in their investigations. City police sometimes claim that they are not responsible for narcotics and thus they can remain passive and non-cooperative.

In the late 1980s, the Mexican government stepped up its anti-drug trafficking efforts. This renewed policy was instigated because of changes in the flow of drugs and U.S. calls for heightened alertness against the Mexican drug cartels. The drug flow from Southern America into the USA, indeed, has since the 1980s experienced a shift from Colombia to Mexico. Some reports claim that the significance of the Colombian cartels (the Cali and Medellin cartels) has been eclipsed by the work of Mexican-based drug traffickers. Ironically, this could be the result, at least in part, because of heightened anti-drug enforcement in Colombia.

In 1990, the Northern Border Response Force (NBRF) was set up in the Mexican Federal Judicial Police in order to fight drug traffickers operating from Mexico. In 1993, the Mexican government established the National Institute to Combat Drugs (INCD) to specifically target the drug trade. Considering the developments of this office, the difficulties typical for Mexico’s policing are immediately revealed. In December 1996, the head of the anti-drug Institute was fired and former army general Jesus Gutierrez Rebollo was appointed as the Institute’s new head. Gutierrez was the third person to head the Institute in as many years of existence. Also in December 1996, Mexico’s seventh attorney general in 8 years was appointed and various army officers were given command of state and municipal police forces.

The Mexican office of Interpol resides with the Federal Judicial Police bureau in Mexico City. The Mexican Interpol office is a clearinghouse, but its officers have been known to be involved in operational work. In 1994, agents from Interpol-Mexico investigated the assassination of Luis Donaldo Colosio, a candidate for the Mexican presidency. In Tijuana, a Mexican town close to the U.S. border, their efforts were accompanied by similar investigations carried out by Mexico’s judicial police, the FBI, and the San Diego police. In July 1994, the Federal Police Commander and director of Interpol-Mexico, Emilio Islas Rangel, was arrested by the Mexican attorney general’s office for insubordination. But in August 1996, the then director of judicial police was fired and replaced by Rangel.

Bilateral Police Cooperation Between Mexico and the U.S.

Police cooperation between U.S. and Mexican law enforcement mainly concerns anti-drug efforts and, relatedly, border control. The Northern Border Response Force, for example, is a specialized unit within the Mexican federal police which cooperates with DEA agents. Mexico also collaborates with the U.S. in enforcing immigration laws (Dunn 1996:94-96). In turn, the Mexican government separately enforces laws against undocumented immigrants en route to the USA. During the presidency of George Bush in the USA and Salinas in Mexico, collaboration between U.S. and Mexican police generally improved. In 1990 an elite group of police officials was formed, the so-called Grupo Beta, in Tijuana, designed to curb violence in the area and the influence of corruption. The group collaborated with U.S. Border Patrol and the Border Crime Intervention Unit, a joint project of Border Patrol and the San Diego Police (Dunn 1996:96-98). Mexican law enforcement, furthermore, participates since 1994 with American police in the Southwest Border Project. Also proposed are a series of Bilateral Task Forces comprised of U.S. and Mexican police. A more formal memorandum of understanding to foster and regulate law enforcement cooperation between the two countries was signed in 1996. Finally, there is cooperation between the U.S. and Mexico on matters of police training (Dunn 1996:138-140).

2. Achievements and Limitations of Mexican International Policing

Institutionalized Corruption

Two problems haunt Mexican international police efforts and overshadow all else: corruption and violence as a result of actions by the powerful drug lords and organized crime groups. The violence by and against Mexican police has since the growth of Mexican involvement in the drug trade taken on dramatic proportions. According to one estimate, some 200 Mexican law enforcement officers were killed in the fiscal year ending October 1996. Most recently, in April 1997, Mexican authorities requested and received the aid from two FBI agents to help in investigations related to the killing of two anti-drug agents. These killings usually go unsolved and deter police actions against drugs and intimidate people from a career in law enforcement.

The extent of corruption related to the drug trade and organized crime is so widespread in Mexican public life that the country has been referred to as a "narcodemocracy" (Law Enforcement News, January 15, 1997). From top to bottom and across all levels of government, it seems, corruption and active involvement in drug trafficking play a role. In 1993, former Interpol chief Migual Aldans Ibarra was sentenced to 12 years in prison on drug and weapon charges (PR Newswire, June 30, 1993). Recently, on February 6, 1997, two Mexican generals and the head of Mexico’s National Institute to Combat Drugs, Gutierrez, along with 36 of his partners in crime, have been arrested. Guiterrez’ arrest came less than two months after he had accepted to head Mexico’s national anti-drug agency. The Institute was then reportedly in total disarray.

Mexican judges and politicians, moreover, are also not immune from corruption. In April 1997, a judge in Guadalajara granted an appeal to a Mexican drug trafficker convicted for the 1985 murder of DEA agent Camarena. Another judge in the same Mexican city dropped all charges against a man accused of heading a powerful Mexican drug cartel. These and other cases have raised suspicions from U.S. and Mexican officials. Most publicly of the political involvement in corruption and drugs, the brother of former Mexican president Salinas has, according to Swiss authorities, been paid millions of dollars to protect narcotics shipments.

Consequences of Police Corruption

Corruption has had detrimental consequences for police in Mexico and the USA and for U.S.-Mexican police cooperation. While Mexican authorities are appalled by the implication that Mexico would inevitably be a country rampant with criminality and corruption, the Mexican government was forced to respond to the undeniable fact of corruption in, and lack of cooperation from, its police. In April 1996, Mexican authorities drafted new anti-crime laws designed to more forcefully punish money laundering, crack down on drug manufacturing, and use new means of electronic surveillance (Dallas Morning News, April 27, 1996). President Ernesto Zedillo has also turned to the military, putting army generals in top police positions and recruiting soldiers into the ranks of agents involved in the war on drugs. In Mexico City, for instance, some 3,000 soldiers were deployed in March 1997 to direct traffic and walk the beat.

In the United States, the political response to the problem of police cooperation with Mexico has been critical but diplomatic nonetheless. In February 1997, a U.S. House committee first voted to decertify Mexico as a partner in the war against drugs, and on March 12 the U.S. House voted to impose sanctions on Mexico for not fully cooperating with the United States in the fight against drugs. Yet, eventually, the Senate approved President Clinton’s designation of Mexico as a U.S. ally in anti-drug efforts. Likewise, Barry McCaffrey, a former general who now is President Clinton’s drug czar as the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, confirmed that the United States government remains committed to enhanced cooperation with Mexico (NBC Evening News, February 10, 1997). These actions came after Mexican officials had threatened to expel DEA agents from Mexico if the U.S. government would censure Mexican efforts against drug trafficking.

There are, as noted, various cooperation efforts involving American and Mexican police. These are not without results. In January 1996, for instance, Mexican drug agents arrested one of America’s most wanted drug trafficker and deported him to Houston. The suspect, a Texas native called Juan Garcia Abrego, featured on the FBI’s 10 most wanted list and his arrest was heralded as the result of joint efforts by U.S. and Mexican police. Most often, however, cooperation between the U.S. and Mexico is criticized, particularly by American officials. U.S.-Mexican police cooperation has been condemned as a farce because of the rampant existence of corruption in Mexico’s police, because the Judicial police has a very poor record on matters of human rights and because of Mexico’s reluctance to honor American requests for extradition. DEA agents have gone as far as to argue that they never really trust their Mexican counterparts, even when they do collaborate. Mexican authorities, in turn, have asserted that the U.S. should reduce the demand for drugs in the United States rather than focus exclusively on the drug trade. Needless to argue that these mutual suspicions are serious obstacles in police collaboration.


In Canada, law enforcement is a responsibility shared by local and national levels of government. Next to the Canadian federal police, there are regional police forces in Canada’s eight provinces, two territories, and 200 municipalities, with additional provincial police in Ontario and Quebec. International police duties are to some extent shared by police agencies at all levels, but Canada’s federal police, the famous Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), is the most important force with assignments international in scope.

1. Issues, Forms, and Structures of Canadian International Policing

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) was formed in the late 19th century and is under the authority of the Canadian Department of Justice. Next to its many domestic functions, the RCMP engages in the following tasks of international policing: 1) it has a system of liaison officers attached to Canadian embassies or high commissions abroad; 2) it engages in other work as part of bilateral agreements, including Canadian representation in Interpol; 3) it organizes foreign police missions for special assignments; and 4) as with most other national police agencies, some tasks of the RCMP concern international crimes, including an Immigration, Passport and Citizenship Program and a Customs and Excise Program. Furthermore, local as well as central police also cooperate with the Criminal Intelligence Service Canada (CISC), a central bureau located in the RCMP headquarters ( The CISC unites all Canadian law enforcement agencies in the fight against organized crime. In cooperation with the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (CACP), the CISC and various other intelligence bureaus across Canada are also in contact with American, European, and Australian police.

The International Liaison and Protective Operations Directorate was set up in February 1995. Its components include, amongst others, Interpol (see below) and the divisions of Foreign Services and Protective Services. The division of Foreign Services maintains a system of liaison officers and provides coordination and assistance to Canadian police missions abroad.

As part of a broad bilateral system of cooperation, the RCMP cooperates most intensely with American police agencies. The significance of ties between the U.S. and Canada is obvious for reason that the United States is the only country that borders with Canada. The practical implementation of this cooperation is mostly governed by memoranda of agreement. U.S.-Canadian police collaboration concerns various activities, such as joint investigative operations and scientific detection techniques (e.g. DNA-testing). The centrality of the border explains much of the RCMP’s extradition-related activities. With other countries, the RCMP also maintains bilateral collaboration, especially with other nations that belong to the Commonwealth. These countries, indeed, share much of their system of government and police with Canada and so more easily find common ground for cooperation. Furthermore, the RCMP also trains foreign police in developing countries and in emerging democracies as part of the Department of Foreign Affairs’ foreign aid program. Training assistance also involves the organization of investigative structures which foreign police can rely on whenever cooperation in investigative matters is called for.

Finally, the RCMP is involved in police missions abroad on the occasion of certain special assignments, such as with the Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia, in the Summer of 1996. Among these missions abroad, the Canadian presence in aiding the changing police landscape in Haiti after the country’s return to democracy was particularly relevant. Haiti is predominantly French-speaking and thus French-Canadian police was well suited to assist the United States. Haitian police officials of the new democratic regime were also being trained in Canada. Specifically, Michel-Gabriel Jean-François, the current chief of Haiti’s national police, and 99 other Haitian exiles held four months of training work at the RCMP Police Academy in Regina, Saskatchewan. The main emphasis of the training was to teach police how to engage in effective work with respect for human rights.

Interpol Ottawa

Canadian representation in Interpol is since 1949 administered and operated at RCMP Headquarters in Ottawa. The National Central Bureau of Canada, generally known as "Interpol Ottawa," provides special assistance for police in the areas of offenses against persons and property, the location and extradition of fugitives, and information on stolen cultural property. To track down fugitives, Interpol Ottawa relies on the well-known system of International Notices or circulars. The Cultural Property Desk is in charge with providing expert assistance in areas of crimes against cultural property (paintings, sculptures, etc.). And a specialized database, the Register of Stolen Art and Artifacts (ROSA), is used to keep track of theft reports and exchange information with national and international police agencies.

Interpol Ottawa forwards relevant inquiries received from Canadian law enforcement agencies to foreign National Central Bureaus and it conversely passes on inquiries from abroad to Canadian police agencies. The Interpol office is also responsible for extradition matters in Canada or extradition requests made to cooperating countries. Furthermore, Interpol Ottawa operates two electronic data-networks that provides links with the Interpol General Secretariat in Lyons, France, and with American police. Interpol Ottawa is also linked with the FBI legal attaches on post at the American Embassy in Ottawa and with other U.S. law enforcement agencies, especially with respect to police work concerning fugitives. Two RCMP officers, finally, are permanently assigned at Interpol Headquarters in Lyons.

Bilateral and Local Canadian Involvement in International Police Cooperation

Next to the work done by the RCMP, various other Canadian police agencies are involved with international police tasks. In terms of bilateral cooperation, Canada entertains Mutual Legal Assistance Treaties (MLAT) with a number of countries. These treaties enable police of different countries to help each other in collecting evidence against international criminals and to aid in the international rendition of fugitives from justice. Within the Canadian Department of Justice, the International Assistance Group is responsible for the preparation of letters of request for legal assistance as part of the MLAT policy. Canada entertains Mutual Legal Assistance Treaties with many countries, such as the USA, the United Kingdom, Australia, France, and the Ukraine.

Cooperation between Canadian law enforcement forces and their counterparts in the United States is most intense and involves a variety of areas. For instance, there is more and more collaborative work on organized crime and money-laundering activities that affect both the United States and Canada. There is also a joint U.S.-Canadian Customs post maintained on the border between British Colombia and the State of Washington. In recent years, the cooperation between the U.S. and Canada in matters of the fight against drugs has also intensified. The drug flow mostly used to go from the U.S. into Canada, but now it has reversed. Possibly diverted from heightened control at the U.S.-Mexican border, drugs are now imported more and more into Canada, from South America and Asia, destined for the United States. Since March 1995, Canada and the U.S. mutually share proceeds of seized assets in cases that involved cooperation. The RCMP is the chief Canadian agency responsible for drug work, but it receives assistance from the Canada Customs Border Service, the Canadian Coast Guard and the Canadian Navy (which has been asked to step up patrol at sea).

Canada entertains Treaties of Extradition with other countries typically only when certain conditions are met, especially that criminal procedures in the foreign country requesting an extradition abide by standards of due process and human rights. Yet, the possibility of implementing the death penalty Canadian authorities do not consider an obstacle to deportation in case the crime was committed on foreign soil (even when it concerns a Canadian national and although the Canadian Justice Department does not consider the death penalty appropriate on Canadian territory). These bilateral agreements do not only involve the Canadian federal police, but also other law enforcement agencies, such as customs and immigration services. The American INS, moreover, has access to the Canadian Police Information Services (CPIC).

Bilateral cooperation additionally involves non-operational work, such as police training. Canadian police officers are particularly sent for training missions to England, Australia, or other countries in the Commonwealth. On matters of intelligence, similar bilateral collaboration structures are also operative with intelligence agencies from foreign countries and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and the Canadian Communication Establishment within the Department of National Defense. These forms of collaboration primarily concern issues of national security but may on occasion also pertain to criminal matters, notably when they occur on the fringes of (international) politics and crime (e.g., terrorism).

Local Canadian police forces, finally, especially those stationed close to the U.S.-Canadian border, also entertain international contacts. Mostly, only the larger local police services do their own international work, while the smaller services lack the necessary resources to cooperate in international matters and mostly delegate such duties to the RCMP. It should further be noted that, as in the United States, private police and security organizations have recently begun to take control of the international market. Major accounting firms, for instance, tackle organized and white-collar crime and its international dimensions. Private investigators include some well-known former public police officials (e.g. a former RCMP commissioner), who are privately much more free-wheeling and unrestrained by diplomacy and law.

2. Achievements and Limitations of Canadian International Policing

The problems Canadian law enforcement authorities have faced with international cooperation concern past errors and technical deficiencies in international police work and additionally relate to differences in legal systems on the two sides of the U.S.-Canadian border.

In response to criticisms on mishaps that occurred in international police strategies directed from Canada, the country’s Mutual Legal Assistance (MLAT) policy has recently been changed. In February 1997, former Justice Allan Goodman was assigned by Allan Rock, the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, to review the MLAT policy in response to a case of civil litigation resulting from a letter of request the RCMP had sent to Switzerland as part of its Airbus investigation. Former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney in November 1995 filed a libel lawsuit against the government of Canada, arguing that Canadian law enforcement, especially the RCMP, had falsely accused him of receiving kickbacks in a commercial jet purchase and that police had been overzealous in trying to obtain international help in their investigations. Specifically, a letter written on behalf of the RCMP and sent to Swiss authorities suggested that Mulroney was implicated in the purchase by Air Canada of jet aircrafts from the European company Airbus Industrie. The letter requested information on secret bank accounts allegedly opened by associates of Mulroney. But Mulroney was never charged with any crime. Hence, the appointment of Goodman should secure that the letters that are typically sent as part of an MLAT from Canadian authorities to a police abroad abide by certain legally specified standards. Specifically, these letters should follow guidelines concerning confidentiality and due process.

Canadian foreign police missions have also faced setback. Some years ago, for instance, an RCMP undercover agent was killed while in action abroad. Since then, Canadian authorities more carefully scrutinize involvement in international initiatives taken by such international bodies as the United Nations. New guidelines specify how Canadian involvement has to be conducted. Chief among these guidelines is that the officer can only be in a foreign country by explicit agreement of the government of that country and must respect its laws and abide to Canadian human rights legislation. Whenever Canadian authorities are aware of corruption or human-rights violations abroad, cooperation is not favored. Hence, there has been little or no collaboration with Soviet law enforcement and South-African police of he Apartheid regime. Such reservations, however, do not seem to apply to other less than democratic countries, such as China, where Canadian police delegations have been sent (and which in turn has sent delegations to Canada).

In terms of border-related crime and the differences between the Canadian and the American criminal justice system, the smuggling of guns and liquor have posed special problems. Gun laws are much tighter in Canada than in the USA (Ram 1995), thus creating a greater demand for guns south of the U.S.-Canadian border. Canadian Customs and other law enforcement agencies also focus on the smuggling of guns from the United States into Canada. The smuggling of liquor is of special concern because of the high taxes on alcoholic beverages in Canada. While extradition policies between the U.S. and Canada generally seem to run smoothly, there has occurred at least one case where Canada refused to extradite a man wanted in the United States on drug charges, because the man, now in jail in Canada, would be subject to mandatory sentencing in the U.S. (Leeson 1996). The potential consequences of this incident could be that American suspects of crimes would flock to Canada and that forced abductions may be applied by U.S. police. Then it could become very relevant that Canadian government authorities condemned the Alvarez-Machain action and stated that any similar enterprise in Canada would violate existing extradition treaties (Leeson 1996:658).

In relation to Canada’s immigration policies, various problems of international police have surfaced. In late 1996 and early 1997, criticisms flared against Canada for being a safe haven for Nazi war criminals. In 1995, the Canadian government adopted a policy of denaturalization of deportation of such criminals, but Canada’s policies have nonetheless been lamented as generous and hospitable to war criminals. Information turned over to the RCMP on such matters is said to have not been effectively used. Only one person has ever been deported by Canada for war crimes, a Dutch collaborator in 1992. The Office of Special Investigations in the United States, in comparison, has been involved with hundreds of such cases.

In addition, Canada faces more and more migration from Asia, especially from China and Hong Kong, and this poses special police problems. On one occasion, for instance, Canadian officials let in a Chinese drug trafficker, who was wanted by Interpol, whereupon Asian law enforcement officials lamented Canadian laxness of immigration policies (Boston Globe, April 14, 1996).

Most recently, there have been problems with the arrest in Canada of a Saudi national suspected of terrorist involvement. On March 18, 1997, Canadian authorities arrested a Saudi national in Ottawa suspected of involvement in the bombing on June 25, 1996, of the Khobar Towers barracks in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. The bombing killed 19 American soldiers and wounded hundreds of others. Based on a 7-month long phonetap inquiry, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service revealed that the man, identified as Hani Abdel Rahim al-Sayegh, was suspected to have committed a criminal act abroad, had been involved in an act of terrorism, and was a member of a terrorist organization. After al-Sayegh’s indictment, Canadian court documents accused the suspect of having scouted the bombing site and of having given the go-ahead for delivery of the truck bomb by flashing his headlights. The Hezbollah involvement is supported by more recent events. Specifically, U.S. and Saudi authorities have linked Ahmad Sherifi, an Iranian intelligence officer, to al-Sayegh and other members of a group of Shiite Muslims.


It was no coincidence that in this paper I treated first international police issues in the United States, then in Mexico and Canada, for, indeed, the dominance of U.S. law-enforcement agencies relative to their Mexican and Canadian counterparts is clearly the central component of international police cooperation in Northern America. This is manifested, most clearly, by the international work of the FBI and the DEA, which dwarfs the contributions to international policing initiatives by police from the United States’ neighboring countries. In this sense, international police work cannot rely on various participating police operating on equal footing or well-concerted efforts between nations (McDonald 1997b). Instead, as Ethan Nadelmann (1990:524) observes, international police work tends to mirror the practices of those states that play a dominant role in international society in respects other than and beyond law and police. As such, U.S. police has a global standing which matches that of the United States in world political, economic, and military affairs. Parallel developments between police, politics, and industry are no coincidence, if not in intent, then definitely and minimally with respect to their consequences.

1. Continued "Americanization" and American Dominance

It would of course be naive to argue or to accept the argument that American (and other national) involvement in international police cooperation must be stepped up, and is being stepped up, only because there is a rise in international crime (Bunnell 1995). Rather, it is critical that this connection is made by high-ranking police officers and is more and more easily accepted by political authorities in charge of offering a legislative basis and allocating funds for the planning and execution of international police operations. Most recently, it has particularly been FBI Director Freeh who has spoken out in favor of further expanding what he calls "cops-to-cops bridges". In fact, the FBI Director proclaimed the enforcement of international crime to be one of the Bureau’s major challenges, especially because of the rise in economic espionage, transnational monetary crimes (money laundering), organized crime (old and new), drug trafficking, terrorism, the smuggling of aliens into the USA, and the illegal weapons trade. These developments, in the words of Howard Shapiro, General Counsel of the FBI, require the FBI "to think more globally" and concentrate efforts on crime overseas before its consequences can reach the U.S. (Shapiro 1995:224).

Incited by some tragic incidents such as the World Trade Center bombing in February 1993 and the Oklahoma City bombing in April 1995 and because of continuing perceptions of a flood of illegal aliens and the hazards of the drug trade, the call by American police to step up international operations has by and large been successful and will likely remain so in the near future. This is also clear from the political attention and approval the issue gets. Regularly, public hearings are held on these matters in committees of the U.S. House and Senate, the legislative bodies of the American government. Strikingly, in the political forum, law enforcement officials often defend their international tasks in terms of American national security interests, at the same time emphasizing that conflicts in matters of diplomacy and concerns of foreign policy should be avoided. Indeed, the enhanced cooperation between police of the United States and other countries does definitely not mean a total abandonment of nationalist policies reminiscent of the Cold War era. Frictions between the "East" and the "West" continue to exist and may lead to undermine, or at least weaken, cooperative law-enforcement efforts across national borders.

2. Towards a Normalization of U.S.-Mexican Police Relations?

As noted earlier, cooperation between the United States and Mexico in police matters mostly revolves around the drug trade and has relatedly been hampered by the influence of corruption. The most drastic action to revive Mexico’s anti-drug effort to date was the elimination of the National Institute to Combat Drugs and its replacement, on April 30, 1997, by a new agency, the Special Prosecutor’s Office for Crimes Against Health. This Office will be headed by Mariano Herran Salvatti, the chief of the now abolished Institute, and will be located in the Institute’s former headquarters in downtown Mexico City. The 1,100 officers of the former anti-drug unit can apply to join the new force, but they and others will have to undergo rigorous testing and screening. Agents of the new drug enforcement agency will receive higher salaries and better medical and retirement benefits. Mexico’s Attorney General Jorge Madrazo Cuellar, who led the initiative, also set up a new Organized Crime Unit, specialized in fighting money laundering and arms trade. Earlier, President Zedillo had announced that U.S. police would aid in the organization of Mexico’s new anti-drug force (Los Angeles Times, April 25, 1997).

In the USA, it has been suggested that Mexico’s creation of the new anti-drug unit was but a symbolic gesture, an act of window dressing, to prepare for President Clinton’s visit to the country in early May of 1997. While Mexican officials denied the allegation, Clinton welcomed the creation of the drug force as "a very good first step." On May 2, just few days before Clinton’s visit to Mexico, U.S.-Mexican relations again appeared to be cooling off when President Zedillo stated that two requests from U.S. law enforcement would be denied without any further discussion because they violated Mexican sovereignty. The requests were intended to give DEA agents in Mexico the right to carry guns (a practice Mexico outlawed since 1992) and would give U.S. officials the right to administer polygraph tests to Mexican applicants for the new anti-drug agency. President Zedillo denied the requests because they interfered with Mexican sovereignty and violated principles of international law. At the same time Zedillo was quick to praise President Clinton’s efforts to promote international police collaboration and expressed to favor further cooperation between the two nations in matters of law enforcement (New York Times, May 3, 1997).

President Clinton’s visit to Mexico in May of 1997 produced a treaty signed by the Mexican and U.S. governments. This so-called Declaration of the United States-Mexico Alliance Against Drugs forms the current basis of U.S.-Mexican police cooperation, particularly on matters of drugs. The declaration led to the formation of the United States-Mexico High Level Contact Group for Drug Control, which drafted a binational working plan, the United States-Mexico Bi-National Drug Strategy in February of 1998. The Bi-National Strategy provides for cooperation between Mexican and U.S. police in matters of money laundering, arms trafficking, chemical control, and drug demand reduction. These initiatives seem to provide for better bilateral working relationships, but distrust and suspicion have not been eradicated.

3. Canadian Dependence on U.S. Law Enforcement

Relationships between Canadian and U.S. law enforcement officials have also undergone tensions and at present also appear to be improving, though for quite different reasons and in quite different ways than U.S.-Mexican relations. It was most critically as a result of the Saudi case that enthusiasm for Canadian cooperation from the United States diminished. Canada’s generous immigration laws have been partly blamed for Canada being a safe house for terrorist individuals and organizations. Canadian authorities acknowledged that the Islamist group Hezbollah had developed a supportive infrastructure of Muslim radicals in Canada. The Saudi suspect Canadian authorities arrested in the case of the bombing of the American military base in Saudi Arabia had entered Canada in August of 1996 and requested residence as a political refugee. Immediately following the arrest, the FBI issued a statement saying it hoped to question the suspect, but few days later U.S. officials said that there was no conclusive proof that the man was involved in the bombing. Early April 1997, American government and police officials said they were uncertain whether evidence against al-Sayegh was sufficiently strong to warrant a request for his extradition. In fact, officials of the FBI, who is primarily in charge with investigations of the bombing, stated that they had been refused permission from Canadian authorities to question the man. In response to the criticism, a spokesperson for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service said that the arrest was made on the basis of the perceived threat to Canadian security, independent of any American needs. The FBI thereupon mounted its criticisms and alleged that the arrest may have hurt ongoing investigations because it aborted a long-term surveillance effort. The FBI had earlier already criticized the Saudi authorities for a lack of cooperation, because the FBI did not receive access to suspects apprehended in Saudi Arabia in connection with the bombing. One of these suspects had been arrested in September of 1996 in Syria, but he died while in prison. American officials demanded information from Syria about the death, but faced a lack of cooperation.

The FBI later stated that it was grateful for the work of Canadian police in the investigations into the Dhahran bombing and the degree of cooperation afforded to U.S. authorities. The FBI’s public statement came shortly after April 8, 1997, when U.S. president Bill Clinton met with Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien in Washington, DC. President Clinton then said he was satisfied with Canada’s handling of the case against the Saudi suspect. In fact, during their meeting, Clinton and Chretien promised to collaborate on a whole series of customs, migration, and police-cooperation efforts in order to make the U.S.-Canadian border more user-friendly for ordinary citizens while cracking down on criminals. Specifically, the statesmen agreed to set up automated checkpoints at the border, a joint Canada-U.S. customs and immigration point, and an enhanced information exchange system (among local and federal authorities) to curb transborder kidnappings involving children. Much like was the case with Mexico, then, Canada appears to have entered a more stable phase of police cooperation with the United States on the basis of signs of goodwill on the part of the countries’ political leaders.


In this chapter I have reviewed the most important manifestations of contemporary practices, strategies, and goals of international police cooperation in Northern America. Briefly summarizing the key findings, it is clear that, first, in terms of the major issues involving international police cooperation, the trade in illicit drugs forms the prime focus of attention. Specifically, the central catalyst of international policing is the prohibitionist regime of the war on drugs. Relatedly, border control is an important concern, further accelerated by police issues surrounding immigration and illegal aliens. Additionally, though less prominently, police institutions from the United States (and to a much lesser extent Canada) have been involved with exporting democratic principles of police, especially in the newly emerging democracies.

Second, with respect to the forms of international police cooperation, there are no territories left uncharted in international police work in Northern America. Investigative assistance, the training of personnel, extradition treaties, and many other forms are operationalized. Importantly, however, the United States clearly has the upper hand in all of these initiatives. Thus, as Ethan Nadelmann (1993:189-249) has argued, an Americanization of international policing occurs at various levels: institutionally (e.g., in providing help in creating specialized drug units); operationally (e.g., training of foreign police and aiding in detective work); as well as legally (e.g., influencing the legalization of certain police techniques). Importantly, these three domains operate simultaneously and reinforce one another. And, furthermore, the flow of assistance is clearly not reciprocally mutual, but moves from center (United States) to periphery (Mexico, Canada).

Third, American dominance is also, and even more poignantly, reflected when considering the various structures of international police cooperation. Indeed, reviewing international police practices in Northern America, nothing stands out more than the preponderance of unilateral work by American police (especially the DEA and FBI) and the dominance of the same in bilateral structures. This is manifested in the case of relationships with both Canadian and Mexican police, though there is also a marked differential aspect in terms of border controls of, and willingness to cooperate with police from, both countries. This is furthermore reflected in the bilateral arrangements, such as the Mutual legal Assistance Treaties with Canada and the bilateral structures set up with Mexico (e.g., the United States-Mexico Bi-National Drug Strategy). Multilateral structures, especially Interpol, are consequently of minor significance. This situation is unlikely to change in the near future, for, as Gary Marx (1997) argues, when tensions on the appropriate ways of law enforcement occur in international police work, it is often because of conflicts with principles, interests, and concepts of national jurisdictions. And, ironically, precisely under those circumstances, misunderstandings are even more likely to occur and unilateral work may even more be preferred, which in turn can lead to an acceleration of tensions and conflicts.

Reviewing the strengths and limitations of international police cooperation in Northern America, certain achievements cannot be denied. In particular, some cooperation forms and structures have been relatively successful in terms of effectively fostering collaboration between various national police on the basis of common concerns and/or in terms of traditional measured of effectiveness (e.g., arrests, convictions). Yet, it would be unwise to accept that merely because a certain strategy of international police brings about accomplishments in certain technical respects, it would also be acceptable in terms of legality, constitutionality, and ethics (Marx 1988:89-107, 1995a). In this chapter, for instance, I have alerted not only to more or less technical gains and deficiencies of international police but also, and more importantly, uncovered more critical aspects in respect of legality (e.g., police corruption), constitutionality (e.g., in the Alvarez-Machain case), differential law enforcement (e.g., controls at the Mexican and the Canadian border), political power and dependency (e.g., American dominance in international policing), and human rights (e.g., militarization of the U.S.-Mexican border). In fact, some scholars, like James Sheptycki (1996, 1998b), have gone as far as to argue that the very practice of international police cooperation often lacks democratic accountability because and when it is unclear where and how citizens could possibly control police activities that by definition surpass the jurisdictions of national states and their legal safeguards (see, also, Deflem 1997b; McDonald 1997a; Mullan 1997). It is ironic, indeed, to note that international police practices aimed at strengthening the democratic nature of police abroad may well serve a very limited role in securing a country’s democracy. Police expert David Bayley (1997), notably, has argued that political developments are more important in that they create conditions that make nations receptive (or not) to fundamental changes at all other levels of society, including law and law enforcement.

As has been suggested elsewhere (e.g., Deflem 1997b; Marx 1995b; Nadelmann 1993:466), international police practices are shaped by a large number of factors, many of which we know from empirical research, but some of which we do not yet understand or which may undergo changes in the future. Thus it is extremely precarious to formulate bold statements on future developments of international policing. Yet, although several factors are involved in the evolution of international police cooperation and the creation of what Ethan Nadelmann (1990) has labeled "global prohibition regimes," it is clear that traditionally European and American societies have played a dominant role relative to other nations in the world. On the North-American continent this posits the United States versus Canada and Mexico, and, indicating a second inequality in international partnerships, the United States and Canada versus Mexico, whereby the latter two nations often similarly face dependencies but lack a common agenda to tackle the issue. The attempted, and largely successful, control by U.S. police in past and present initiatives of international cooperation in Northern America (and, in fact, in much of the rest of the world) is impossible to overlook. The key question for the future, then, is whether American dominance will continue to be willingly or unwillingly accepted and whether it will remain a stable factor or, conversely, will be more or less resisted and transformed? Regardless of the outcome, this is the central issue international police cooperation on the North-American continent will face in the years to come.


1 I am indebted to the participants of a seminar on international policing which I organized in the Spring of 1997 in the Law and Society Program at Kenyon College. I am especially grateful to Layne Buckley and Erin Hockman for their valuable assistance. I also thank Charles Frayer for comments on a previous draft.

2 Newspaper sources and testimonies were retrieved through Lexis-Nexis and are cited only in footnotes or text. Other sources are listed in the References section at the end of this chapter.

3 I only briefly discuss the history of international police work and refer to other sources, on which I rely here, for more detailed information; see Deflem 1996a, 1996b, 1997a; Nadelmann 1993:15-102.

4 Marenin, this volume, provides a more detailed treatment of international policing in the USA. My concern is primarily to outline the basic patterns of U.S. involvement in international police work, with a particular focus on its relationships with Mexico and Canada, the two countries which I discuss more in-depth in the following sections of this chapter.

5 See Nadelmann 1993; McGillis 1997; and the websites of the FBI ( and the U.S. Department of Justice (

6 On the FBI’s training programs, see Dunphy and Sutton (1991); "Ex-communist cops get FBI's know-how," Chicago Tribune, February 17, 1997, p. A1; "FBI takes a nibble out of crime in east Europe," Christian Science Monitor, May 7, 1996, p.1; "The role of a lifetime," Los Angeles Times, April 6, 1997, p.E2; "FBI Director announces graduation of first session of international law enforcement academy," U.S. Newswire, June 16, 1995; testimony by FBI Director Louis Freeh before the Senate Appropriations Committee, March 20, 1997.

7 I rely in this section heavily on the study of the DEA’s international work by Ethan Nadelmann (1993) and the DEA’s webpage ( See also Verbruggen 1995:174-176; "An inferno next door," U.S. News & World Reports, February 24, 1997, p.36; and congressional testimony by various DEA officials, such as AThe Threat of Heroin to the United States, testimony by DEA Administrator Thomas Constantine before the House Subcommittee on National Security, September 19, 1996 and testimony by DEA Administrator Thomas Constantine before the Senate Appropriations Committee, April 10, 1997.

8 See AU.S. Law Enforcement Response to Money Laundering Activities in Mexico, testimony by Donnie Marshall, DEA Chief of Domestic Operations, before the Subcommittee on General Oversight, September 5, 1996; ADrug Control Along the Southwest Border, testimony by Harold D. Wankel, DEA Chief of Operations, before the House Judiciary Committee, July 31, 1996; ADrug Trafficking in Mexico, and testimony by DEA Administrator Thomas A. Constantine before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, March 28, 1996.

9 See Anderson 1997; Deflem 1996a; Mills 1993;

10 See Ethridge 1996; McGillis 1997; Nadelmann (1993); the webpage of the U.S. Department of Transportation (, Department of Justice ( and U.S. Customs Service (

11 See U.S. House (1995, 1996); AFBI Involvement in Haiti, Hearing of the House Judiciary Committee, Federal News Service, January 31, 1996.

12 From a legal viewpoint, the Alvarez-Machain case involves many complexities (Peterson 1992). In terms of customary international law, foreign police activities are only lawful when they take place with the host country’s consent. Yet an official Department of Justice memorandum once proclaimed that the FBI can engage in arrests abroad Ain a manner that departs from international law (cited in Aceves 1996:145). International treaties appear to outlaw transborder abductions but they usually do not address the matter explicitly.

13 This section relies on Zagaris 1996b; "Mexico's law enforcement turnover frustrates war on drugs," Washington Post, December 5, 1996, p.A4; and "Mexico's military leads drug fight," Boston Globe, December 8, 1996, p.A16.

14 See "One Mr. Paron here, and another one there," New York Times, October 20, 1995, p.A9; "In the Americas: Interpol-Mexico chief is arrested," Miami Herald, July 24, 1994, p.A19; and "Interpol quietly begins its own investigation of Colosio killing," The San Diego Union-Tribune, April 16, 1994, p.A4.

15 Testimony by DEA Administrator Thomas Constantine, February 25, 1997.

16 On the role of violence in Mexican policing, see Chevigny 1996 and "Mexico reforms drug force," New York Times, May 1, 1997, p.A2.

17 The problem of corruption in the Mexican police and its implications for the war on drugs and cooperation with U.S. law enforcement is well documented, especially because it has drawn much attention from the American press. I have especially relied on "Mexico army takes police role, Chicago Tribune, April 11, 1997, p.A8; "Mexican corruption is cause for concern here," Dallas Morning News, February 28, p.29A; "Mexico threatens to oust DEA agents," Dallas Morning News, March 19, 1997, p.1A; "Mexico's anti-drug effort faces corruption at every level," The Houston Chronicle, March 9, 1997, p.A34; "Mexico deports alleged drug cartel chief to U.S., Los Angeles Times, January 16, 1996, p.A1; "Decision met with relief in Mexico, ire in Colombia," Los Angeles Times, March 1, 1997, p.A8; "Drug case tests Mexico's cooperation," Los Angeles Times, March 7, 1997, p.A1; "Mexico takes aim at police drug corruption," Los Angeles Times, April 25, 1997, p.A1; "Shadow on the border," New York Times, February 23,1997, p.A1; "Drugs connect Mexico leaders to abduction," New York Times, March 9, 1997, p.1; "Senate backs Clinton on endorsing Mexico's anti-drug efforts," New York Times, March 21, 1997, p.A5; "Swiss to seize Malinas millions, tying the money to drugs," New York Times, April 4, 1997, p.A3; and "Latins certify anger at U.S., Washington Post, February 28, 1997, p.A16.

18 "DEA chief's comments spark uproar," Dallas Morning News, April 27, 1996, p.A2.

19 The head of the DEA, Thomas Constantine, blamed anti-drug efforts on the fact that Mexican police are low-paid and insufficiently trained and that they do not have various means at their disposal, such as wiretaps and witness protection programs. More commendable, according to Constantine, is that the Mexican legislature has been passing tougher laws (see ADrug Control in the Western Hemisphere, testimony by DEA Administrator Thomas A. Constantine before the House Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, June 6, 1996).

20 Various sources provided useful information on the international tasks of Canadian police agencies. I especially rely on the websites of the RCMP (, the Canadian Department of Justice (, the Criminal Intelligence Service Canada ( and the Canadian Police College (, newspapers, and articles by Leeson (1996) and Ram (1995).

21 Sheptycki (1998a) reports that the RCMP plans a computerized data base system on serial killers and violent criminals (the Violent Crime Linkage System) that would link information across police agencies from various countries.

22 See "Haiti police struggle for respect," Chicago Sun-Times, April 14, 1996, p.65; "Haiti pins future on police courts," Washington Post, February 1, 1995, p.A15; and "In Canada, 99 Haitians learn police work from Mounties," New York Times, January 10, 1995, p.A8..

23 See the website of Interpol’s national central bureau in Canada,

24 See Roach and Friedland 1996; "Toll soars in Canada's drug war," Boston Globe, March 22, 1995, p.A1; " "Smugglers shipping drugs from Asia through Canada to U.S., New York Times, January 31, 1995, p.A6; and "U.S. will not get share of Canadian proceeds from drug arrests," New York Times, March 26, 1995, p.A3.

25 On the airbus case, see "Mulroney sues Canada for $37 million," Washington Post, November 21, 1995, p.A13; "Canada extends apology to pair," Washington Post, January 10, p.A27; and "In settling, Canada seen in ill light," Boston Globe, January 13, 1997, p.A2.

26 See "Tightening of gun laws attracts U.S. smugglers," Dallas Morning News, September 24, 1995, p.31A; "U.S.-Canada gunrunning booms," Washington Post, September 16, 1995, p.A19; "To curb violence, Canada tries to block guns from U.S.," The Christian Science Monitor, March 14, 1995, p.1, and "Liquor bootleggers go north," Baltimore Sun, April 24, 1996), p.1A.

27 On the Canadian record in prosecuting Nazi war criminals, see :Hunting for Nazis in Canada," Los Angeles Times, January 13, 1997, p.A1 and "Canada to look harder for suspected Nazis," Boston Globe, November 27, 1996, p.A1.

28 See "The new Canadians," Boston Globe, April 14, 1996, p.14.

29 See "Canada holds two Saudi suspects in Dhahran bombing," Los Angeles Times, March 23, 1997, p. A1; "Canada places suspect at scene of deadly bombing, Los Angeles Times, March 28, 1997, p. A21; "Hezbollah support network in Canada alleged, Los Angeles Times, March 29, 1997, p. A6; "Canada arrests Saudi too soon, U.S. officials say," Los Angeles Times, April 4, 1997, p.A14; "Syria reportedly rebuffed bid to name terrorist," Los Angeles Times, April 5, 1997, p.A10; "Syria refuses to seize Saudi blast suspect, Washington Post, April 5, 1997, p.A1; "Iranian aide linked to bombing suspect," Washington Post, April 13, 1997, p.A1; "Iran link to Saudi bombing alleged," Chicago Tribune, April 3, 1997, p.A3; "F.B.I. exits Saudi investigation," New York Times, November 2, 1996, p.A3; "Second Saudi held by Canada cleared in bombing," New York Times, April 3, 1997, p.A7; "Foreign role in '96 Saudi bombing unproven, U.S. says," New York Times, April 5, 1997, p.A4; "Chretien could face heat in the U.S., The Toronto Sun, April 4, 1997, p.37; "Chretien off to U.S.," The Toronto Sun, April 6, 1997), p.1; "Syria refused to seize bombing suspect," International Herald Tribune, April 7, 1997, p.9; and Arm's length friends," Time, April 7, 1997.

30 See testimony by Louis Freeh, Senate Appropriations Committee, hearing on the fiscal year 1997, FDCH Congressional testimony, May 16, 1996.

31 Committee hearings on international crime affecting U.S. law enforcement have been held quite regularly in recent years, especially since the U.S. involvement in Haiti and the easing of relationships with eastern Europe; see, e.g., AFBI Involvement in Haiti, Hearing of the House Judiciary Committee, January 31, 1996; AInternational Crime, Hearing of the Senate Foreign Operations Subcommittee, March 12, 1996; AFBI Investigation into Saudi Bombing, Hearing of the House Judiciary Committee, February 12, 1997.

32 See "Mexico replaces inept, corrupt anti-drug force," Los Angeles Times, May 1, 1997, p.A1; "A promising fresh start for Mexico in drug war," Los Angeles Times, May 2, 1997, p.B8; "Mexico reforms drug force," New York Times, May 1, 1997, p.A2; and "Mexico scraps corrupted drug agency," Washington Post, May 1, 1997, p.A25...

33 "Mexico takes aim at police drug corruption," Los Angeles Times, April 25, 1997, p.A1.

34 "Zedillo describes 'cancer' of drugs eating at Mexico, New York Times, May 3, 1997, p.A20.

35 For recent developments of U.S.-Mexican police relations, see the DEA statements on AAnti-Narcotics Cooperation with the Government of Mexico, Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Senate Drug Caucus, October 29, 1997; AInternational Organized Crime Syndicates and Their Impact on the United States, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, February 26, 1998; and the website of the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy,

36 See FBI Investigation into Saudi Bombing, Hearing of the House Judiciary Committee, Federal News Service, February 12, 1997.


Aceves, William J. 1996. "The Legality of Transborder Abductions." Southwestern Journal of Law and Trade in the Americas 3:101-175.
Anderson, Malcolm. 1997. "Interpol and the Developing System of International Police Cooperation." Pp. 89-102 in Crime and Law Enforcement in the Global Village, edited by W.F. McDonald. Cincinnatti, OH: Anderson.

Asnis, Shoshanah, V. 1996. "Controlling the Russian Mafia: Russian Legal Confusion and U.S. Jurisdictional Power-Play." Connecticut Journal of International Law 11:299-324.

Bayley, David H. 1997. "Who Are We Kidding? or Developing Democracy Through Public Reform." Pp. 59-64 in Policing in Emerging Democracies: Workshop Papers and Highlights. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs.

Bunnell, John E. 1995. "Global Crime Calls for Global Partnerships." FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin 64(9):6-7.

Chevigny, Paul. 1996. "Law and order? Policing in Mexico City and Kingston, Jamaica." NACLA Report on the Americas 30:24-30.

Deflem, Mathieu. 1996a. "Borders of Police Force: Historical Foundations of International Policing Between Germany and the United States." Ph.D. Dissertation. Department of Sociology, University of Colorado.

____. 1996b. "International Policing in Nineteenth-Century Europe." International Criminal Justice Review 6:36-57.

____. 1997a. "Surveillance and Criminal Statistics: Historical Foundations of Governmentality." Studies in Law, Politics and Society 17:149-184.

____. 1997b. "Policing International Society: Views from the United States." Review essay. Police Forum 7(3):6-8.

Dunn, Timothy J. 1996. The Militarization of the U.S.-Mexico Border, 1978-1992. Austin, TX: CMAS Books.

Dunphy, Francis R. and Judith B. Sutton. 1991. "The International Law Enforcement Officer and the FBI National Academy." The Police Journal 64(4):345-355.

Ethridge, Philip A. 1996. "Combatting Vehicle Theft Along the Texas Border." FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin 65(1):10-13.

Gardner, Sharon A. 1993. "A Global Initiative to Deter Drug Trafficking: Will Internationalizing the Drug War Work?" Temple International and Comparative Law Journal 7:287-317.

Holmes, M.D. 1998. "Perceptions of Abusive Police Practices in a U.S.-Mexico Border Community." Social Science Journal 35:107-118.

Leeson, Jami. 1996. "Refusal to Extradite: An Examination of Canada’s Indictment of the American legal System." Georgia Journal of International and Comparative Law 25:641-658.

McDonald, William F. ed., 1997a. Crime and Law Enforcement in the Global Village. Cincinnatti, OH: Anderson.

____. 1997b. "Illegal Immigration: Crime, Ramifications, and Control." Pp. 65-86 in Crime and Law Enforcement in the Global Village, edited by W.F. McDonald. Cincinnatti, OH: Anderson.

McDonnell, Thomas M. 1996. "Defensively Invoking Treaties in American Courts." William & Mary Law Review 37:1401-1512.

McGillis, Daniel. 1997. "U.S. Government International Justice Assistance: Overview of Major Activities." Pp. 75-88 in Policing in Emerging Democracies: Workshop Papers and Highlights. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs.

Martinez, Roberto L. 1994. "NAFTA’s Effect on Human Rights at the Border." University of California Davis Law Review 27:979-985.

Marx, Gary T. 1988. Undercover: Police Surveillance in America. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

____. 1995a. "Undercover: Some Implications for Policy." Pp. 313-321 in Undercover: Police Surveillance in Comparative Perspective, edited by C. Fijnaut and G.T. Marx. The Hague: Kluwer Law International.

____. 1995b. "Undercover in Comparative Perspective: Some Implications for Knowledge and Social Research." Pp. 323-337 in Undercover: Police Surveillance in Comparative Perspective, edited by C. Fijnaut and G.T. Marx. The Hague: Kluwer Law International.

____. 1997. "Social Control Across Borders." Pp. 23-40 Crime and Law Enforcement in the Global Village, edited by W.F. McDonald. Cincinnatti, OH: Anderson.

Michell, P. 1996. "English-Speaking Justice: Evolving Responses to Transnational Forcible Abduction After Alvarez-Machain." Cornell International Law Journal 29:383-500.

Mills, Darrell W. 1993. "International Assistance for U.S. Police." The Police Chief 60(10):40-55.

Mullan, G. 1997. "The Concept of Double Criminality in the Context of Extraterritorial Crimes." Criminal Law Review (January):17-29.

Nadelmann, Ethan A. 1990. "Global Prohibition Regimes: The Evolution of Norms in International Society." International Organization 44(4):479-526.

____. 1993. Cops Across Borders: The Internationalization of U.S. Criminal Law Enforcement. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press.

____. 1998. "Commonsense Drug Policy." Foreign Affairs 77:111-126.

Nadelmann, Ethan A. and Jann S. Wenner. 1994. "Toward a Sane National Drug Policy." Rolling Stone (May 5):24-26.

Nunez, Michael J. 1992. "Violence at Our Border." Hastings Law Journal 43:1573-1605.

Peterson, Lance R. 1992. "A First Amendment-Sixth Amendment Dilemma: Manuel Noriega Pushes the American Judicial System to the Outer Limits of the First Amendment." The John Marshall Law Review 25(3):563-594.

Ram, Christopher D. 1995. "Living Next to the United States: Recent Developments in Canadian Gun Control Policy, Politics, and Law." New York Law School Journal of International and Comparative Law 15:279-313.

Roach, Kent and M.L. Friedland. 1996. "Borderline Justice: Policing in the Two Niagaras." American Journal of Criminal Law 23:241-352.

Shapiro, Howard M. 1995. "The FBI in the 21st Century." Cornell International Law Journal 28:219-228.

Sheptycki, J.W.E. 1996. "Law Enforcement, Justice and Democracy in the Transnational Arena: Reflections on the War on Drugs." International Journal of the Sociology of Law 24:61-75.

____. 1998a. "Reflections on the Transnationalization of Policing: The Case of the RCMP and Serial Killers." International Journal of the Sociology of law 26:17-34.

____. 1998b. "The Global Cops Cometh: Reflections on Transnationalization, Knowledge Work and Policing Subculture." British Journal of Sociology 49:57-74.

U.S. v. Alvarez-Machain, 112 S.Ct. 2188 (1992).

U.S. General Accounting Office. 1996 Border Patrol: Staffing & Enforcement Activities. Washington, DC.

U.S. House of Representatives. (1995) 1996. Democracy, Rule of Law and Police Training Assistance. Hearing before the Committee on International Relations, December 7, 1995. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

____. 1996. Haiti: Human Rights and Police Issues. Hearing before the Committee on International Relations, January 4, 1996. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Vassalo, Peter J. 1996. "The New Ivan the Terrible: Problems in International Criminal Enforcement and the Specter of the Russian Mafia." Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law 28:173-196.

Verbruggen, F. 1995. "Euro-Cops? Just Say Maybe." European Journal of Crime, Criminal Law and Criminal Justice (1995, 2):150-201.

Wilson, Deborah G. and William F. Walsh. 1997. "Reflections on the Transfer of Knowledge to Support Policing in Hungary and Romania." Pp. 59-64 in Policing in Emerging Democracies: Workshop Papers and Highlights. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs.

Woods, Jeanna M. 1996. "Presidential Legislating in the Post-Cold War Era: A Critique of the Barr Opinion on Extraterritorial Arrests." Boston University International Law Journal 14:1-56.

Zagaris, Bruce. 1996a. "International Security in the Post-Cold War Era." Fordham International Law Journal 19:1888-1902.

____. 1996b. "International Criminal and Enforcement Cooperation in the Americas in the Wake of Integration." Southwestern Journal of Law and Trade in the Americas 2:1-84.

See related writings on international policing