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The Interpol Dossier

In 1923, Johann Schober, the police chief of Vienna, Austria, invited a number of police organizations from other countries to send representatives to a conference in his city. Schober was concerned about a new kind of crime in post-war Europe: an increasing number of individuals and organizations were using telephones and automobiles--the high technology of the day--to operate across national borders. Lacking any mechanism for sharing information and cooperating in investigations, national police agencies had no way to deal with these international criminals.

Ron Noble
Interpol headquarters in Lyons, France

The outcome of the Vienna conference was the creation of the International Criminal Police Commission (ICPC). Based in Vienna, it was funded by the Austrian government and staffed by Viennese police officers. Although the ICPC was intended to be a central repository for information about crimes under investigation anywhere, it focused primarily on central Europe.

When Germany took over Austria in 1938, the ICPC fell under the control of the Nazis, who moved its headquarters to Berlin. After the war, the organization was reconstructed at an international assembly in Brussels, Belgium. It was decided that the new ICPC would be based in France, where it was generally treated as part of the French civil service.

It was in the 1950s that the ICPC acquired the name Interpol. Originally just an abbreviated telegraphic address, the name was picked up by journalists and then popularized by a television series aired under the titles "The Man from Interpol" and "Interpol Calling." In 1956, the organization formally changed its name from the International Criminal Police Commission to the International Criminal Police Organization (ICPO)-Interpol.

Membership in Interpol grew rapidly through the 1950s and 1960s with the breakup of the old colonial empires. Soon European countries were in a minority, and in the 1960s Interpol began conducting regional meetings to address the needs of countries in different parts of the world. As it grew, it became increasingly independent of the French government. Interpol's staff took on a more international character, and the organization acquired its own building in the Paris suburb of Saint-Cloud in 1964. Its stature was enhanced during the 1970s and 1980s as Interpol played an increasingly crucial role in international efforts to combat drug trafficking and terrorism.

In the mid-1980s, recognizing the significance of the revolution in information and communications technology, Interpol committed itself to modernization. Now, operating out of its state-of-the-art headquarters in Lyons, it helps countries around the world to keep up with the ever-changing challenges posed by 21st-century criminals.
--Maggie Paine

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