Europol’s operation Trivium: tackling mobile criminality

Between 13 and 16 April 2021, law enforcement authorities from 17 countries targeted mobile organised crime groups active across Europe as part of the latest edition of operation Trivium. The operation was coordinated by the Netherlands and supported by Europol, and is part of the EMPACT security initiative.

One objective of this year’s operation Trivium was to locate wanted convicts on the run for committing organised property crimes. Investigations during the operation identified the whereabouts of a number of these individuals.

In operation Trivium XIV, 17 countries target mobile criminal groups using the EU’s road infrastructure.

The coordinated actions led to:

• 228 arrests

• 70,000 persons checked

• 67,000 vehicles checked

• seizures including 88 vehicles, illegal substances and large amounts of cash.

During the operation, German authorities checked an individual suspected by Danish authorities to be linked to several robberies of GPS devices from agriculture machines. On checking his vehicle, the German officer discovered 30 GPS units from agricultural machines, approximately 100 kg of gold, silver and ivory jewellery, nearly 50 new high-end smartphones and 20 laptops. The suspect will be extradited to Denmark under a European Arrest Warrant.

A check by the Belgian authorities of a vehicle on a motorway parking led to the discovery and seizure of 380 kg of copper hidden in a nearby wood.

Launched in 2013, operation Trivium, focuses on using a multi-agency approach to tackle organised crime. The operation targets criminal networks using the EU’s road infrastructure to perpetrate different cross-border crimes through police checks. The joint police control actions hit criminal groups trying to stay under the radar of law enforcement authorities by being mobile and changing their modi operandi.

These activities based on a multi-agency approach enhance security on roads and contribute to increased trust and a feeling of safety in local communities.

*Participating countries: EU Member States: Germany, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Spain, France, Greece, Italy, Lithuania, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Sweden and Cyprus.

• Non-EU country: Albania.


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The new policing bill and protests in England and Wales

The Police Bill in England and Wales is a huge piece of legislation that includes important government proposals on crime and justice. Part it covers changes to the regulations on demonstrations and protests.

Currently, if the police want to impose restrictions on a protest, generally speaking, they have to demonstrate that it could cause serious public disorder, serious property damage, or serious disruption to community life. They can also impose specific measures to control the routes taken by protest marches. When it comes to important events, these details are thrashed out by the organisers weeks in advance.

The prime minister is defending the policing bill amid criticism from MPs. How will the law change these powers? Police chiefs will have more power to impose more conditions on static protests. They will be able to dictate what time they start and finish, establish noise limitations, etc. If protesters refuse to comply with police instructions on conducting their protest, they could face a fine of up to £ 2,500.

The proposed law includes an offence of “intentionally or recklessly causing public nuisance”. The bill is designed to prevent people from occupying public spaces, hanging from bridges, or using other protest tactics to make themselves seen and heard. A final measure introduces a potential ten-year prison sentence for people who criminally damage a memorial. Of note is the fact that the Labour Party is opposed to the proposed measures.

What else does the new legislation propose?

  • Changes to sentencing rules so that criminals spend more time in prison before being released on parole.
  • Allowing judges to consider life imprisonment for juvenile killers.
  • With regard to terrorism, increased powers to monitor criminals more closely after they’re released from prison.
  • Community service for less serious crimes to address underlying issues in the lives of offenders.
  • Changes to the Sexual Offences Act to extend the definition of ‘position of trust’ abuse to include other roles, such as sports coaches or religious figures.


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“Smart-policing project” introduced in Greece

Police in Greece are to be issued new devices that will allow them to carry out real-time facial recognition and fingerprint identification while out on the beat.

The plan to disseminate the new technology is part of the 4.5 million euros “Smart Policing” project announced in 2017 that aims to identify and verify the identity of citizens when stopped by the police. Most of the project costs (75%) are being covered by the Internal Security Fund (ISF) of the European Commission.

Currently, citizens who are not able to provide identification documents when stopped by the police in Greece have to be transferred to the nearest police station for their identity to be verified. By allowing identification in real-time, the new devices will make the identification of citizens more time-efficient.

The goal of the Greek police force is to verify individuals, vehicles and objects in real-time. Doing so will lead to improvements in police officers’ security, reduce inconveniences for civilians and save human and material resources.

Greek police will initially be issued at least 1,000 devices, with an option to deploy a further 9,000 by this summer if the scheme proves to be effective.

The devices, which are similar in appearance to smartphones, will be connected to 20 different databases belonging to international and national authorities, including the Greek Ministry of Transport, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Europol, the FBI, and Interpol.

In March last year, the Greek non-profit digital rights advocacy organisation, Homo Digitalis, filed a request to the Greek Data Protection Authority (DPA) expressing concern over the legality of the “Smart Policing” project.

Homo Digitalis argued that there is a strong possibility that the Greek police is violating EU laws regarding the processing of personal data laid out in the Greek Constitution, national laws linked to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.


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France to open a consultation on reforming its police forces

The French president, Emmanuel Macron, is to launch a major nation-wide consultation to gauge the opinion of citizens, unions, politicians and external experts on a future reform of the Police and the Gendarmerie.

The various objectives include improving the working conditions of law enforcement agencies, strengthening domestic security and renewing the deteriorating trust between officers and the public.

Amid controversy over police racism and violence and faced with intense criticism of the Global Security Law, Macron promised citizens a major national consultation on the reform of both bodies, in which police unions, ministers, international politicians and experts will participate. The consultations, which will last until May, will lay the foundations for a new draft internal security law in 2022.

The consultation will take place over four months and address the link between the police and the French public, officer training, the relationship between the police and the justice system, keeping the peace, issues around recording videos of police actions, the reform of internal affairs units and improvements in material and human resources.

French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin does not believe there is a separation between the police and the French population as some analysts and politicians say; he hopes the reform will serve to address what he has called the “seven deadly sins” of the police. Among these “sins” he cites the insufficient initial and ongoing training of French police officers and gendarmes: eight months compared to the three years in Denmark. Furthermore, many novice police officers are initially posted to the more troubled districts of large cities without being well-trained for the situation, and do not receive adequate support and resources from their superiors.

An in-depth reform of the Inspectorate-General of the National Police (IGPN), the equivalent of internal affairs in other countries, is also expected. The “police of the police”, as it is known in France, is often accused of a lack of independence and transparency, which contributes to a sense of impunity for crimes committed by officers.

French citizens are divided over police violence: 42% believe the accusations are genuine, while the same percentage thinks the violence is either marginal or non-existent. The same pattern can be seen with regard to complaints of police racism: 43% believe they are isolated incidences, while 39% think French law enforcement agencies are intrinsically racist.

The Police, for their part, complain of low wages, work overload, a scarcity of resources and a wave of suicides across the force. Officers, who have been on constant alert since the series of Islamist attacks in 2015, have become the target of violent protesters, such as the “yellow vest” protests and others seen more recently. According to official figures, in 2020, 11 French law enforcement officers were killed in the line of duty, and 8,700 police and gendarmes were injured.


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The COVID-19 pandemic and the role of the police

Dr Jonas Grutzpalk – Professor of Political Science and Sociology at the University of Applied Sciences for Police and Public Administration in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany – conducted research on how police work had been affected by the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr Grutzpalk teaches at the North Rhine-Westphalia Police, where the curriculum touches on many different topics ranging from ethics, sociology, intercultural skills to various branches of law (criminal, traffic, civil service) and the so-called “police subjects”, such as forensic sciences, tactics, traffic management, etc.

From this standpoint, the doctor raised several questions: How does coronavirus change these issues? How does COVID-19 affect police education? And in what way? Are the police controlling the pandemic right now learning important lessons that should be taught to future police generations? Could it be that police forces are learning something about pandemic surveillance that should be taught at police academies across Europe?

In a series of interviews with police officers, both in and out of the workplace, he asked what they thought the police, as an institution, had learned during the pandemic, and what kind of learning processes they would like to see as a result. Their responses touched on various topics, but particularly highlighted the growing problem of violent scepticism towards the measures taken to flatten the curve of new infections.

Communication. Some interviewees argued that communicating with people on the street has become more difficult because wearing masks makes it hard for them to express themselves through facial gestures. Similarly, deciphering the emotional state of the people the police deal with has also become more challenging.

Self-protection. Spitting on police officers has long been used as a weapon to express contempt. With the advent of COVID-19, this form of physical attack has taken on a new and more dangerous significance because it could also be intended to infect police officers with coronavirus intentionally. Police officers’ self-protection, which is an essential part of their training, covers issues ranging from avoiding fierce attacks to avoiding encounters that could lead to infection. However, by its very nature, this widens the distance between police and public, which is something the interviewees tried to avoid whenever possible. It remains to be seen how police officers can maintain a level of accessibility to the people they deal with while still protecting themselves from harm.

Online teaching. The main concerns expressed in this context relate to students’ emotional well-being, but also, given that some of the material is classified, the content of what is taught. Police education is attempting to address the issue of online education, and there have been many lessons learned along the way.

Working from home and administrative tasks. One of the interviewees raised the issue of whether the police should be able to work from home. One of the main issues here is, of course, data security, but there seems to be a cultural issue as well.

These few examples show how the current pandemic has highlighted some important lessons that need to be learned with regard to modern policing. And they are many more that could be mentioned. What’s interesting about these lessons is:

a) the extent to which they could be institutionalised

b) how they might affect police conduct in everyday life

c) whether they will ever be learned or simply ignored


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New report on drone usage by the US police

In December, the US Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office) published a new report with its partners at the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) entitled ‘Roadmap to Implementing an Effective Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Programme. Drones, as UAS are generally known, present one of the most exciting frontiers in law enforcement by giving departments an essential tool with which to gather vital situational data without placing law enforcement professionals in harm’s way. The report is a guide to launching a drone programme and is available on the COPS Office website.

The report on the use of drones by public safety agencies is a wake-up call about the threat of malicious drone attacks.

Last year, the COPS office, the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the PERF convened a two-day conference for experts across the law enforcement community on drones, their use and implementation, and attendant policy and operational issues. Representatives from several agencies presented on several topics:

  • Regulations, community concerns, budgetary matters, and promising practices for setting up programmes for the use of drones in law enforcement
  • Recommendations for operating such a programme, including training and staffing
  • Counter-use matters, such as detection and disabling technology and dangerous illegal drone use by bad actors

This report summarises the information discussed at that conference and also presents lessons learned and promising practices gathered from interviews, policy reviews, and survey data.  The presentations and discussions from this event have informed all of our UAS work going forward.

This report is about two opposite but related issues: 

  • The use of drones by police agencies to protect public safety. 
  • The use of drones by malicious actors to commit various crimes such as acts of terrorism.  Thus, the story of drones is about two radically different sides of the same coin.

A number of federal and local law enforcement agencies have begun to explore counter-drone strategies at major events and mass gatherings such as the Super Bowl. But this work is still developing. Federal, state, and local lawmakers and government officials, including law enforcement officials, should accelerate their efforts to address these issues as soon as possible.

All law enforcement agencies, whether or not they wish to begin a programme for using drones for their own purposes, must consider a related but far more difficult challenge: how to anticipate, prevent, detect, and respond to the criminal use of drones, including use by terrorists.  For example, terrorists could use drones to drop a bomb or spray a poisonous gas over large crowds of people at a public event. Drones also can be extremely effective at reconnaissance for criminal purposes because they can fly past bollards, checkpoints, and other security mechanisms.


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New operation to crack down on money laundering

Law enforcement authorities from 26 countries and Europol took part in European Money Mule Action ‘EMMA 6’, a worldwide operation against money mule schemes. Between September and November 2020, EMMA 6 was carried out for the sixth consecutive year with the support of the European Banking Federation (EBF), FinTech FinCrime Exchange, INTERPOL and Western Union. As a result, 4 031 money mules were identified alongside 227 money mule recruiters, and 422 individuals were arrested worldwide.

During the span of the operation, 1 529 criminal investigations were initiated.  With the support of the private sector, including more than 500 banks and financial institutions, 4 942 fraudulent money mule transactions were identified, preventing a total loss estimated at € 33.5 million.

Money mules are individuals who, often unwittingly, have been recruited by criminal organisations as money laundering agents to hide the origin of ill-gotten money.  Unaware that they are engaging in criminal activities, and tricked by the promise of easy money, mules transfer stolen funds between accounts, often in different countries, on behalf of others.  In exchange, they receive a commission for their services.

While mules are recruited via numerous routes such as direct contact or through email, criminals are increasingly turning to social media to recruit new accomplices, through the advertisement of fake jobs offers, online pop-up ads and instant messaging applications.  Although some COVID-19 related cases have been reported, payment process compromise and romance scams continue to be the most recurrent schemes. The use of cryptocurrencies by money mules is also on the rise.  The use of cryptocurrencies by money mules is also on the rise.

Europol and EU law enforcement authorities together with international partners and financial institutions launched the #DontBeaMule campaign to raise awareness among the public on the risks of money mule schemes.

The campaign, promoted nationally by competent authorities, is designed to inform the public about how criminals operate, how they can protect themselves and what to do if they become involved.

What do you risk as a money mule?

• physical attacks or threats if you don’t continue to cooperate with the criminals

• prison sentence, fine or community service

• a criminal record that could seriously affect the rest of your life, such as never being able to secure a mortgage or open a bank account.

What can you do?

If you think you might be used as a mule, act now before it is too late: stop transferring money and notify your bank and your national police immediately.

Operation EMMA is part of an ongoing project conducted under the umbrella of the EMPACT Cybercrime Payment Fraud Operational Action Plan, designed to combat online and payment card fraud, led by the Netherlands. 

During this operation, Europol supported the coordination and preparation of operational meetings, delivered analysis and facilitated the exchange of information between law enforcement authorities and private partners.  Furthermore, Europol coordinated the awareness campaign with the participating countries.


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Controversy surrounds France’s new security law

France’s new global security law, which has already been debated in the National Assembly, has provoked an outcry from organisations defending fundamental rights and freedoms, parties, trade unions and the media. They consider it a grave threat to the freedom of expression and information and demand, in particular, the withdrawal of the controversial Article 24.

After five hours of tense debate, with intense exchanges between some MPs and Interior Minister Gérald Damanin, the National Assembly approved the controversial article by 146 votes in favour, compared to 24 votes not in favour.

The provision, which is discretionary and subjective by nature, gives the police the right to detain anyone who records them merely on the grounds that they feel uncomfortable being recorded. According to its opponents, it impinges on press freedoms and weakens any attempt to hold law enforcement agencies accountable for excesses in their operations.

Article 24 of the bill promoted by the French Government would impose up to a year in prison and sanctions of up to €45,000 for spreading images of the face of a law enforcement officer with intent to “attack their physical or mental integrity”.

The controversial article responds to genuine concern among French law enforcement officers, who for years have been subjected to significant tensions in the fight against terrorism, social uprisings that have often led to hostility against police officials, including the municipal police, and hate campaigns on social media.

A second contentious article authorises law enforcement officers to carry their regulatory weapon in a public building, even when they are not on duty. This change seeks to address situations like the attack that took place in the Bataclan in November 2015, which saw 90 people killed, including three off-duty police officers who were unable to intervene.

There have been numerous protests against the passing of the law. These have been supported by some left-wing forces and unions, as well as far-left groups, with slogans such as: “Drop your guns, we’ll drop our phones”, “Orwell was right”, “A camera has never killed anyone” or “Global security, total impunity”.

Claire Hédon, France’s Defender of Rights, also intervened in the controversy, calling Article 24 a “violation of freedom of expression that is neither necessary, appropriate or proportionate, and which will, at the same time, act as an obstacle to monitoring law enforcement”.

Hédon believes the bill has three fundamental flaws. Firstly, there is no need for new laws because the current ones already protect the police and gendarmes; the second is the ambiguity of the wording, and the third is that the restrictive interpretation could lead journalists to self-censor. She added that any restriction on freedom of information requires rigorous contemplation and should not be passed for circumstantial reasons.


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Private cameras or police cameras?

THE US is home to an estimated 50 million closed-circuit TV cameras, roughly as many per capita as China. Many are owned by people or companies, not the government. But as reports, many police departments can gain access to the images through partnerships with private companies, and that troubles some civil rights activists.

Civil rights activists warn that once installed, the cameras are often used for other tasks, like monitoring protests, and can become a system of warrantless surveillance, particularly for communities of colour.

Newark, Baltimore, San Francisco, and Detroit each have some form of public-private camera system. Each is different. In Newark, for example, residents are encouraged to view CCTV footage themselves and report crimes to law enforcement.

In 2016, Detroit police observed a startling pattern in the city. Not only was crime rising but it was rising most quickly near petrol stations. One-fourth of all violent crimes in the city between 10 pm and 8 am occurred within 200 metres of a petrol station. The police contacted eight petrol stations, installing CCTV cameras that streamed real-time footage directly to them. Livestreaming allowed for faster response times and “virtual patrols”, where officers scanned camera footage during late-night hours.

Since that pilot, the Detroit Police Department has expanded the network, calling it Project Green Light. In four years, Project Green Light has grown to 700 cameras at 500 businesses throughout the city. But the expansion worries activists who say the police use it for more than patrolling petrol stations. Last year, Mayor Mike Duggan announced plans to add traffic cameras to the project, bringing the total to more than 1,000 cameras.

Police can analyse images captured by the cameras with facial-recognition software and other technologies, like vehicle-registration-reading software.

Since 2012, cryptocurrency mogul Chris Larsen has spent more than $4 million to help install more than 1,000 cameras in San Francisco’s neighbourhoods, including the busy Union Square business district. The San Francisco Police Department maintains a database of the cameras, their owners, and their locations, reaching out to request footage if they suspect a crime.

Unlike in Detroit, anyone can request the footage, including defence lawyers. Police, too, request footage instead of having instantaneous access. While Detroit businesses must pay installation fees on police-approved cameras, San Francisco businesses can use their own cameras and pay nothing.

But this approach, too, alarms some privacy advocates. In late May and early June, as many as 10,000 people attended some of the George Floyd protests throughout San Francisco. While the camera system was created to deter property violence, the police took a broader approach to prevent looting. Rather than respond to specific complaints of property damage, the police obtained real-time access to the entire system, capturing footage of everyone in the area.


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Classes on how to confront racism in the German police

German police are facing scrutiny thanks to a string of racist incidents. Berlin and other states are including anti-racism modules in basic training – but it’s not standard yet.

Ben Knight discusses the topic in an article published in a digital newspaper. The classes are taught by instructors from Diversity Works, an organisation that offers racism awareness training, which in recent months has been getting more calls from German police forces.

Just being asked a question about your appearance, the instructors explain, can unnerve people, because it instantly changes the dynamics of an interaction. Suddenly there is judgement in the air.

This is the deceptively obvious premise of the blue-eyes/brown-eyes exercise, a lesson developed in 1968 by US teacher Jane Elliott that has since become a consistent element of diversity training.

The educator divides the room into a brown-eyed group and a blue-eyed group and then assigns brown-eyed people special privileges. The result, after some difficult confrontations, is that the students hopefully feel what discrimination is like, and so end up confronting their own racism and understand how the mechanisms of privilege and exclusion affect their minds.

These workshops for police cadets last for a whole week. They cover a lot of ground, discussing everything from what the police is actually for, to ethnic profiling, to how to deal with other officers who make racist remarks.

It is not hard to get a measure of how important this is in Germany: The police’s struggles with racism and far-right sympathy in the ranks has become more and more public in recent months as unpleasant stories converged in the press.

A few weeks ago, the Berlin police were forced to admit mistakes in an investigation of a far-right crime in its Neukölln district, with victims complaining that the chief suspects (three known neo-Nazis) felt safe enough to publicly taunt officers keeping them under surveillance.

A week earlier, the police in Essen, North Rhine-Westphalia, were criticised for publishing a training brochure on Arabic organised crime in the region that allegedly included racist slurs.

The case that has caused the most national consternation was the discovery of five large far-right WhatsApp police chat groups in North Rhine-Westphalia, which shared pictures of Adolf Hitler.

According to some critics, this reflects a wider problem: the failure to link incidents of egregious racism with a deeper and broader problem in police culture.


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