Baltic police team up with FBI

  • 2000-08-03
  • By Jaclyn M. Sindrich
TALLINN - Estonia's Interior Affairs Ministry launched a data exchange system with the FBI on July 28, stepping up the level of cooperation they began intensifying this past year as a result of increased funding from the U.S. government.

Lithuania had an identical agreement passed the previous week, and Latvia will have its own similar program starting in September, according to the FBI's legal attache, William Moschella.

The agreement allows the countries' Interpol police forces to freely and quickly access limited information from the National Crime Information Center, the FBI's Washington, D.C.-based central repository for all criminal records, fingerprints, stolen property and wanted persons, Moschella said.

All license plate and registration numbers of stolen American and European cars, aircraft, and heavy equipment will be made available to Interpol police via the FBI's secured Internet browser database, he said. The cost for each country to set up work stations with the necessary hardware, software and Internet hook-ups is around $20,000, Moschella said, but related costs significantly push up that amount.

Attempts to bring illegal vehicles to Estonia are typically done in transit by boat and truck to Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, he said. "It is an issue. We have a lot of high-end vehicles, four-wheel drives, SUVs and Mercedes, being brought to the east [through Estonia.]"

Olavi Kavald, chief detective inspector of the North Central Bureau Interpol, argued the illegal trade has not been extremely common, but the point of the data exchange agreement is to open up further cooperation down the road and establish contacts. In the future, Interpol hopes to gain full access to the database, including data on wanted persons and crimes against property, Kavald said.

"Today there is the opportunity to exchange information very quickly. Before there was lots of bureaucracy," explained Janus Rahumagi, the Interior Ministry adviser on internal security and police affairs.

He called this kind of collaboration typical, but new for Estonia. "The criminals are using very modern ways to accomplish their aims. Police organizations have to use the same modern ways," he added.

There has been an FBI office in Tallinn since October 1996, but cooperation with Interpol has developed rapidly only this year, after Moschella was able to secure $580,000 from the U.S. government for the programs. This year, already 11 different courses have been given by the FBI to train the Estonian police.

Last week, FBI instructors held a five-day safety and survival course for 31 officers from the three Baltic nations at the Paikuse police college in western Estonia. The training, which concentrated on safe police tactics in making arrests and methods for stopping and searching cars and premises, are "very new fields" for Estonia, according to Rahumagi.

The program was held as a result of deaths to Estonian police officers on three different occasions in the past two past years, said Moschella. "Because of the fact of officers being wounded, we though it would be a good time to run something on this."

In September, 36 Estonian police officers will head to Budapest to participate in a seminar on weapons of mass destruction.

FBI instructors involved in the investigation of the World Trade Center and Oklahoma City bombings will also give special seminars for all three Baltic nations' police forces this October on anti-bomb techniques. Estonia has been besieged by a string of bomb threats following a bomb that exploded in Tallinn's Stockmann shopping center on May 19.

Other programs have focused on auto theft, alcohol and firearms, DNA analysis and anti-corruption. It should not come as a surprise that one of the most important new areas will be training against computer crimes, Moschella said An all-inclusive Baltic program concentrating on that issue will take place in December.

Moschella emphasized the programs in Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia are all cooperative.

"I think it is important to do programs with people who are like each other. We hope to foster interBaltic cooperation as well as inter-U.S. and inter-Baltic cooperation," he said.

Rahumagi said Estonia's role is to promote itself through the FBI program as a world-class partner in law enforcement.

"The Interior Ministry is trying to be a leader of law enforcement not only in the Baltic region, but in Europe. We want to have as much input as possible to be an equal law enforcement partnership in Europe," Rahumagi said.

Moschella agreed that the success of Baltic police forces is evident, and next year, he doubts as much funding will be made available for these programs.

"I think the Baltics are starting to be looked upon as very professional, he said. They are demonstrating this on a daily basis. And as the level goes up, the need goes down."