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INTERPOL issues international guidelines to support law enforcement response to COVID-19

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INTERPOL has released international guidelines in order to enhance the safety and effectiveness of law enforcement and first responder support in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The International Criminal Police Organisation, more commonly known as INTERPOL is an International Organization that facilitates worldwide police cooperation and crime control. Headquartered in Lyon, France, it has seven regional bureaus worldwide and a National Central Bureau in all 194 members states, making it the world’s largest police organization.

On the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommendations, the guidelines provide information on how officers can protect themselves and their families, and outline the various roles carried out by law enforcement during a pandemic. These include:

  1. border control and maintaining public order
  2. assisting national health authorities in identifying cases and their origin
  3. relaying public health measures to the population
  4. securing deliveries of medical equipment or transfers of patients.

With police routinely running into dangerous situations to protect their communities, the guidelines are intended to be considered by law enforcement agencies as part of a response strategy to the outbreak in line with recommendations by national public health authorities. Their purpose is to supplement rather than replace national guidelines.

Many countries are affected by an increasing number of reported COVID-19 cases, requiring governments to take strict measures in order to protect the population and to prevent contamination spread. The WHO and national public health practitioners are working around the clock to save lives.

Law enforcement agencies have a key role to play in both supporting the implementation of public health measures to contain the outbreak and in preventing specific criminal activities arising from this context. These guidelines are intended to raise awareness among law enforcement agencies and should be managed in accordance with national legislation, in line with national policing best practice and in coordination with national public health authorities. As per the guidelines:-

  1. Restriction of movements at border crossing points; In areas under lockdown

It recommends to wear PPE (when available and recommended by public health authorities), apply social distancing measures, the WHO recommendation is to stay at least one metre away from each other (some national guidelines recommend more) and avoid or limit direct contact with documents, also when dealing with uncooperative individuals, limit contact and practise hand hygiene.

  1. On public order, management of containment areas and gatherings of people, for instance at pharmacies and shops.

New partnerships between private security firms, law enforcement and the military should be considered. Cordoning critical infrastructures such as hospitals, Jail breaks (such cases have already been reported). Population unrest/riots (over restrictions, food concerns, control measures, etc.).

When a patient shows symptoms or is tested positive to COVID-19, public health practitioners will identify people who have been in potential contact with the affected patient through contact tracing. For which it recommends to use proportionate police investigation resources to trace individuals who have been in contact with COVID-19 patients. Such activities should be conducted in strict compliance with national legislation and with due respect to individual rights.

Law enforcement can play an active role in relaying national public health measures to the population, in coordination with government agencies and health agencies. It recommends to stay up-to-date on the evolution of national public health control measures, relay information about preparedness measures and national public advice to the public, encourage interagency coordination to ensure consistent messages to the public and promote rumour reporting through proper mechanisms to combat fake news and work with private industry to take down fake messages.

  1. Fake and counterfeit medical products: –

The COVID-19 pandemic has offered an opportunity for fast cash, as predatory criminals take advantage of the high market demand for personal protection and hygiene products. The results of Operation Pangea, conducted by INTERPOL with enforcement partners in March 2020, have shown an increase in fake or counterfeit medical items available on the market, including Disposable surgical masks, Hand sanitizers, Antiviral and antimalarial medication f Vaccines, COVID-19 test kits, therefore, it recommends that Law enforcement agencies should pay particular attention to the above list of fake or counterfeit items. f Inform the general public about false or misleading online advertisements related to these products. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, various fraud and scam schemes taking advantage of the crisis situation have been reported. These schemes can be categorized as follow: Online fraud: scammers create and set up fraudulent websites, e-commerce platforms, social media accounts and emails claiming to sell and deliver medical products. In some cases, they use the names of prominent companies involved in the production and distribution of these items. Victims are then asked to pay via bank transfer. Telephone fraud: there have been reports of emerging telecom fraud and telephone deception related to the COVID-19 pandemic. A caller who pretends to be a relative currently being treated at hospital contacts the elderly by phone. Victims are then asked to pay for the cost of the medical treatment by transferring money or by paying cash to fake public health representatives.

Letters or emails related to the pandemic are sent by criminals claiming to be health authorities, with the aim of tricking victims into connecting to a specific webpage and to login with their real email address and password. Scammers then use their credentials to access sensitive information and potentially to steal funds. Recommendations are made for the Investigative agencies that it should be made aware of these practices, which are likely to increase. Law enforcement should relay this emerging modus operandi to the population through public messaging. The INTERPOL Financial Crimes Unit (FCU) is assisting member countries to intercept money sent by the victims of fraud-related crimes.

  1. Cybercrime

Cyber criminals have evolved their tactics, techniques and procedures (TTP) to exploit vulnerabilities due to the current situation. f Critical infrastructure, such as hospital systems, has been the focus of cyberattacks and the deployment of ransomware. With so many more people working from home, this can present additional risks and vulnerabilities, which cyber criminals may seek to exploit.  Law enforcement and cybercrime agencies are advice to avoid opening suspicious emails and clicking on links in unrecognized emails and attachments, back up online and offline files regularly and securely, Use strong passwords, Keep your software updated, including antivirus software, Manage your social media settings and review your privacy and security settings and Strengthen your home network.

COVID-19 presents a global challenge not just for law enforcement, but for society as a whole. The pandemic, like crime, knows no borders and our responses, individually and together, will be essential in lessening its impact today and in the future. The reasons INTERPOL was created nearly 100 years ago are even more valid today. It will continue to provide whatever support is necessary to our member countries, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Our secure global network will ensure vital policing information continues to get where it is needed.

As they say, “INTERPOL remains committed to working with you to make the world a safer place.”

Pic Credit: AFP

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