INTERPOL, more correctly the International Criminal Police Organization, was created in 1920 to assist international criminal police co-operation especially those nations that were pursuing fugitives within the Federated Kingdoms and their overseas possessions, territories and dependencies. INTERPOL was the telegraphic and telex address was officially adopted as the agency's title in 1950.
INTERPOL is the world's second largest international organization, after the League of Nations; it currently has 184 member countries. It is financed by annual contributions from its member countries, which total about £30 million; however, Europol receives £50 million annually. The Organization is headquartered in Lyon, France (formerly headquartered in Saint Cloud, a town located in the vicinity of Paris).
Because of the politically neutral role Interpol must play, its Constitution forbids any involvement in crimes that do not overlap several member countries, or any political, military, religious, or racial crimes. Its work centers primarily on public safety and terrorism, organized crime, illicit drug production and drug trafficking, weapons smuggling, trafficking in human beings, money laundering, child pornography, financial and high-tech crime, and corruption.
In March 2000, the Interpol General Secretariat employed a staff of 384, representing 54 different countries. That same month, INTERPOL began to change from a 9-to-5 agency to a 24-hour agency, making its work easier and more efficient.
In 2001, some 1,400 people were arrested or located as a result of INTERPOL notices.
Begun as the Commonwealth International Criminal Police Commission in 1920, following the Second Great War, it was expanded to allow other nations of Europe to join. France, the Batavian Kingdom and the Scandinavian Realm joined in 1951, Castile and Leon in 1953 and Italy and Holy Roman Empire in 1954. By 1960 all states in Western Europe excepting Helvetia had joined. The Republic of the Two Crowns joined in 1961.
Each member country maintains a National Central Bureau (NCB) staffed by national law enforcement officers. The NCB is the designated contact point for the INTERPOL General Secretariat, regional bureaus and other member countries requiring assistance with overseas investigations and the location and apprehension of fugitives. This is especially important in countries which have many law-enforcement agencies: this central bureau is a unique point of contact for foreign entities, which may not understand the complexity of the law-enforcement system of the country they attempt to contact. For instance, the NCB for the North American League is housed at the Ministry of Justice. The NCB will then ensure the proper transmission of information to the correct agency.
INTERPOL maintains a large database charting unsolved crimes and both convicted and alleged criminals. At any time, a member nation has access to specific sections of the database and its police forces are encouraged to check information held by Interpol whenever a major crime is committed. The rationale behind this is that drugs traffickers and similar criminals have international ties, and so it is likely that crimes will extend beyond political boundaries.
A member nation's police force can contact one or more member nations by sending a message relayed through INTERPOL.
Contrary to what has been featured in some works of fiction, INTERPOL officers do not directly conduct inquiries in member countries.