Organized Crime

Organised crime, and often criminal organizations are terms which categorise transnational, national, or local groupings of highly centralized enterprises run by criminals, who intend to engage in illegal activity, most commonly for monetary profit.

Some criminal organizations, such as terrorist organizations, are politically motivated. Sometimes criminal organizations force people to do business with them, as when a gang extorts money from shopkeepers for so-called “protection”.

Gangs may become disciplined enough to be considered organized. An organized gang or criminal set can also be referred to as a mob

Other organizations—including states, militaries, police forces, and corporations—may sometimes use organized crime methods to conduct their business, but their powers derive from their status as formal social institutions.

There is a tendency to distinguish organized crime from other forms of crimes, such as, white-collar crime, financial crimes, political crimes, war crime, state crimes and treason. This distinction is not always apparent and the academic debate is ongoing.

For example, in failed states that can no longer perform basic functions such as education, security, or governance, usually due to fractious violence or extreme poverty, organised crime, governance and war are often complimentary to each other.

The term Parliamentary Mafiocracy is often attributed to democratic countries whose political, social and economic institutions are under the control of few families and business oligarchs

In the United States, the Organized Crime Control Act (1970) defines organized crime as “The unlawful activities of […] a highly organized, disciplined association  Criminal activity as a structured group is referred to as racketeering and such crime is commonly referred to as the work of the Mob.

In the UK, police estimate organized crime involves up to 38,000 people operating in 6,000 various groups

In addition, due to the escalating violence of Mexico’s drug war, the Mexican drug cartels are considered the “greatest organized crime threat to the United States” according to a report issued by the United States Department of Justice. 

Models of organized crime

Causal

The demand for illegal goods and services nurtures the emergence of ever more centralized and powerful criminal syndicates, who may ultimately succeed in undermining public morals, neutralizing law enforcement through corruption and infiltrating the legal economy unless appropriate countermeasures are taken.

This theoretical proposition can be depicted in a model comprising four elements: government, society, illegal markets and organized crime While interrelations are acknowledged in both directions between the model elements, in the last instance the purpose is to explain variations in the power and reach of organized crime in the sense of an ultimately unified organizational entity. 

Organizational

Patron-client networks

Mafia boss Totò Riina behind bars in court after his arrest in 1993

Patron-client networks are defined by the fluid interactions they produce. Organized crime groups operate as smaller units within the overall network, and as such tend towards valuing significant others, familiarity of social and economic environments, or tradition. These networks are usually composed of:

  • Hierarchies based on ‘naturally’ forming family, social and cultural traditions;
  • ‘Tight-knit’ locus of activity/labor;
  • Fraternal or nepotistic value systems;
  • Personalized activity; including family rivalries, territorial disputes, recruitment and training of family members, etc.;
  • Entrenched belief systems, reliance of tradition (including religion, family values, cultural expectations, class politics, gender roles, etc.); and,
  • Communication and rule enforcement mechanisms dependent on organizational structure, social etiquette, history of criminal involvement, and collective decision-making

Bureaucratic/corporate operations

Bureaucratic/corporate organized crime groups are defined by the general rigidity of their internal structures. Focusing more on how the operations works, succeeds, sustains itself or avoids retribution, they are generally typified by:

  • A complex authority structure;
  • An extensive division of labor between classes within the organization;
  • Meritocratic (as opposed to cultural or social attributes);
  • Responsibilities carried out in an impersonal manner;
  • Extensive written rules/regulations (as opposed to cultural praxis dictating action); and, ‘Top-down’ communication and rule enforcement mechanisms.

However, this model of operation has some flaws:

  • The ‘top-down’ communication strategy is susceptible to interception, more so further down the hierarchy being communicated to;
  • Maintaining written records jeopardizes the security of the organization and relies on increased security measures;
  • Infiltration at lower levels in the hierarchy can jeopardize the entire organization (a ‘house of cards’ effect); and,
  • Death, injury, incarceration or internal power struggles dramatically heighten the insecurity of operations.

While bureaucratic operations emphasis business processes and strongly authoritarian hierarchies, these are based on enforcing power relationships rather than an overlying aim of protectionism, sustainability or growth

Youth and Street Gangs

A distinctive gang culture underpins many, but not all, organized groups; this may develop through recruiting strategies, social learning processes in the corrective system experienced by youth, family or peer involvement in crime, and the coercive actions of criminal authority figures.

The term “street gang” is commonly used interchangeably with “youth gang,” referring to neighborhood or street-based youth groups that meet “gang” criteria. Miller (1992) defines a street gang as “a self-formed association of peers, united by mutual interests, with identifiable leadership and internal organization, who act collectively or as individuals to achieve specific purposes, including the conduct of illegal activity and control of a particular territory, facility, or enterprise.” 

“Zones of transition” refer to deteriorating neighborhoods with shifting populationsconflict between groups, fighting, “turf wars”, and theft promotes solidarity and cohesionCohen (1955): working class teenagers joined gangs due to frustration of inability to achieve status and goals of the middle class; Cloward and Ohlin (1960): blocked opportunity, but unequal distribution of opportunities lead to creating different types of gangs (that is, some focused on robbery and property theft, some on fighting and conflict and some were retreatists focusing on drug taking); Spergel (1966) was one of the first criminologists to focus on evidencebased practice rather than intuition into gang life and culture. Klein (1971) like Spergel studied the effects on members of social workers’ interventions.

More interventions actually lead to greater gang participation and solidarity and bonds between members. Downes and Rock (1988) on Parker’s analysis: strain theory applies, labeling theory (from experience with police and courts), control theory (involvement in trouble from early childhood and the eventual decision that the costs outweigh the benefits) and conflict theories.

No ethnic group is more disposed to gang involvement than another, rather it is the status of being marginalized, alienated or rejected that makes some groups more vulnerable to gang formation, and this would also be accounted for in the effect of social exclusion, especially in terms of recruitment and retention.

These may also be defined by age (typically youth) or peer group influences, and the permanence or consistency of their criminal activity.

These groups also form their own symbolic identity or public representation which are recognizable by the community at large (include colors, symbols, patches, flags and tattoos).

Research has focused on whether the gangs have formal structures, clear hierarchies and leadership in comparison with adult groups, and whether they are rational in pursuit of their goals, though positions on structures, hierarchies and defined roles are conflicting.

Some studied street gangs involved in drug dealing – finding that their structure and behavior had a degree of organizational rationality Members saw themselves as organized criminals; gangs were formal-rational organizations, Strong organizational structures, well defined roles and rules that guided members’ behavior.

Also a specified and regular means of income (i.e. drugs). Padilla (1992) agreed with the two above.

However some have found these to be loose rather than well-defined and lacking persistent focus, there was relatively low cohesion, few shared goals and little organizational structur Shared norms, value and loyalties were low, structures “chaotic”, little role differentiation or clear distribution of labor.

Similarly, the use of violence does not conform to the principles behind protection rackets, political intimidation and drug trafficking activities employed by those adult groups.

In many cases gang members graduate from youth gangs to highly developed OC groups, with some already in contact with such syndicates and through this we see a greater propensity for imitation.

Gangs and traditional criminal organizations cannot be universally linked (Decker, 1998), however there are clear benefits to both the adult and youth organization through their association.

In terms of structure, no single crime group is archetypal, though in most cases there are well-defined patterns of vertical integration (where criminal groups attempt to control the supply and demand), as is the case in arms, sex and drug trafficking.

Individual difference

Entrepreneurial

The entrepreneurial model looks at either the individual criminal, or a smaller group of organized criminals, that capitalize off the more fluid ‘group-association’ of contemporary organized crime

This model conforms to social learning theory or differential association in that there are clear associations and interaction between criminals where knowledge may be shared, or values enforced, however it is argued that rational choice is not represented in this.

The choice to commit a certain act, or associate with other organized crime groups, may be seen as much more of an entrepreneurial decision – contributing to the continuation of a criminal enterprise, by maximizing those aspects that protect or support their own individual gain.

In this context, the role of risk is also easily understandable, however it is debatable whether the underlying motivation should be seen as true entrepreneurship or entrepreneurship as a product of some social disadvantage.

The criminal organization, much in the same way as one would assess pleasure and pain, weighs such factors as legal, social and economic risk to determine potential profit and loss from certain criminal activities.

This decision-making process rises from the entrepreneurial efforts of the group’s members, their motivations and the environments in which they work.

Opportunism is also a key factor – the organized criminal or criminal group is likely to frequently reorder the criminal associations they maintain, the types of crimes they perpetrate, and how they function in the public arena (recruitment, reputation, etc.) in order to ensure efficiency, capitalization and protection of their interests. 

Multi Model Approach

Culture and ethnicity provide an environment where trust and communication between criminals can be efficient and secure. This may ultimately lead to a competitive advantage for some groups, however it is inaccurate to adopt this as the only determinant of classification in organized crime.

This categorization includes the Sicilian Mafia, Jamaican posses, Colombian drug trafficking groups, Nigerian organized crime groups, Corsican mafia, Japanese Yakuza (or Boryokudan), Korean criminal groups and ethnic Chinese criminal groups.

From this perspective, organized crime is not a modern phenomenon – the construction of 17th and 18th century crime gangs fulfill all the present day criteria of criminal organizations (in opposition to the Alien Conspiracy Theory).

These roamed the rural borderlands of central Europe embarking on many of the same illegal activities associated with today’s crime organizations, with the exception of money laundering.

When the French revolution created strong nation states, the criminal gangs moved to other poorly controlled regions like the Balkans and Southern Italy, where the seeds were sown for the Sicilian Mafia – the lynchpin of organized crime in the New World

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By Hassham

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