Global Organized Crime

What is Organized Crime?

 

The Landscape of Global Organized Crime

In all corners of the globe, organized crime has permeated societies, growing to such an extent that its now treated as an international security threat. This can be attributed to the decline in political order, deteriorating economic conditions and expanding underground economies.(1) Organized crime has created an international environment that encourages people to work outside the legal framework. Further, difficulties in producing meaningful and effective state-to-state cooperation are working to the advantage of criminal organizations.(2) Also, newly emerging states in political transition, particularly in central and eastern Europe, have provided breeding grounds for criminal activities where legal principles are loosely enforced. These factors have contributed to the rise of better organized criminal groups that are internationally based, and have access to vast financial resources and a network of other organized crime groups. From this perspective, organized crime has become a new threat to the stability of the international system.

Over time there have been varying approaches to treating the plague of organized crime, and because of this, what actually constitutes "organized crime" has often been misunderstood and is sometimes a source of controversy. However, a broad consensus has emerged on several conditions that are required to be met before an illegal activity is defined as one of organized crime.

 

Defining Participants, Groups and Activities

Those that participate in organized crime are considered to be involved for the purpose of engaging in criminal activities on a sustained basis. Individuals are not acting alone, and the activities that they are engaged in are not random. In addition, the economic behavior in mature criminal organizations is intentional and the activities are usually directed by identifiable leaders. In general, the criminal organizations that are of the greatest concern have grown into substantial enterprises, often with transnational connections that involve a large number of "employees" that can range from several hundred to several thousand.

These crime groups operate within varying organizational structures for a common purpose that is outside the bounds of legal activity. Although organization is the key to these groups, there are no standardized patterns of structure within groups.(3) A criminal organization may rely on various features that are best designed to carry out its purposes. A common feature is a hierarchical, vertically organized arrangement with fairly tight controls, such as the Colombian cocaine cartels. Other types include regionally-structured organizations, foundations that are quasi-religious or semi-political/military based.

The objectives of the organization ultimately define its criminality. The type of activities that they are engaged in normally fall under the category of what is considered enterprise crime. This would include the provision of illicit goods and services or goods that have been acquired through illicit means, such as fraud or theft.(4) One way of looking at the activities of organized crime would be to compare it to the fundamental considerations that govern entrepreneurship in the legitimate market place, namely a necessity to maintain and extend one's share of the market.(5) The activities of criminal organizations are thus equivalent to many of the efforts of legitimate businesses -- export-import, trade in various articles, wholesale and retail sales, and services. However, the members of criminal organizations seek to operate in areas outside legal guidelines and will generally trade in items also defined as illegal (i.e. drugs and weapons).

The scope of criminal activities spans a wide range. Some groups are highly specialized and only focus on one type of activity, such as prostitution or drugs. But, the recent trend is for groups to engage in a broad array of illegal activities that include both the schemes that have been at the forefront of traditional organized crime (i.e. racketeering) and more recent financial scams that are complex in nature (i. e. stolenart). Whatever the activity, the underlying purpose is to make a profit from the illegal "work" of a large number of people that is coordinated over time.

Violence is a primary characteristic of organized crime groups, which is used to promote and protect their interests. Criminal organizations use violence deliberately by controlling its use and directing it in specific ways to achieve certain goals.(6) Generally, violence is used strictly for "business purposes," although there is sometimes a lack of discipline or acts of individual cruelty inside organized crime networks.(7)

Another feature of organized crime and related to the use of violence is the act of bribery. Since they are at odds with police and other government organizations, organized crime groups will use bribery in order to corrupt the legal system and evade prosecution.(8) Large amounts of ready cash provide the incentive to use the power of money to suborn government officials on a large scale, assisting organized crime in achieving its objectives.

 

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