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Theoretical perspectives on organized crime

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Theoretical perspectives on organized crime

Abstract

This essay discusses six theoretical perspectives on organized crime: "alien conspiracy theory", the bureaucracy model, illegal enterprise theory, protection theory, the social network approach, and the logistic or situational approach toward organized crime. Furthermore, three emerging issues in organized crime theory are reviewed: criminal careers in organized crime; the relationship between ethnicity and organized crime; and transit crime, Mafia transplantation and adaptation of traditional Mafia groups.
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Kleemans, E.R. Theoretical perspectives on organized crime. In: L.
Paoli (ed.). Oxford Handbook on Organized Crime. Oxford: Oxford
University Press (forthcoming; draft, for educational purposes only).
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Theoretical perspectives on organized crime
Edward Kleemans
Theory is not the opposite of empirical research. On the contrary, theories and theoretical
perspectives shape the ways in which we are able to describe and analyze empirical realities.
Theories are ‘spotlights’, and all observation is theory-driven (e.g. Popper 1959; 1972). All
knowledge is provisional and conjectural, and science progresses through a continuing
interaction between theory and empirical research. However, a basic problem in organized
crime research is that theories and theoretical perspectives are underdeveloped. A related
problem is that the empirical phenomena that are the subject of research are ill-defined: some
researchers focus on long-established organized crime groups and the control of these groups
over certain territories or economic sectors (protection and racketeering); some concentrate on
complex, transnational illegal activities such as drug trafficking, human trafficking, or fraud;
and others restrict themselves to very local illegal markets, such as local drug dealing or
gambling – topics that can all be captured by the broad umbrella term ‘organized crime’.
Therefore, the history of organized crime research is not only the history of shifting
theoretical perspectives, it is also the history of oscillating empirical phenomena that are at the
forefront of public and scientific discussion: from the long-established dominance of Mafia
groups in certain rural Italian areas and the threat of powerful Italian-American Mafia families
in New York (e.g. Cressey 1969), to the emergence of transnational organized crime in the
seventies and eighties of the twentieth century, involving large-scale drug trafficking, human
trafficking, human smuggling, and international fraud (e.g. Kleemans 2007). During all these
periods, scientists have also continued studying various local markets of illegal products and
services, ranging from drugs and prostitution to gambling, numbers, and loan sharking (e.g.
Reuter 1983). These local illegal markets are also the most accessible research topics, whereas
different phenomena mostly require (privileged) access to criminal justice sources, including
the results of police investigations and statements of ‘defectors’.
In this chapter, six theoretical approaches will be discussed. The first perspective involves the
‘alien conspiracy theory’, stating that organized crime is the result of an alien conspiracy of
outsiders that threatens open, democratic societies (section I). The second perspective, the
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bureaucracy model, focuses upon the way in which groups are organized and presupposes that
criminal organizations are quite similar to formal bureaucracies (section II). The third
perspective, illegal enterprise theory, is part of the fierce criticism towards the bureaucracy
model. Enterprise theory states that illegal activities are quite similar to legal activities and
that illegal entrepreneurs (and illegal enterprises) may be best viewed as calculating
individuals (or enterprises) operating in illegal markets in a similar way as in legal markets
(section III). All three perspectives have a long history in research and appear on a regular
basis in public debate. Three more specific and contemporary perspectives will be discussed
as well: protection theory (section IV), the social network approach (section V), and the
logistic or situational approach towards organized crime (section VI). Furthermore, we will
review three emerging issues in organized crime theory (section VII). Finally, we will draw
conclusions about theoretical and empirical progress in organized crime research (section
VIII).
I. Alien conspiracy model
The ‘alien conspiracy’ model is central to the history of the organized crime debate in the
United States. This ‘model’ was not developed by scientists, but by policy makers in the
course of public debate. It has evolved particularly around the dominance of Italian-American
Mafia groups in society. The involvement of American citizens of Italian descent in organized
crime is well documented, from bootlegging and other criminal activities during the Great
Depression to the post-war involvement of Italian-American Mafia families in New York and
other major North American cities. In 1951, after public hearings that were televised
nationwide in the United States, the Kefauver committee concluded that organized crime in
the United States was largely under the control of an alien conspiracy known as ‘the Mafia’.
Alien conspiracy theory assumes that Italian immigrants have imported the problem of
organized crime from Italy during the immigration waves at the end of the nineteenth and the
beginning of the twentieth century. As a result, an ‘invisible hand’ of a centrally-led ‘alien
conspiracy’ was threatening open, democratic societies such as the United States, by taking
over democratic institutions by corruption and violence. The central idea is that organized
crime is not a part of society and shaped by society itself, but is instead a problem of
‘outsiders’ that threaten society. Often the ‘alien conspiracy’ is accompanied by threatening
characteristics of organized crime that can also be found in other theoretical perspectives:
bureaucracy as its predominant organizational form, pursuit of monopolies and cartels, ethnic
homogeneity, and the undermining of democracy through corruption (for a critical review, see
e.g. Potter 1994).
The ‘alien conspiracy’ perspective dominated the organized crime debate in the United States
until the 1980s, but has also been prominent in many other countries. In various countries,
particularly in public debate, specific immigrant groups have been blamed for being the main
problem of organized crime or the central players in specific criminal activities, from Chinese
and Turkish offenders being central in heroin trafficking to Russian groups in protection
rackets. When the Soviet Union imploded and travel restrictions between Eastern and Western
Europe faded away, worries emerged in many European countries that they would be flooded
by Russian and Eastern European organized crime groups. Furthermore, ethnicity is often
considered to be a key defining characteristic of organized crime groups. Hence, organized
crime is defined as a problem of ‘outsiders’, while neglecting the involvement of ‘insiders’
and the ways societies create and promote organized crime opportunities themselves.
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II. Bureaucracy-model
The bureaucracy model of organized crime became widely known by the public confessions
of Mafia defectors, such as Joe Valachi, during interrogations of U.S. Senate committees in
the 1960s, and the scientific work of Donald Cressey for the Federal Task Force on Organized
Crime. In his frequently-cited book, ‘Theft of the Nation’, Cressey (1969) describes organized
crime as a more or less formal bureaucracy: pyramid-shaped, with a strict hierarchy, a clear
division of tasks, codes of conduct, and internal and external sanctions. Basically, organized
crime is viewed as a distinct organization and equated with a specific organizational form.
This bureaucracy model of organized crime is very popular in criminal justice circles and
turns up regularly in the media and in public debate, with frequent reference to godfathers
being in charge and lieutenants controlling certain specialized divisions.
During the 1970s, many scientists fiercely criticized this conception of organized crime (e.g.
Albini 1971; Ianni and Reuss-Ianni 1972; Smith 1975). Some critics took an entirely different
theoretical position, based upon the enterprise model, while others confronted the model with
findings from original empirical research (e.g. Ianni and Reuss-Ianni 1972). Yet the general
pattern was the same: the bureaucracy model was constantly ‘debunked’ as naive and at odds
with the facts. With the benefit of hindsight, one may conclude that the bureaucracy model of
organized crime, for many forms of organized crime and for many illegal market activities, is
indeed the exception rather than the rule. Yet the discussion lost track of empirical realities.
Cressey described Italian-American Mafia families during a specific time period. Perhaps he
overemphasized certain structural features and the level of organization, but fierce critics
sometimes seem to focus too much on local illegal markets in developed countries with a
‘strong state’. Meanwhile, they neglect the fact that some large criminal organizations do exist
and have existed for a long period of time, even before major illegal markets, such as drug
markets, developed. Examples are the Sicilian Mafia, the Japanese Yakuza, the Hong Kong
Triads, and the Russian Mafia. However, authors describing these phenomena often do not
conceptualize these as formal bureaucracies (e.g. Paoli 2002, 2003; Varese 2011). For
example, Paoli (2003) interprets Mafia groups as brotherhoods, similar to primordial societies
of generalized exchange, which are tied together by status or fraternization contracts. Through
initiation rituals, recruits are bound to become brothers of other members and show altruistic
behavior without expecting short-term reward. These status and fraternization contracts
guarantee extraordinary flexibility, as Mafia bosses dispose of the capacities of members (and
even their lives) to reach their goals. It also explains the fact that Mafia groups are
multifunctional entities, which are used by members to achieve a variety of goals.
III. Illegal enterprise
Illegal enterprise theory emphasizes the – sometimes remarkable – similarities between illegal
activities and legal activities. Offenders are viewed as normal, rational, profit-oriented
entrepreneurs, who are involved in activities that, though illegal, are driven by the same laws
of supply and demand as legal activities. Some products and services have been criminalized
by governments, such as drugs, prostitution, numbers, and loan sharking, yet are still in high
demand by some parts of the population; other products and services are subject to high taxes
(e.g. cigarettes, oil, and alcohol) or restrictions (e.g. import or export restrictions, quota, and
licenses). According to economists, restrictions on supply do not eradicate demand, instead
only altering market conditions for illegal entrepreneurs. Several authors have used concepts
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from economics to explain behavior in illegal markets (e.g. Schelling 1965; Block and
Chambliss 1981; Reuter 1983; Moore 1987; Haller 1990; Van Duyne 1993). Others have
extended this line of reasoning to opportunities for illegal activities that are created by
differences between countries, regulations, and local policies. Passas (1999) uses the term
‘criminogenic asymmetries’, referring to profits generated by taking advantage of differences
in regulations and policies between countries.
Though not the first application of the illegal enterprise perspective (e.g. Schelling 1965), the
best-known book is Peter Reuter’s ‘Disorganized Crime’ (Reuter 1983). Illegality presents
several problems to offenders, as contracts are not enforceable (as in legal business), illegal
activities have to be concealed, people can be arrested, and assets can be seized at any time.
Due to these constraints of illegality, Reuter predicts that most criminal enterprises will be
small and short-lived. Reuter also uses several concepts borrowed from industrial economics
(transaction costs and property rights theory) and concludes that, in illegal markets, small is
beautiful. It is interesting to note that Reuter’s work is cited in various contexts, though
Reuter originally focused upon very specific local illegal markets, including gambling,
numbers, and loan sharking. Research on opportunistic structures of organized crime is
reviewed in the chapter by Bouchard and Morselli (this volume).
Central to enterprise theory are the similarities between legal and illegal activities. It is
therefore not surprising that some authors focus on the thin line between legal activities and
illegal activities, and between ‘illegal entrepreneurs’ and fraudulent and criminal ‘legal
entrepreneurs’. Furthermore, the rationality assumptions of economic theory sometimes drive
authors in the direction of overemphasizing personal characteristics of illegal entrepreneurs
(e.g. Van Duyne 1993). Illegal activities and adaptation are explained by rational behavior,
and success or failure is viewed as the result of intelligence and resourcefulness (or the lack
thereof). In public debate, concepts from illegal enterprise theory appear regularly in
discussions relating to questions such as how different organized crime is from fraudulent or
illegal ‘normal’ economic activities, how successful governments can be in prohibiting or
restricting certain illegal products and services (as these are in high demand), and to the
question how smart ‘the enemy’ actually is: very intelligent and well-organized (according to
some) or disorganized and inept (to others)?
IV. Protection theory
Protection theory is mainly based on the historical manifestation of Mafia control over
specific territories (e.g. Mafia control in Sicily since the late nineteenth century) and over
specific licit economic sectors, such as the building industry in Italy and the dominance of
Italian-American Mafia families in New York, in the building sector, the waste disposal
industry, the Fulton fish market, the unions, the harbor, et cetera (e.g. Gambetta 1993; Jacobs
1999; Jacobs and Peters 2003; Paoli 2003). Mafia groups gained control, acting as ‘alternative
governments’, and made profits by taking over two traditional state monopolies: the use of
violence and taxation. In the international literature, these illegal operations on legal markets
are also referred to as ‘racketeering’. These manifestations of Mafia control were often
paralleled by ‘weak states’, Sicily being the main historical example of absent state control
(Paoli 2003). Other authors refer to periods of rapid transition, the Soviet Union being the
main recent illustration of rapid change and evaporating centralized state control that
presented opportunities for Mafia groups (Varese 2001).
One specific interpretation of these phenomena is that Mafia groups actually render a service
(private protection) that is not provided by the state. In the absence of state protection of
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property rights and economic transactions, Mafia groups step into this business of selling
private protection and ensuring economic transactions. According to this view, Mafia groups
actually respond to a demand for ‘private protection’ and provide a ‘service’. Diego Gambetta
(1993), in his book ‘The Sicilian Mafia’, states that the Mafia is a specific economic
enterprise which produces, promotes, and sells private protection and protects property rights
and economic transactions, both legal and illegal. The Mafia, in short, renders the basic
services that the state is unable to provide. Several authors have used similar ideas and have
applied them to similar phenomena, such as the Hong Kong Triads, the Russian Mafia, and
the Japanese Yakuza (for a review, see Varese, this volume). Many of these authors borrow
from theories from political science (e.g. public choice) and economics (monopoly, cartel
formation) (for a review, see e.g. Von Lampe 2006). They also share a ‘benign’ interpretation
of the Mafia, as responding to a ‘demand’ for protection instead of seizing upon opportunities
for extortion and abuse of power.
One of the strong aspects of protection theory is that it presents an explanation for both the
dominance and the endurance of certain Mafia groups. One cannot imagine that the longevity
of Mafia dominance in certain regions could do without the implicit or explicit support of
large parts of the population, the government, and economic actors. The explanation is
simple: Mafia groups respond to a demand for ‘private protection’ and render a service. A
weak aspect of protection theory is that the analogy between Mafia groups and states is ill-
conceived: states generally neither guarantee illegal transactions in illegal markets nor illegal
operations in legal markets. Furthermore, the idea of a demand for ‘private protection’
presupposes that market mechanisms regulate the behavior of Mafia groups and citizens.
However, the empirical reality of protection money, extortion, violence, and killings could
also favor an alternative interpretation in terms of abuse of opportunities and abuse of power.
One of the fiercest critics of the interpretation of Gambetta (1993) is Paoli (2003). According
to Paoli, Mafia groups can best be viewed as multifunctional organizations, founded on pre-
modern status and fraternization contracts. They have historically been used by their members
to achieve a plurality of goals and to accomplish a variety of functions. Paoli credits Gambetta
for having rediscovered the political dimension of Southern Italian Mafia organizations that
had been neglected in the studies conceptualizing Mafia groups as illicit enterprises. For Paoli
as well, the provision of protection and, more generally, the exercise of political functions
remain typifying activities of Mafia organizations. She describes Mafia groups as political
communities that are not fully institutionalized. As such they are ready to impose their
dominion with violence, even when there is no demand in the surrounding society, thus
contradicting Gambetta’s ‘benign’ interpretation of Mafia protection services. Hence, Paoli
agrees with Gambetta that Mafia groups ‘tax’ local productive activities, yet disagrees with
his ‘benign’ interpretation that this is a price for a rendered service. Nevertheless, one of
strongest aspects of protection theory is that it highlights situations that are conducive to the
emergence of Mafia control, which is a dominant theme in the study of organized crime
(Varese, this volume).
V. Social embeddedness, social capital and criminal networks
Organized crime does not operate within a social vacuum, but interacts with its social
environment; consequently we should have a thorough understanding of social ties and social
interactions if we want to explain it (e.g. Albini 1971; Ianni and Reuss-Ianni 1972; Chambliss
1978; Kleemans and Van de Bunt 1999; Morselli 2009). Social ties are important, as
offenders operate in relatively hostile and uncertain environments, primarily as a result of the
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illegality of their activities. Though several authors stress the similarities between legal and
illegal activities (see section III), illegality does make a difference. Illegality implies that
contracts are not enforceable (as in licit business), illegal activities have to be concealed,
people can be arrested, and assets can be seized at any time. The world of organized crime
might be characterized as a kind of ‘jungle’: the financial stakes are high, yet the rules and
mechanisms that regulate transactions in the licit world are absent: entering into contracts,
paying debts via the official banking system, and – in case of disagreement – the availability
of mediation or the courts. Hence, co-operation in the world of organized crime is not easy to
come by, and curbing distrust between offenders is a continually recurring problem.
Granovetter (1985) put forward the idea that, in normal economic transactions, problems of
distrust are mitigated by the fact that these transactions are ‘embedded’ within networks of
personal relations. Several sociologists have elaborated upon this idea of ‘embeddedness’
(e.g. Coleman 1990; Burt 1992, 2005; Buskens and Raub 2012). These insights from the
emerging field of ‘economic sociology’ might enrich the study of organized crime. Time and
again we find that family, friends, and acquaintances work together and provide each other
with introductions to third parties (Kleemans and Van de Bunt 1999). Offenders may find new
opportunities through the use of their acquaintances’ resources, such as money, knowledge,
and contacts. Social relations might also dissolve problems of co-operation in an environment
dominated by distrust, suspicion, and deceit. Co-operation becomes easier if relevant parties
have information about each other and if they have invested time and energy in relationships
(producing a ‘shadow of the past’). Furthermore, it helps if offenders know they will probably
meet again in the future, providing a ‘shadow of the future’ (see e.g.: Buskens and Raub
2012).
General ideas about the structure of social relations can also be applied to organized crime
research (e.g. Kleemans and Van de Bunt 1999; Kleemans 2007). Social relations do not
happen at random but often obey the laws of social and geographical distance (Feld 1981): the
closer people live, the more daily activities they have in common, and the less social distance
exists between them, the more probable it is that ties will be forged between them. This
produces clustering of people based on factors such as geographical distance, ethnicity,
education, age, et cetera. The same kind of clustering exists within criminal networks. People
who have grown up together or who live in the same neighborhood may at a later date become
companions in crime, whereas people sharing a similar ethnic background may also become
members of the same criminal group.
Different parts of these networks, however, might be poorly connected as a result of
geographical and/or social barriers between different countries, between different ethnic
groups, and between the underworld and the licit world. These barriers produce ‘structural
holes’ in networks that are difficult to bridge (Burt 1992; Kleemans 2007). For example, the
main drug consumer markets are the United States and Europe, but there are few connections
between South American cocaine producers and European or U.S. drug importers. The illegal
nature of criminal activities presupposes a high degree of mutual trust. Therefore, those
offenders who are able to bridge these structural holes have all kinds of strategic opportunities
to make a profit. Case studies on transnational organized crime show that offenders in such
strategic positions often operate at an international or inter-ethnic level or somewhere
between the underworld and the licit world: they provide ‘bridges’ between people in
different countries, between people from different ethnic backgrounds, and between criminal
networks and the licit world (Kleemans 2007). These offenders are the ones who make the
necessary connections between networks that would otherwise remain apart. Because of the
importance of trust in such activities, these connections are often forged through family ties or
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other strong social bonds. An example of how this works is a case involving trafficking
cocaine from South America via the Caribbean to the Netherlands (Kleemans and Van de
Bunt 1999). The most vital link between the various countries was a man from the
Netherlands Antilles who was a ‘broker’ between Colombian suppliers and European buyers.
His sister was married to a Colombian who occupied a fairly high position in a cocaine
organization, which was mainly based upon family ties. The Antillean lived in the
Netherlands for a while, resulting in connections with Antilleans in the Netherlands who
bought the cocaine and distributed it. Another old acquaintance was a native Dutchman who
shipped – with the assistance of friends – the cocaine to the Netherlands. Hence, ‘structural’
holes at a macro-level are bridged by social relations at a micro-level.
The idea of social embeddedness has been applied by many authors on organized crime (for
reviews, see e.g. Morselli 2009; Carrington 2011). Although many authors refer to ideas of
social embeddedness and resource pooling, theoretical perspectives vary. Some depart from
traditional sociology and assume that social structure and culture are quite dominant in
determining individuals’ courses of action, leaving little room for ‘agency’ (for a critical
review, see e.g. Tremblay 1993). Conversely, others take an individualistic, rational choice
position and assume that individuals use other people’s resources in a strategic way (e.g.
Morselli 2005; 2009).
A very specific application is the more technical use of social network analysis. Based upon
data on contacts between offenders, such as wiretapping data, researchers have tried to
reconstruct criminal networks (for a review, see Carrington 2011). Most of these studies focus
on the frequency of contacts, with a few exceptions of studies that focus on the context of
relationships and the content of wiretapped communication (Natarajan 2006; Campana 2011;
Varese 2011). A central theme in this kind of research is that researchers ‘seek rather than
assume structure’ (for a review, see Bouchard and Morselli, this volume).
One of the key theoretical improvements of the social embeddedness literature on organized
crime is that the traditional question of hierarchical models, such as the bureaucracy model,
has been changed. Instead of asking the question, ‘Who is in charge?’, different questions are
posed, such as: ‘Who is dependent on whom? And for what reason?’ Answers to these
questions are found in social relationships between offenders and their resources, such as
money, knowledge, and contacts. This theoretical perspective opens ways for describing
different modes of cooperation instead of superimposing one specific model on different
criminal groups and different criminal activities. It seeks rather than assumes structure. It also
explains two key findings on criminal networks: their flexibility and their resilience against
arrests and seizures. If there are many connections between offenders, some offenders may be
more important than others, yet nobody is really irreplaceable. As a consequence, offenders
may seek different alliances, and criminal networks evolve over time. Kleemans and Van de
Bunt (1999) used the term ‘social snowball effect’ to describe how offenders get involved in
organized crime and how their careers develop: offenders get in touch with criminal networks
through social relations; and - as they go along - their dependency on other people’s resources
(such as money, knowledge, and contacts) gradually declines; subsequently they choose their
own ways: they generate new criminal groups by attracting people from their own social
environment, and the story begins all over again. The nature of criminal networks also
explains resilience. In networks, nobody is really irreplaceable; even important persons such
as investors, organizers, and facilitators can be substituted by others. Perhaps this is the main
reason why criminal networks often seem to suffer little damage from arrests or seizures:
links may be lost, but the chain is easily repaired.
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Other improvements of the social embeddedness perspective are several theoretical concepts
that can be used to describe strategic positions in criminal networks in a more detailed way.
One category of concepts refers to the fact that not only the quantity of contacts and the
density of networks are important, but also the quality of contacts and the strategic positioning
of certain individuals between parts of networks. One concept refers to ‘brokers’ who bridge
‘structural holes’ in criminal networks, providing them with all kinds of strategic options
(Morselli 2005). Social network analysis may capture this concept in a more technical way as
‘betweenness centrality’ (Carrington 2011). Another important innovation from this different
way of looking at criminal cooperation is the concept ‘facilitator’. Hierarchical models focus
upon ‘bosses and lieutenants’, while this different approach also highlights more peripheral
players, ‘facilitators’, who are important players for many offenders as they provide crucial
services for many groups of offenders (Kleemans 2007: 178-180). Examples are money
exchangers and money launderers, document forgers, and financial and legal advisors. Many
offenders face the same problems. They need to change money (into different, larger
denominations, and different currencies) or transfer or launder money. They also need
financial or legal advice, or forged documents (particularly in cases of human smuggling and
fraud). People who provide these services are in high demand and render these services to
different offenders and different groups. Hence, the concept ‘facilitator’ highlights the
salience of these service providers in criminal networks, whereas hierarchical models often
overlook these service providers as peripheral to criminal organizations.
An important criticism is that the social embeddedness perspective is quite a broad church.
Though many authors agree that it has become part of the ‘mainstream’ of organized crime
research, this mainstream comprises many different perspectives, ranging from sociological
writings on the breeding ground for organized crime to in-depth descriptions of criminal
networks and the technical use of social network analysis. A second criticism is that the
technical use of social network analysis, though ‘seeking rather than assuming structure’, also
falls prey to the historical preoccupation of organized crime research with structure. Although
the social embeddedness perspective opens up questions on seeking suitable co-offenders and
the dynamics of criminal cooperation, technical social network analysis often remains static
instead of dynamic, and – for reasons of convenience - gives more weight to the frequency of
(observed) contacts than the content of these contacts (with a few exceptions, e.g. Natarajan
2006; Campana 2011; Varese 2011). Furthermore, one may question whether or not the use of
wiretapping data is an adequate way of catching the most important persons and the most
important communication within criminal networks.
VI. Logistic or situational approach towards organized crime
Mainstream criminology traditionally focuses upon offenders instead of criminal events and
criminal activities. Furthermore, Steffensmeier and Ulmer (2005: 293-311) state that
traditional theories focus too much on ‘losers’ and ‘bottom-barrel thieves and hustlers’. The
prevailing line of reasoning is roughly that there is something wrong about offenders who
continue along the path of crime, either in a biological sense (for example, a lack of self-
control) or in a social sense (for example, a lack of conventional ties or stakes in conformity).
However, organized crime research shows, first, that some offenders are quite normal in many
respects, though they are involved in serious forms of crime; and, second, that not all crimes
are the same or just symptoms of latent characteristics such as low self-control (Gottfredson
and Hirschi 1990). Each type of crime imposes different requirements and can be analyzed
from a situational perspective. It is interesting to note that this situational perspective already
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had a history in the study of the logistics of organized crime (Sieber and Bögel 1993), even
before the situational approach was transplanted from the study of ordinary crime to that of
organized crime (Cornish and Clarke 2002).
An interesting aspect of situational analysis is that it changes our perspective from the
motivations of offenders to the opportunities and constraints arising from the environment.
Several authors have applied this situational approach to organized crime, with a specific
focus upon opportunities for crime prevention (for a review, see Bullock et al. 2010; Von
Lampe 2011). Situational analysis is ‘crime specific’. It is not focused upon organized crime
in general, instead concentrating, for example, on cocaine smuggling or preferably even more
specific activities or events, such as passengers smuggling swallowed ‘balloons’ of cocaine on
transnational flights. Cornish and Clarke (2002) state that the problem analysis starts with
unpacking the sets of ‘crime scripts’ involved, as these will reveal the opportunity structures
that enable the activities involved. This way barriers for the commission of organized crime
can be discovered and developed, similar to the ‘twenty-five techniques of situational crime
prevention’, which are aimed at increasing the effort, increasing the risks, reducing the
rewards, reducing provocations, or removing excuses. Examples of this approach involve
drugs smuggling, contraband cigarettes, sex trafficking, organized timber theft, mortgage
fraud, and infiltration in the public construction industry (Bullock et al. 2010).
The situational approach conceptualizes organized criminal activity as sets of criminal events.
It has enriched the organized crime literature with concepts such as ‘opportunity structures’,
‘crime scripts’, and ‘offender convergence settings’. Offender convergence settings are
locations where offenders may find co-offenders and which allow criminal cooperation to
persist even when the particular persons vary (Felson 2006: 97-99; Kleemans and Van de
Bunt 2008).
Central to the situational approach is a general disbelief that criminal groups and criminal
organizations are that important in explaining organized crime. Instead of focusing upon
criminal groups, the focus lies on criminal activities and opportunity structures. However,
Von Lampe (2011) comments that the situational model does not seem to fit properly for
organized crime activities. Perhaps it is true that much street crime can be prevented, if
motivated offenders, suitable targets, and the absence of capable guardians do not converge in
time and space. However, offenders in organized crime, in the first place, seem to be more
resourceful in a way that makes them less dependent on any given opportunity structure in
time and space. Second, a ‘target’ in terms of the ‘crime triangle’ (motivated offender,
suitable target, absence of a capable guardian) is often lacking, as the basis of the activities
lies in co-operation. Third, the mechanisms assumed to generate preventive effects within a
situation, most notably the discouraging effects of the presence of others, do not seem to work
under all circumstances. Hence, applying the situational crime prevention model to organized
crime seems to stretch several concepts beyond the point where their explanatory power is
strongest: ordinary, predatory crimes at a specific point in time and space.
VII. Emerging theoretical issues
Science makes progress through interaction between theory and sound empirical research.
Over the last decades, several new theoretical issues have emerged as a result of concrete
empirical research. We will elaborate upon three important issues: criminal careers in
organized crime, the relationship between ethnicity and organized crime, and transit crime,
Mafia transplantation and adaptation of traditional Mafia groups.
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1. Criminal careers in organized crime
Traditional research on criminal careers has mainly focused on juveniles, adolescents, and
high-volume crime. Although much empirical progress has been made in developmental and
life-course criminology (e.g. Piquero, Farrington, and Blumstein 2003; Farrington 2005), this
research tradition tends to ignore certain kinds of offenders, particularly adult offenders, and
certain types of crime, particularly organized crime and white-collar crime. Certain basic
findings and received wisdoms, however, have been challenged by research into criminal
careers in organized crime. Among these is the validity of the age-crime curve, which
describes that, in general, the prevalence of offending rises steeply in the early teenage years
and reaches a peak between the ages of 15 and 17, followed by a decline over the rest of the
life course. Also being challenged is the supposed dominance of individual differences (risk
factors) in explaining persistence in offending for a very small group of offenders (‘life-
course-persistent offenders’ as opposed to the majority of ‘adolescence-limited offenders’;
e.g. Moffitt 1993; 2006).
There are several reasons why criminal careers in organized crime may be different from
high-volume crime. Various crimes, such as property crime and violent crime, are simply
open to everyone. Yet the situation is somewhat more complex in organized crime, in
particular in cases of cross-border crime or ‘transit crime’ (Kleemans and De Poot 2008). The
first distinct feature is the greater importance of social relations in organized crime, providing
access to suppliers, co-offenders, and profitable criminal opportunities. As more co-offenders
are generally required for the successful commission of these crimes, seeking and finding
suitable co-offenders is important (see e.g. Reiss 1988; Tremblay 1993; Waring and Weisburd
2002; Warr 2002; Levi 2008). Reliance on co-offenders from within one’s own social circle is
not always sufficient, as they may not possess the necessary capabilities. Contacts with the
legal world are also salient for transport, money transactions, and shielding activities from the
authorities. Trust is also important, as the financial stakes are high and the rules and
mechanisms that make transactions in the legal world so much easier are absent (Reuter 1983;
Potter 1994; Gambetta 2000; Von Lampe and Johansen 2004). For this reason, existing social
ties are used, or illegal business relationships have to be built up. The second distinct feature
of organized crime is the transnational character of many of these criminal activities. Many
types of organized crime are based on international smuggling activities. Not all offenders
have access to these transnational contacts, and some only later on in life. A third common
feature is that the crimes committed are logistically considerably more complex than high-
volume crime (e.g. Sieber and Bögel 1993; Cornish and Clarke 2002).
These differences between organized crime and street crime may explain several interesting
findings that challenge basic findings from developmental and life-course criminology. First,
juveniles are almost absent in organized crime, and most offenders are quite old, in their
thirties, forties, fifties, or even older. Second, a large share of offenders get involved in
organized crime only at a later age. Late starters are not exceptional, as in traditional research
on criminal careers, but instead comprise a substantial group of offenders (Kleemans and De
Poot 2008). This finding of a substantial presence of ‘late starters’ is robust across several
different criminal activities (drugs, fraud, and other activities) and different roles in criminal
groups (Van Koppen et al. 2010). Kleemans and De Poot (2008) explain these findings by the
‘social opportunity structure’ – social ties providing access to profitable criminal
opportunities. Some offenders lack these social ties at a younger age, which explains why
some offenders become involved in organized crime only at a later age. It also explains the
interesting phenomenon of ‘late starters’ – people without any appreciable criminal history –
11
and legally employed people switching careers. According to Kleemans and De Poot (2008),
four different involvement mechanisms may explain the start of a criminal career: social ties,
work ties, leisure activities and sidelines, and life events (most notably life events causing
financial setbacks). Other authors have also analyzed criminal careers in organized crime (e.g.
Steffensmeier and Ulmer 2005) and highlight among others ‘zigzag patterns’ in criminal
careers and ‘moonlighting’ of people between legal and illegal business. Furthermore,
Morselli (2005) has put forward the idea that ‘brokers do better’ and that advancements in
criminal careers can be explained by deliberate choices people make in investing in certain
relationships.
Studies on criminal careers in organized crime pose several challenges for criminal career
research. First, these studies might refocus attention to social context and co-offenders
promoting certain pathways in crime. Co-offending is still an understudied aspect in criminal
career research. Second, these findings challenge the traditional boundaries between legality
and illegality. Social ties cross boundaries between legality and illegality, as do some people’s
activities at particular times in their lives. Third, the studies on organized crime careers
suggest that criminal career research should focus not only on adolescence but also on later
stages in life, as important changes in criminal careers occur with age. Fourth, studying these
stages in life should go beyond a preoccupation with desistance. Steffensmeier and Ulmer
(2005) state that desistance cannot be explained by stakes in conformity alone; another
important factor is the lack of (or presence of) profitable criminal opportunities. One could
argue that this is particularly salient during stages in life when making money is more
important than in adolescence. It could also provide an answer to the question why successful
offenders in organized crime never seem to ‘retire’ and continue along the path of crime.
2. Questioning the link between ethnicity and organized crime
In many textbooks, organized crime is divided along ethnic lines. Ethnicity is assumed to be
the key to determining group membership, distinguishing between, for instance, Italian
organized crime, Chinese organized crime, Russian organized crime, and so forth, and is the
primary focus of many ‘ethnic’ explanations of organized crime phenomena (for a review, see
e.g. Bovenkerk 1998; Bovenkerk, Siegel, and Zaitch 2003). This ‘ethnic’ conception of
organized crime is vulnerable to three sets of criticism (Soudijn and Kleemans 2009). First,
ethnicity is often linked to generalizations regarding the structure of criminal cooperation,
often related with claims of links with well-known pyramid-shaped organizations in the
countries of origin, most notably the Sicilian Mafia, Chinese Triads, Japanese Yakuza, and
Russian ‘vory v zakone’. Second, ethnic homogeneity and ethnic closure of criminal groups
are overemphasized, whereas ethnic heterogeneity and inter-ethnic cooperation are neglected.
Third, ideas of ‘ethnic specialization’ tend to identify particular ethnic groups with particular
criminal activities.
However, empirical research reveals that criminal cooperation is built not so much on
ethnicity as on social relationships between several individuals. People cooperate because
they are family or because they originate from the same village. Often this means that they
have the same ethnicity, because ethnicity affects social relations. Yet it does not preclude the
involvement of people from other ethnic backgrounds. To a certain extent this relationship
between ethnicity and organized crime is a ‘spurious’ relationship, as it can be explained by
the logic of social relations (Kleemans and Van de Bunt 1999).
This new way of looking at ethnicity explains the existence of ethnically heterogeneous
criminal groups next to ethnically homogeneous groups. The literature presents several
12
empirical examples of crime groups comprised of or having substantial interactions with
individuals of various ethnic backgrounds (e.g. Block 1979; Potter and Jenkins 1984; Adler
1985; Albanese 1996; Bovenkerk, Siegel, and Zaitch 2003). It also explains inter-ethnic
cooperation. Organized crime often involves transnational activities, such as drug trafficking,
smuggling or trafficking of illegal immigrants, arms trafficking, and other transnational illegal
activities such as money laundering. These transnational activities add new dimensions to the
relationships between ethnicity and crime, because offenders benefit from contacts between
different nations and different ethnic groups.
Interesting lines of research comprise the transatlantic links of certain ethnic groups.
Transnational social bonds, created by migration, can be a breeding ground for transnational
criminal cooperation. This may explain why certain migration patterns may create particular
comparative advantages for specific ethnic groups in transnational drug trafficking or human
smuggling (Kleemans and Van de Bunt 1999; Kleemans 2007, 2009). Paoli and Reuter
(2008), in an article on drug trafficking and ethnic minorities in Europe, show how ethnicity
can be transformed from a ‘trait’ into a product of social position, social ties, and opportunity
structures. They state that examination of the existing research literature, together with a
careful reading of the official data, indicates that certain sectors of the drug market are
dominated by a small number of specific immigrant groups. Yet there are marked contrasts
between the presence of certain ethnic groups at the retail level of open drugs settings and the
presence of other groups in closed settings. The same applies to the production and trafficking
of specific kinds of drugs. According to Paoli and Reuter, Turkish and Albanian ethnic groups
largely control the importation, high-level trafficking, and open-air retailing of heroin,
whereas Colombian groups dominate the importation of cocaine. However, there are other
major sectors of the drug market, most notably those for cannabis and synthetic drugs, in
which native populations seem to be more important. In their explanation, the authors go
beyond ethnicity. Although referring to cultural differences, they also explicitly consider how
distinct structures of opportunity available to members of different ethnic groups may account
for this configuration.
Another interesting line of research relates to comparing different criminal activities that are
carried out by specific ethnic groups (e.g. Chinese). Instead of focusing upon typical
‘Chinese’ characteristics and reproducing an ethnic conception of organized crime, such
analysis reveals not only similarities between Chinese offenders and Chinese groups, but also
differences that are related to the specific activities that are carried out. Zhang and Chin
(2002) took a comparative view on organized crime groups in the human smuggling business
and the heroin market and characterized Chinese criminal groups as ‘temporary business
alliances’. Soudijn and Kleemans (2009) compared Chinese human smuggling with the
involvement of Chinese offenders in trafficking in precursors (the basic chemical ingredients
for synthetic drugs). Such comparisons highlight similarities and differences and enable
researchers to go beyond ethnicity, by adding explanations based on social relations, social
networks, and situational aspects of certain criminal activities.
A last interesting line of research involves the symbolic and instrumental use of ‘ethnic
stereotypes’ (Bovenkerk, Siegel, and Zaitch 2003). A Russian self-employed prostitute may
benefit from stereotypes of Russian organized crime: by pretending to have connections with
the Russian Mafia, she may be able to keep pimps and bodyguards at a distance. Similar to
this, Colombians in the cocaine business may benefit from stereotypes of Colombian cocaine
traffickers, whereas bodyguards and blackmailers profit from the violent reputation of certain
ethnic groups.
13
3. Transit crime, Mafia transplantation and adaptation of traditional Mafia groups
A third emerging theoretical issue relates to the juxtaposition of traditional Mafia groups and
their dominance over certain territories and certain economic sectors (‘racketeering’) and the
emergence of transnational criminal activities, also referred to as ‘transit crime’ (Kleemans
2007). These two different ways of making money, ‘taxation’ versus international illegal
trade, require different things from criminal groups.
One theoretical question relates to the fact that traditional Mafia groups, most notably the
Sicilian Mafia, have faced difficulties in their attempts to get involved in transnational drug
trafficking. Paoli (2003) describes how their strength (status and fraternization contracts)
limits their acquisition of resources to compete on international illegal markets and how they
pay high costs for their territorial control and political power. It limits international expansion,
and profits are largely re-invested locally. Furthermore, according to Paoli, these groups are
marginalized from transnational business, whereas bosses, even when they have to go into
hiding, stay in the region to ensure their control over local activities. Zhang and Chin (2003)
proposed a ‘structural deficiency’ perspective to explain why traditional Chinese crime
syndicates have not seized upon the opportunities of transnational criminal activities. As these
syndicates and their traditional racketeering activities – such as gambling, prostitution or loan
sharking – are geographically constrained, they are not well suited to fluid transnational
market conditions.
A second theoretical question relates to how Mafias move or how Mafia groups may relocate
in other territories and other countries. In a seminal paper, Varese (2006) compares the
(successful and unsuccessful) movement of ‘Ndrangheta groups to two different places: a
small skiing resort versus a medium-sized town in Northern Italy. Varese concludes that
certain features of the economy, the presence of significant sectors of the economy which are
not protected by the state, and a local rather than an export orientation, generate a demand for
protection and that successful transplantation occurs in the presence of such a demand. Varese
(2011) extended his theoretical and empirical work to various examples of ‘Mafias on the
Move’, in which Mafia groups managed to move their core business abroad in specific
circumstances. One of his conclusions is that supply of protection (by Mafia groups) in itself
is not sufficient for Mafias to become entrenched in new territory, whereas a local ‘demand’
from sectors of the society is always present in cases of successful ‘transplantation’ (see also:
Varese, this volume). Campana (2011) builds upon Varese’s work in his in-depth study –
using wiretapped conversations - of a Camorra group with branches in Italy, Scotland
(Aberdeen), and the Netherlands (Amsterdam). He concludes that they act as a monopolist in
the protection racket in their territory of origin, but that a protection racket is a difficult
business to move or expand (cf. Reuter 1983; Gambetta 1993). The Camorra group did not
expand its core business and is still highly dependent on its territory of origin, where the vast
majority of the members live. Nevertheless, they diversified their activities by using
Amsterdam as a ‘hub’ in international drug trafficking and by making investments in
Aberdeen in the food and catering sector, in the construction industry, and in real estate.
Hence, Mafia groups may change their modus operandi across territories: brooking no
competition in their territory of origin, while behaving just like any other actor in other places.
A third theoretical question concerns ‘transit crime’ (Kleemans 2007: 176-178). Despite the
major emphasis in the literature on ‘racketeering’ and protection, many profitable criminal
activities boil down to international smuggling activities—drug trafficking, smuggling illegal
immigrants, human trafficking for sexual exploitation, arms trafficking, trafficking in stolen
vehicles, and other transnational illegal activities, such as money laundering and evasion of
14
taxes (cigarette smuggling, European Community fraud, for example). Profitability is the
major reason why ‘transit crime’ seems to be the main activity of many organized crime
groups. This is true for drugs production, import, and export, yet handsome profits can also be
made by smuggling illegal immigrants and highly-taxed goods (such as cigarettes, alcohol,
and oil), and from VAT-fraud and EU-fraud (see e.g. Van Duyne 1993). Furthermore, in
many developed countries, the opportunities for organized crime groups to get control of
certain regions or economic sectors have always been quite low, while the opportunity
structure for transit crime is excellent. More generally, Fijnaut and Paoli state that in most
Western European countries the ability of traditional organized crime groups to infiltrate the
legitimate economy and corrupt civil and political institutions has been grossly overstated,
with the exception of in Italy and Turkey (Fijnaut and Paoli 2004, 614-16). Transit crime does
not require corruption. In fact, it may benefit from reliable government and an excellent
infrastructure for the transportation of legal (and illegal) goods, a transit country such as the
Netherlands being a prime example. This means that foreign criminal groups have better
opportunities to operate in these open, developed economies than in isolated areas that are
dominated by locally-based criminal groups.
VIII. Conclusion
Advances in criminological theory emerge from posing new questions and providing new
answers. These advances may roughly take on four different forms. First, the search for the
Holy Grail of an overarching ‘theory of crime’. In criminology, examples of such endeavors
are the ‘general theory of crime’ of Gottfredson and Hirschi (1990) and the ‘control balance
theory’ of Tittle (1995). Organized crime theory lacks such general theories, perhaps because
many authors realize that no theory could ever catch the diversity of different criminal groups
and the diversity of different criminal activities that are often labeled as ‘organized crime’.
A second route to theoretical advancement is ‘signaling knowledge problems’, for which
existing theoretical perspectives do not provide satisfactory answers. The history of organized
crime research is full of such ‘knowledge problems’ that open ways for new theoretical
questions and new theoretical perspectives. Illegal enterprise theory may be viewed as a
reaction against the bureaucracy model, whereas the social capital and social network
perspective may be interpreted as an answer to unexplained questions of illegal enterprise
theory.
A third route is the transplantation of theories from other disciplines with similar research
questions. Examples are theories from economics (including new institutional economics),
organization theory, political science, and psychology (see also Von Lampe 2006). One
advantage is that these theories already have a history in another discipline and have been
elaborated in different research settings. A disadvantage is that these disciplines often have a
very one-dimensional vision of reality, for instance explaining all activities as ‘economic’
activities (economics) or as events explained primarily by individual differences (psychology
and biology) or ‘interests and power relations’ (political science).
A fourth route to theoretical advancement is the least ambitious, yet the most practical one:
the continuous interaction between theory and empirical research. The history of organized
crime research is both a history of shifting theoretical perspectives and of oscillating empirical
phenomena that are at the forefront of public and scientific discussion: from the long-
established dominance of Mafia groups in certain rural Italian areas and the threat of powerful
Italian-American Mafia-families in New York, to the emergence of transnational organized
15
crime in the seventies and eighties of the twentieth century, involving large-scale drug
trafficking, human trafficking, human smuggling, and international fraud.
Sound empirical research has put traditional theoretical perspectives under attack and has
opened up ways for theoretical advancements. It has also generated particular promising lines
of research on criminal careers in organized crime, the relationship between ethnicity and
organized crime, and the relationship between transit crime, racketeering, and questions of
Mafia transplantation and adaptation.
Finally, organized crime theory and research may also enrich traditional criminology by
expanding criminology’s empirical and theoretical domain. Criminologists too often ignore
issues of co-offending and complex criminal activities, as these are difficult to capture in
empirical research. Co-offending and complex criminal activities are very close to the core of
organized crime research, and there is no reason why criminologists should ignore such
issues.
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... This book also confirms the role of opacity as a money laundering driver, intended in terms of cash intensity and corporate secrecy of destination countries, as well as security, which pertains to the stability and reliability of the economic, financial, and regulatory system of destination countries. That is to say, given that criminals operate in a highly unregulated and unsafe environment (Kleemans, 2014;Reuter, 1983;Schelling, 1967), they seek to move their money to those jurisdictions where, ceteris paribus, they can be sure they will ultimately access and enjoy their funds. The analysis also provides empirical evidence that supports the hypothesis that high levels of corruption hamper money laundering activities, and that low taxation does not necessarily attract criminal proceeds. ...
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The security, economic, social and political disruptions of the state induced by the activities of organized crime has weakened the state's authority to carry out its expected functions of good governance. In Nigeria, the illegal activities of criminal cartel groups affect government's resources and its ability to enhance the welfare, basic human needs and living standard of its citizens. The criminal cartels who in their corrupt practices penetrate political offices to wax their influence, strengthened by the integration of security agencies and judicial organs of the state to shield their illegal activities carried out by violence or threat of violence have become a course for national concern. This is why urgent attention needs to be taken to address the menace. It is against this background that the paper examined the impact of organized crime on good governance and also to proffer ways the menace can be reduced to the barest minimum. The paper adopted the bureaucracy model of organized crime since it is organized like a conventional bureaucracy pyramid shape with members in hierarchical leadership through which its activities are carried out. The paper utilized secondary sources of data and was historically analyzed. The findings of the paper revealed that the ill activities of organized crime undercut government's transparency, accountability, popular political participation and ability to harness resources for the well-being of the citizens. It is also observe that the infiltration of organized criminals in public affairs subverts government's welfare policies of its citizens, due to gross corruption all over public office, among others. The recommendations include inter alia: That political and economic agencies should beef up their administrative tentacles and arsenals to stem the tide of organized criminal cartels, leaders should muster the political will to restrict people from lifestyles that encourages organized crime, the government should ensure that welfare dimension of human needs is provided to attract citizens' patriotism to shun criminal groups and their activities, among others.
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During the 1920s, the League of Nations carried out the first intercontinental investigation into the traffic in women. Although this work is virtually unknown in criminology, the investigators, William Snow and Bascom Johnson, formulated the conceptual language of “trafficking” used today. It was also during the 1920s that Frederick Thrasher and John Landesco published their pioneering works on “organized crime” drawing on research in Chicago. The advantages of the League’s model can be seen in the response to a 1924 report of a white slave traffic ring in Los Angeles by August Vollmer, the celebrated founder of professionalism in American policing. Vollmer’s language of a white slave traffic ring in Los Angeles recalls a nineteenth-century understanding of traffic in women but previews the illegal enterprise model that emerges from the industrial city. Drawing on their understanding of crime in port cities, Snow and Johnson situate the traffic in women within a social networks model. Vollmer looked for the spider, Snow and Johnson looked at the web.
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Punktami zwrotnymi w kryminologii określa się najczęściej te wydarzenia, doświadczenia lub stany, które mają długotrwały wpływ na życie sprawcy przestępstwa i w konsekwencji skutkują jego „odstąpieniem” od przestępczości. Zakończenie drogi przestępczej jest złożonym procesem. W artykule dokonano przeglądu literatury poświęconej pojęciu punktów zwrotnych z perspektywy kryminologii drogi życiowej, w szczególności roli kobiet w hamowaniu działalności przestępczej ich mężczyzn. W pewnym zakresie omówiono założenia metodologiczne przeprowadzonych w tym obszarze badań oraz zasugerowano pola przyszłych badań nad punktami zwrotnymi.
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This volume represents the first attempt to systematically compare organised crime concepts, as well as historical and contemporary patterns and control policies in thirteen European countries. These include seven ‘old’ EU Member States (Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, Spain and the United Kingdom), two ‘new’ members (the Czech Republic and Poland), a candidate country (Turkey), and three non-EU countries (Albania, Russia and Switzerland). Based on a standardised research protocol, thirty-three experts from different legal and social disciplines provide insight through detailed country reports. On this basis, the editors compare organised crime patterns and policies in Europe and assess EU initiatives against organised crime. Its informed analyses and unprejudiced assessments will make Organised Crime in Europe an indispensable resource for scholars, students, practitioners, and policy-makers interested in understanding the complex phenomenon of organised crime and its related control policies in Europe.
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Success in criminal enterprise largely depends on how offenders go about committing their crimes. An offender’s search for increasing financial returns and decreasing costs is mediated by the structure of his pool of useful and trustworthy contacts. In Contacts, Opportunities, and Criminal Enterprise, Carlo Morselli examines how business-oriented criminals who have personal networks designed to promote high numbers of diverse contacts achieve and maintain competitive advantages in their earning activities and overall criminal careers. Based on two case studies of criminal careers in international cannabis smuggling and Cosa Nosta racketeering, the book proposes a social network framework to study the underlying social relationships influencing achievement in crime. Morselli further utilizes this relational approach to illustrate how survival and long-term endurance in criminal enterprise is achieved, and how criminals’ networks of contacts and opportunities can insulate them from potentially career-damaging forces - law enforcement, fellow criminals, etc. Contacts, Opportunities, and Criminal Enterprise is a much-needed assessment of criminal activity.