The history of organized crime in the US is marked by increased sophistication by the operators. While criminal activities in the past were carried out by daring, even desperate, individuals, criminal activities have over the years been taken over by groups of organized people who are able to carry out their activities on a national and even global level. Organized crime in the US can be traced to the prohibition laws of the 1920s (“Organized crime”, 2007). As a result of the prohibition laws, bootlegging rings developed and these soon developed both a national and international character.
While the criminal groups in the 1920s were powerful and had even succeeded in corrupting local leaders, they were fiercely opposed to one another leading to gangland killings, which undermined the operational effectiveness of the groups. The prohibition laws were repealed in 1933 and this forced the operators in the organized crime scene to seek new ways of furthering their activities (“Organized crime”, 2007). New crimes that developed after the repeal of prohibition included gambling and traffic in narcotics.
In the 1930s, organized crime became even more sophisticated with the rise of the Syndicate – a criminal organization that had representation across the states (“Organized crime”, 2007). The might of the Syndicate is indicated by the fact that it operated like an invisible government, complete with territorial boundaries for the leaders. Moreover, the Syndicate made sure that its decisions were implemented by use of the group known as Murder Inc. The Syndicate was eventually smashed and the mastermind of its operations, Lucky Luciano, convicted and jailed. Another mastermind, Louis Buchalter, was executed (“Organized crime”, 2007).
Yet organized crime has thrived and stayed ahead of the law enforcement agencies. In the 1950s, organized crime shed its blue-collar image and the main operators were able to detach themselves from the criminal activities they masterminded, in this way duping the police. The complete metamorphosis of organized crime is best represented by the rise to prominence of the Mafia. The Mafia in the US was originally made up of Sicilian immigrants but by the 20th century, the Mafia had become an integral part of American organized crime life (“Organized crime”, 2004).
Today, organized crime has become even more sophisticated and lucrative. The strength of the Mafia is so great that Friman (2003), quoting Susan Strange, sees it as “challenging the state across the various dimensions of structural power”. With globalization, organized crime has also developed global networks and the growth of groups, which appear similar. Friman (2003) notes the similarities between the Mafia, the Japanese Yazuka, Mexican drug cartels and Chinese triads.