The issue of organized crime has been and continues to be prominent in both popular culture and politics. Shrouded in secrecy and governed by long-established rules and laws, different variations of organized crime around the world have developed into one of the most dangerous threats to international stability and safety today. These criminal groups exploit increasingly porous borders and facilitated communication to make their business of providing illicit goods and services a global endeavor.
The market they operate in is expansive and provides many options for profit, including illegal weapons and narcotics trade, human trafficking, money laundering and extortion. So what is organized crime and what are its definitive features? Abstracting from academic definitions of organized crime, and focusing on personal perception, it can be defined as unlawful or illegal activity committed by organized and disciplined group of people. From the critical perspective, this definition is not scholar, and does not contain major characteristics of organized crime, that differentiate it from other criminal activity.
Since these characteristics are essential to the understanding of organized crime as a phenomenon, they will be discussed further in detail. One of the most obvious differences between organized crime and individual offenders is the former’s access to certain crimes. Organized crime is able to leverage the benefits of its network to diversify into criminal ventures that typically would not be available to individual criminals. Organized crime shows the characteristic of being involved in corruption of legitimate organizations. This feature has been noted by several researchers.
Anderson (1997) notes that organized crime infiltrates even higher levels of government and blames complicity of the government at some levels for such an effect. Kugler, Verdier and Zenou (2005), support such an observation by showing how corruption acts as a catalyst for organized crime. Maltz (1985) observes similar corruption of businesses and describes how organized crime operates along the same lines of any legitimate business in an industry. However, any operation that is not profitable in the short-term is not terminated or sold off (if applicable).
Instead, organized crime maintains such operations and orients them toward potential long term income. While on the one hand, organized crime sets up dummy businesses in order to hide its illegitimate businesses, on the other hand, any infiltrated legitimate businesses are corrupted in order to increase gains (short or long term) to this organized crime. Interestingly, organized crime tends to collude with other players in an industry when involved in racketeering. And even after organized crime builds sufficient expertise in a certain area, it chooses to share earnings with unaffiliated colluders rather than monopolize.
It must be noted that racketeering is the running of any organization in order to commit a crime. While legal code includes embezzlement as a type of racketeering, literally the two activities are different. Embezzlement is the misuse of funds by an entrusted individual – this does not pertain to the motive behind the creation of an organization. Another distinctive feature of organized crime is the methods these organizations employ to make themselves such durable forces, namely private protection and corruption. These are both business methods and techniques that have made it difficult to extract criminal influences from society.
Private protection, sometimes referred to as extortion, seems to be an essential part of criminal activity. Groups force businesses and individuals under threat or use of violence to purchase protection from them, thus establishing a continuous dependent relationship. One of the most important and least addressed issues is the monopoly of violence. In strong, well-established states, governments are responsible for organizing and monopolizing violence that is regulated and delegated to the police and armed forces (Tilly 1985: 171). When they are unable, individuals and organized groups can arm themselves and use
violence on one another, making order difficult to maintain. An essential characteristic of organized crime is the ability to use, and reputation for the use of violence or threats of violence to facilitate their criminal activities or to gain control of an illegal market (Hagan 2006: 134). From the personal viewpoint, its seems like the capacity for violence by organized crime is made easier when the state has little or no control over it. Like it has been emphasized the distinctive feature of organized crime from individual criminals is that organized crime is connected closely to corruption of legitimate organizations.
Organized crime networks will exploit the weakness in government by corrupting public officials to assure immunity for their operations and to reduce competition in the criminal market (Hagan 2006:134). Organized crime will seek to neutralize or nullify government institutions by paying off public officials such as police, prosecutors and judges. This will allow the criminal organizations to avoid investigations, arrests, and convictions, and to operate with immunity. However, again from personal viewpoint, role of organized crime while utilizing corruption goes beyond traditional bribing or nullifying government efforts in other methods.
For instance, the infiltration of labor unions by organized crime has been long documented by various researchers. This infiltration is not just a secondary activity but from personal standpoint, a defining feature of organized crime. This is a key characteristic of it – it diversifies into legitimate businesses and does not just operate in criminal activities. The lucrative nature of government contracts and the ability to maintain a monopoly in order to semi-legitimize their activities have been the driving forces of organized crime’s pursuit of racketeering.
Hutchinson (1972), Horowitz (1999), among others, have outlined how the ease of embezzling funds from union treasuries, extorting union members, obtaining kickbacks, securing contracts, etc. , have made union corruption an attractive crime. The approach to combating such crimes is a bone of contention. Horowitz, for instance believes that state regulations have allowed unions to have a labor monopoly, Hutchinson believes that internal reform is the way to combat organized crime. REFERENCES Anderson, A. 1997. Organized Crime, Mafia, and Governments.
In Fiorentini, G. , Peltzman, S. , editors, The Economics of Organized Crime, pages 33-54. Cambridge University Press Hagan, Frank E. 2006. “‘Organized Crime’ and ‘organized crime’: Indeterminate Problems of Definition. ” In Trends in Organized Crime; Vol. 9, No. 4, Summer 2006: 127-137 Hutchinson, J. 1972. The Imperfect Union: A History of Corruption in American Trade Unions New York: E. P. Dutton Horowitz, C, F. 1999. Union Corruption: Why It Happens, How to Combat It, Springfield, VA: National Institute For Labor Relations Research
Kugler, M. , Verdier, T. , Zenou, Y. 2005. Organized crime, corruption and punishment Journal of Public Economics Elsevier, vol. 89(9-10), pages 1639-1663 Maltz, M. 1985. On defining organized crime. In Alexander, H. , Caiden, G. , editors, The politics and economics of organized crime pages 82-95. Lexington, MA: Lexington Books Tilly, Charles. 1985. “War Making and State Making as Organized Crime. ” In Bringing the State Back In, ed. by Peter Evans, Dietrich Rueschemeyer, and Theda Skocpol. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985: 169-187.