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Organised crime is a subject that has attracted official and public attention for a very long time. Most governments, law enforcement agencies have long regarded it as a significant policy issue. The subject also fascinates the general public, through literature, film drama or documentary programmes. In the light of such interest from a variety a sources, it is necessary to set out a critical framework that will foster some clarity about its controversial nature before dealing with substantive examples or before examining how states are tackling organised crime.
Organised crime has proved difficult to define. Schelling said that it does not simply mean 'crime that is organised' (1984). The documentation and critical literature including scholars such as Maltz, Albanese, Hogan, set out an uncountable number of definitions. Some of the definitions are highly emotive, while others have legal and political aims, seeking to find improvements for the law enforcement agencies to learn how to tackle the problem in order to provide a better solution.
Despite the fact that organised crime has a long history, we should probably focus on the 1960s, the starting point for extensive debates about its meaning and effect. Most of it emanated from the USA, when it produced a considerable amount of anxiety among policy makers in the wake of assassination of the President Kennedy. (Alan Wright, 2006) Some emotive definitions during the 1960s reveal the fact that most people were experiencing very strong feeling about the subject. For instance, in 1965 Oyster Bay Conference of American Law Enforcement Agents defined organised crime as:
'the product of a self perpetuating criminal conspiracy to wring exorbitant profiles from our society by any means-fair or foul, legal and illegal. It is a malignant parasite which fattens on human weakness. It survives on fear and corruption. By one or other means it obtains a high degree of immunity from law. It is totalitarian in its organisationâ€¦' (Oyster Bay Conference 1965)
It is clear that the definition presented leads to the idea of conspiracy and terror. For few years the questions 'precisely what is organised crime?' posed many problems. Donal Cressey was one of the first criminologists to set out a structure for organised crime. He noted that criminal groups were part of a social system, with their own rules and hierarchy. Moreover, Cressey formed a distinction between formal and informal organisational structures and he believed that the term 'organised crime' should only be used to define organisations such as 'the Mafia', 'Cosa Nostra' and other names as such.
Cressey could not claim that he manage to convince other scholars about his theories. For example, in Detroit we find Albini who had a different opinion about criminal groups. For Albini, organised crime was a consistency of 'networks of patrons and clients' (Alan Wright, 2006). He believes that the relationship between the members can easily be changed. Albini also believes that Cressey was right to say that 'the Mafia' indeed has a family like structure, but he strongly resist the idea of hierarchy between syndicate members.
In 1976, Michael Maltz publishes 'On defining organised crime: the development of a definition and typology'. He claims that although many criminologists have shown an interest in the subject and have developed a number of definitions, the only attempt to define 'organised crime' in a federal statute is found in the Omnibus Crime Control and safe Streets Act of 1968:
'Organised Crime means the unlawful activities of the members of a highly organised, disciplined association engaged in supplying illegal goods and services, including but not limited to gambling, prostitution, loan sharking, narcotics, labor racketeering, and other unlawful activities of members of such organisations'.
Maltz also says that instead of formulating so many definitions, we should focus on combining a definition with a typology. Most typologies are related to the offender or to the social system. He identifies nine categories of activity that serve to define organised crime groups and they include a degree of sophistication, continuity and discipline. According to Maltz, not all groups can be the same, as they have different characteristics, but the pursuit of them enterprise is usually the same and it's the essence of organised crime activity.
Putting together all the information collected, Maltz came out with a tentative of definition and typology as such:
'A crime consists of a transaction proscribed by the criminal law between offender(s) and victim(s). It is not necessary for the victim to be a complainant or to consider himself victimised for a crime to be committed. An organised crime is a crime committed by two or more offenders who are or intend to remain associated for the purpose of committing crimes.
The means of execution of crimes include violence, theft, corruption, economic power, deception, and victim collusion or participation, which are not mutually exclusive categories; any organised crime may employ a number of these means.
The objective of most organised crimes is power, wither political or economic. These objectives, too, are not mutually exclusive, and may co-exist in any organised crime. These objectives may take a number of manifestations. When the objective is political power, it may be of two types: overthrow of the existing order or illegal use of the political process. When the objective is economic power, it may manifest itself in three ways: through common crime (mala in se), through illegal business (mala prohibita) or through legitimate business (white collar crime). '
We could perhaps pick the fact that in most criminological definitions the 'group' nature of the organised crime seems to be preferable. But not all of them agree with the idea. For instance, in 1996, Van Duyne points out to the mistake in using the term 'organised crime' as it seems a clear, well defined phenomenon: 'the economic activities of these organising criminals can better be described from the view point of 'crime enterprises' than from a conceptually unclear framework such as 'organised crime' (Van Duyne, 1996).
All the definitions have common factors, but in reality the concept itself makes defining organised crime a problem. Organised crime is defined according to the context we want to frame it for: legal, political, economic or scientific. It is also necessary that we recognise the fact that organised crime is 'an essentially contested concept, over which we may not reach a final agreement'.(Alan Wright, 2006)`
Having a variety of definitions, shows that questioning 'what is organised crime' and expecting a very simple, basic answer, it's impossible. However, the concept itself can tease out its complexity as we will carry on analysing it and elaborating it.
During the 1990s, the problem of organised crime became an international phenomenon. Paoli says that 'The expression "organized crime" has, in fact, been used as a catchphrase to express the growing anxieties of national and supranational public institutions and private citizens in view of the expansion of domestic and world illegal markets, the increasing mobility of criminal actors across national borders, and their perceived growing capability to pollute the licit economy and undermine political institutions.'
In recent years, one of the controversial criminological thinking about organised crime is that actually we are not talking about something 'organised' at all. For instance, Paoli points out in 'The paradoxes of organized crime' that the supply of illegal commodities is disorganised due to 'constraints of product illegality, no immanent tendency towards the development of large-scale criminal enterprises within illegal markets exist.'
There have been a lot of discussions and political thesis that were associating organised crime with ethnic groups and the well known 'alien conspiracy', but in order to eradicate stereotypes and to focus more on the markets, few authors have put forward terms such 'illicit', 'illegal enterprise' instead of 'organised crime' (Smith, 1976; 1990; Haller, 1970;1990)
Dwight Smith one of the first scholars to adopt the idea says: "illicit enterprise is the extension of legitimate market activities into areas normally proscribed - i.e. beyond existing limits of law - for the pursuit of profit and in response to a latent illicit demand" (1990: 335).
According to Peter Reuter, for instance, "organized crime consists of organizations that have durability, hierarchy and involvement in a multiplicity of criminal activities . . . The Mafia provides the most enduring and significant form of organized crime" (1983: 175). Unsurprisingly, this confusion between offender and offence frequently leads to circular reasoning (Maltz, 1976). In 1986, for example, the President's Commission on Organized Crime concluded that drug trafficking was "the single most serious organized crime problem in the United States and the largest source of income for organized crime" (1986: 11).
Northern Europe has had very little experience with the mafia phenomenon until quite recently. They debated the provision of illegal goods and services and about a 'crime industry' (Kerner and Mack,1975). The emphasis on illegal markets is exactly the same even today and organised crime is seen as an enterprise. "organized crime . . . [is] referred to in terms of its relationship to the marketplace"(Dick Hobbs, 1988). Also, the scholar Petrus van Duyne underlines that organised crime results from the market dynamics, from demands 'What is organized crime without organizing
some kind of criminal trade; without selling and buying of forbidden goods
and services in an organizational context? The answer is simply nothing'(1997: 203).
In her essay, Paoli creates a link between the legal markets and the illegal markets. The link can be easily seen: the dynamic of the markets, the demands of goods. Illegal markets are indeed a commodity, but they are based on the same roles of the actors from legal markets. The German scholar Ulrich Sieber, seems to share his view in this particular area 'although he does not
completely disregard the peculiarities of illegal markets, his analyses on the logistics of organized criminality "are based on the research hypothesis that normal and criminal commercial activities present analogies and common points" (Sieber, 1997: 49; see also 1993)
Although very common to mix 'criminal organisation' and the 'provision of illegal goods and services', there is a reason why they should be kept separate with different meanings. The provision of illegal goods and services is unorganised, which means that Peter Reuter was right, the organised crime is actually "disorganized crime" (1983; 1985). As regarding to the fact that there is an illegal market for illegal goods, that should only affect the way the products are manufactured and distributed.
'These markets have, in fact, grown parallel to the development of economic regulation, protection, and social support initiated by the modern Welfare State and to the development of international law at the beginning of the 20th century (Cassese, 1984; Paoli, 2001).'
Many of the definitions underline different aspects of the organised crime, but it is surprising that they do not emphasise the international aspects. Criminals have always adapted to social, political and economic changes and it is the same case when it comes to organised crime. In recent decades, the activities have changed and organised crime has become international in its character. As a result, we can see an improved level of co-operation between states in order to catch criminal organisations. The globalisation of transport and communication only facilitated the internationalisation of criminal groups and in recent times, their activities became truly global.
'In order to identify certain criminal phenomena transcending international borders, transgressing the laws of several states or having an impact on another country' (Mueller 1998) But will it be right to suggest that more and more of these organisations are 'transnational' organised crime groups? Hobbs (1998) and van Duyne(1996) share the same opinion, arguing that although certain groups might carry out different activities across the borders, it doesn't mean that they are structurally transnational. This can only lead us to the idea that law enforcement agencies are looking to protect themselves, as Sheptycki says: 'the problematics of immigration, terrorism and drugs have been fused together in the discourse of transnational organised crime [â€¦] at such, it is a little more than a 'protection racket', which aims at promoting law enforcement agencies as the arbiters and providers of public safety' (Sheptycki, 2003)
In the recent years, criminologists have put more and more into research, to simplify the idea of organised crime. The concept 'criminal networks' has become more popular as a description for the structure of the criminal groups; partly because organised crime started to be seen at an international and transnational level. The ease with which the term criminal networks is used in the field of criminology, does not do justice to the existing theoretical and methodological literature in the field of social networks (Burt, 1983, 1992; Burt and Minor, 1983; Granovetter, 1972, 1982; Wellman, 1983; Wellman and Berkovitz, 1988; Jansen and Van den Witteboer, 1992; Wasserman and Faust, 1994)
We need to first analyse a social network: it is characterised by two elements: actors and relations between actors (Bruinsma and Bernasco). In most cases, actors are persons. A relationship could exist between two persons and it indicates if there is any link between the persons in question. In addition, there are three other aspects of the network as a whole: the characteristics of the network as a whole, the position of the person in the network, relationships between networks. Social networks can also have a form of a chain, they can be central or they can be hierarchical. From here it is easy to understand the similarity between a social network and a criminal one. When it comes to illegal markets, it is natural that some of them will be characterised as very complex, therefore collaboration and organisation between criminals is vital.
Criminal structures vary and in order to have a better understanding, we shall analyze a substantive problem related to organised crime. Criminals have an opportunistic and entrepreneurial nature, therefore, where there is a demand, we will find illegal activities. In UK alone, over 25,1 % of adults admitted to have used Cannabis(Philip Bean, 2010); in a country with such a high demand, there is no doubt that organised groups of criminals could be encountered. We shall analyze the 'drug problem' and the illicit drugs market in order to have a better understanding of what organised crime really is.
The ability to provide detailed and exact numbers of illicit drug use in Britain, is vital, because the increase in the use and misuse of drugs has created a lot of panic for public and for state. Governments have had to answer to calls from media, public, religious organisations and other political parties for 'something that needs to be done', leading to policies and policy initiatives. In order to be able to do something about the drug problem, we need to first be able to measure the number of users, which is a very difficult task for various reasons. As the Institute for the Study of Drug Dependency said: 'estimating just how many people use illicit drugs in Britain is like trying to do a jigsaw puzzle with many of the pieces missing'.
The data relating to drug misuse comes from two sources: official sources ( Regional Drug Misuse Database, HM Customs and Excise, the National Crime Squad, and other police forces across the country) and surveys from general population who have been randomly selected (British Crime Survey).
Many people use illicit drugs, but in the 1990s there can be seen a rise among drug users. The British Crime Survey found that in 1992, 17 per cent of people questioned have admitted to taking at least one drug. (Mott and Mirlees-Black, 1993). The number rose from 29 per cent in 1994 to 29 per cent in 1996 and to 32 per cent in 1998 (Ramsay and Partidge, 1999). From the information collected from the same source, BCS, we can also find that Cannabis is the most widely used drug in both the adult and child population. Forty four per cent of those aged between 16 and 24 have admitted to taking cannabis on a regular basis. Among ages 11 to 16, 11.8 per cent have tried at least once, and the number rises to 29.6 for 15 year olds and 38 per cent for 16 year olds. With such a high number of drug users, there is no surprise that the authorities find it difficult to create appropriate policies. The drug that seems to be under the spot light is heroin as it is very well known as a self destructive drug, it comes with medical, social and legal problems. On the other hand, there are recreational drugs and those who use them seem to be in favour of cannabis.
The general public panicking and asking continuously for the drug problem to be solved can only put pressure on the government and the result will be a number of initiatives and policies. In terms of the British state, the responses emanate from two sources: the medical profession and the legislature.
The 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act is the most important piece of legislature in Britain, as it replaced three principal drug control acts: The Drugs Act (1964) and the Dangerous Acts of 1965 and 1967. Another important aspect regarding the statute is that it was the first to instigate a classification of drugs into three categories: A, B and C. Few examples are: heroin and cocaine are in class A, cannabis in class B and Ketamine in class C. The classification is direct proportional with the penalties issued for any contraventions; class A being the most severe punished.
As it has been mentioned before, legislature is not the only way the British government is tackling regarding illicit drugs, policing via prevention being another very common way to try to control and define the problem. Ham(1992) sais that health problems has had a long term impact improving the quality of Britain, but only recently has it become a specialism on it own right. Preventive campaigns with important preventive messages aim to help the general population not to damage their health by the way they live their lives, whether is related to heart diseases or illicit drugs.
It is obvious that the British government is making significant effort to police the use illicit substances, however is still highly criticized for the fact that the issues of organised crime still remain quite intact.
We have mentioned before that organised crime is seen in present as being an international problem. The drug problem is only a small part of all the illicit activities happening around the world, but what is more important is that the British 'drug problem' is a small part of a global phenomenon. What it means is that the size and the nature of the illicit drug industry is huge, moreover, the complexity of the situation and the task faced by all governments from around the world is very difficult, almost impossible. In 2001, the United Nations International Drug Control Programme notes that estimates of the annual turnover for the illicit drug industry vary from £100 billion to $ 1000 billion per annum (Adrian Burton, 2003).
'The international [illicit] drug trade is now worth an estimated $400 billion annually. Only the arms industry has a bigger turnover than this. Like car making, pharmaceuticals or even banking, the drug trade has become a truly global industry: it knows no frontiers and has no particular identity' (Williams and Milani, 1999)
The turnover obtained from illicit drugs industry is at least twice as much than legal drugs, which means that there is clearly not only a demand, but a very opportunistic 'criminal career' for whoever wants to become involved in such activities. Moreover, the changing nature of the world economic and political situation is a significant factor for facilitating the illicit drugs market. Changes in global transportation and communication are also a very important factor that should be taken into consideration. Nowadays, the movement of people, goods and money is easier than ever and criminal groups take advantage of it.
The UNDCP (1996) states: 'The largest share of drugs consumed illicitly are plant-based products'. Worth mentioning are Cannabis, the coca bush and the poppy seeds. The most consumed and the most versatile of them all is Cannabis and that's because is very easy to grow. It is known to be very adaptable to indoor cultivation and the result is that there is not just a small geographical area where cannabis can be cultivated. It is a home plant and it is adaptable to a series of conditions. There are of course some areas specialized in cultivated cannabis such as USA, South Africa, Morroco, the Central Asian Republics of the Commonwealth of Independent States, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Columbia, Mexico, Jamaica. (Adrian Barton, 2003). In essence, the level of global production cannot be estimated, especially that the cultivation is starting to be more embraced in Europe, Africa and Oceania.
The coca bush is the plant base for cocaine or crack cocaine. It is a plant that is quite easy to grow as well but harvesting the leaves can require a lot of labour. According to the UNDCP (2001), 98 per cent of world's coca is produced by Peru, Columbia and Bolivia.
The opium poppy, the plant base for heroin and opium is again, easy to cultivate, but it requires some attention during growth and a lot of labour when harvesting. There are two areas very well known for growing the opium poppies. 'The golden crescent' (Afghanistan, Islamic Republics of Iran and Pakistan) and 'The golden triangle' (People's Democratic Republic of Laos, Myanmar and Thailand) (Bruinsma and Bernasco)
When it comes to synthetic drugs, Europe seems to be the leading place for it. The types of drugs under the spot light are LDS, ecstasy and amphetamines. There are some distinctions between plant based drugs and synthetic ones especially in economic terms. While plant based drugs are grown in certain conditions, synthetic drugs can be manufactured anywhere as long as there is raw material. Fuller (1990) indentifies an interesting aspect about the industry. He states that the transportation cost is a very important factor, therefore two forces are involved, the closeness to the raw material and to the market. There is a tendency to keep the production closer to the materials and export the goods, as they will weigh less in their final form. Not only that, but licit drugs are made in synthetic drugs factories that are closer to the raw materials, and for that particular reason, illicit drug laboratories seem to have the same tendency.
There is too little for the governments to do in a situation where the illicit drug industry seems to be so powerful. 'The logic is simple. The cheapest and safest way to eradicate narcotics is to destroy them at source' (Bush, 1989). But the question is: is this a solution to the problem? The answer is no if it is to take into consideration the economic impact that will be left behind. Plant based drugs play a key role in the economies of certain countries. The quality of life of farmers will be seriously deteriorated as growing coca for example is their only source of income. In order to be able to regulate the industry we need to look closer at the markets and use the laws of the markets.
The governments can control markets by applying the harm reduction policy or the demand reduction approach. The latter is likely to succeed if they could have a control on the markets.
Firstly we need to understand how markets work. Illicit drugs are commodities that are being exchanged for other goods. The value of the exchanged goods is usually expressed in terms of money. We also need to take into account what is the drug user prepared to give away in order to obtain the goods. We can talk about a certain amount of money, a possible criminal record if found with the substances and some of his health. These exchanges take place in what economist call 'the market'. (Adrian Barton, 2003). Markets are created as a response to demand and that demand is satisfied by the supply of goods or services.
In almost all the situations, economic theories dictate that as prices rise, demand falls. It is also to be noted that there will always be consumers that will demand regardless of the fact that the prices are rising. The economic theories could lead the governments in taking better measures and creating better policies. However, even if the importance of economic theories is outstanding, the clandestine nature of the illicit drugs market inhibits the ability to obtain accurate information. The easiest way is to compare the illicit drug market with the licit market although it is still clear that only a certain level of understanding can be achieved.
Organised crime and illicit drugs are very linked to each other. 'This is a demand led market' and organised criminal groups will take advantage of it. We've already analyzed that there are a lot of people consuming drugs and buying them from the black market. It is very difficult to draw a system that allows us to understand how the drugs market really operates and therefore it is even harder to police the concept. There are already networks of criminals waiting for their opportunity to deliver more illicit drugs, but that is already established. What about the link between drug users and crime?
At first sight, there is an obvious link between drugs and criminals: drugs are prohibited by law, and therefore, any action that contravenes the law is seen as criminal. However, there are other links more complex and require a deeper analysis. The link between drugs and crime has been a long process ( Sutherland and Cressey, 1970). Most of the people that take drugs never think that at some point of their lives will get in contact with the Criminal justice system or will experience health problems, but the reality is different( Adrian Barton,2003). Every year, thousands of people come into contact with the Criminal Justice system and there are three ways in which this occurs: because they get caught using or supplying prohibited drugs, because the use of drugs can lead to criminal behaviour or the desire to acquire drugs can lead to other offences and because a small majority commit offences unrelated to the drug use. 'Drugs is not one issue, but several. It is not a single problem for which there is only one solution, but a range of issues that need separate but linked solutions' (DPAS,2001)
From the research it is clear that there is a continuum of illicit drug use which leads to a continuum of problems. Some drug users experience problems at some point of their lives and they still carry on consuming despite the fact that there are a lot of warnings, a lot of drug prevention campaigns and even movies to state the problems of drug use. The question is, then, why are there still people that are putting themselves at risk in order to acquire drugs? Well some will say simply that it is a dependency problem, but some users demand the drugs for reasons that are completely unrelated to dependency.
About 90 per cent of the ecstasy that is consumed in the UK comes from the Netherlands. If the situation is occurring as a direct result of the drug policy of the Netherlands than is clear that Britain should take an interest in the way the Dutch police their drug problem. Britain is still far from winning the war on drugs and the policy makers seems to stagnate. It is also good to bear in mind that the European Union does have an influence on British policy. Leibfried (1993) says that Europe seems to be moving towards a 'steadily increasing pool of shared sovereigntiesâ€¦[T]his process has been steadily gaining momentumâ€¦'.There are other documents such as 'decriminalisation in Europe?' (European Legal Database on Drugs 2001) which further examines the possibility that Europe might have relaxed drug laws (such as the Dutch model).
It is clear for now that the occasional cannabis user or the Saturday night 'dance drug' user are the final link in a process that has its roots back in the 1990s. It is also to be noted that the drug industry is part of a global industry almost without parallel in size. The problem comes when we try to regulate and police such an industry and as we have seen, so far seems like an impossible mission, as there needs to be a combination of national and international policy, political will, an understanding of economic circumstances and wider perspective towards all aspects of social policy. At the moment we can only observe that there are a lot of problems for the authorities when it comes to organised crime and one of their main areas: illicit drugs.
As a conclusion I would like to draw the attention to the idea that we should take a step back from the overblown and over-homogenised imagery of organised crime. Michael Levi says that we should be able to unpack all its variations: local, regional and international. 'If the consequence is that we will then appreciate how modest is our organised knowledge about some of these phenomena, then provided that this does not paralyse all social action, our efforts will have been justified'