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Organized crime is a term used to define criminal unions that are often formed based on a collective ethnic identity. A majority of these organizations were initially established to solve economic hardships by generating profits through illegal means such as prostitution, drug trafficking and gambling. Examples of criminal organizations include the Italian Cosa Nostra, the Japanese Yakuza and the Irish Mob. Although these groups are organized on a national level, they operate internationally. Due to the span of these organizations and their ties to influential law enforcement agencies, cooperation is required on a global level in order to apprehend members and finally bring an end to these illegal institutions.
Activities such as gambling, theft and extortion that are evident in today's society were also prevalent in 19th century cities where circumstances provided the sufficient environment in which organized crime could thrive. The growing population that existed in large, metropolitan cities offered the variety of criminals and victims necessary for the development of illegal goods and services distribution. In addition, the size of these cities maintained the growth of support systems provided by corrupt police forces
The earliest forms of organize crime were usually locally based. As a result of racial segregation, these gangs were based on a collective ethnic identity. In Black, Irish, and Italian neighborhoods, organized crime rates were a reflection of the vicinity's cultural and economic situation. The conditions of these areas offered the environment necessary for local criminals to engage in illegal activities for the purpose of monetary gain.
Prior to the World War I, criminal organizations were usually involved in small scale operations. This changed after the Prohibition era, where many social problems arose after the ratification of the 18th amendment. This amendment, which prohibited the manufacture, sale, and transportation of alcohol, led to the creation of an illegal market for the purpose of alcohol distribution. This illicit market may be considered the first transnational one as well. Canadian criminal organizations became involved in efforts to smuggle alcohol to the United States.
The prosperity of these illegal industries created severely corrupt settings all over America. The newly-formed relationship between gangs and law enforcement was stabilized during the Prohibition era and has lasted till this day. By the time the Prohibition era came to an end in 1933, criminal organized began to branch out and gain more power as they continued to expand. Since the 18th amendment was shot down, gangs looked to other illegal markets as a source of money. As a result of this desire, criminal organizations began to expand internationally to engage in new illicit markets.
In the 1970s, law enforcement diverted their efforts from extinguishing criminal organizations to waging a war on drug trafficking. During this period it was suggested by officials that criminal organizations in Russia, Japan, and Italy were forming partnerships with drug lords Central and South America. The relationship between Colombian kingpins and the Sicilian Mafia showed the cartels' interest to enter a more profitable and less restricted market where law enforcement was not as adamant as it was in the U.S.
The biggest concern in the '80s and '90s was the expansion of criminal organizations to an international level. This expansion has been the result of the Cold War and the modification of national and economic restrictions. The reduction in trade limitations and the defragmentation of nations which resulted in blurred borders made it easier for criminal organizations to expand internationally. It was difficult for law enforcement to track and investigate these criminal operations since the level of international cooperation that was required to successfully capture and prosecute the criminals wasn't present.
Recently, the term "organized crime" has been expanded to define crimes that involve money laundering and credit card fraud. Subsequent to the 9/11 attacks by al-Qaeda terrorists, terrorism was also added under organized crime.
When discussing police corruption, the morals and ethics of officers within the legal enforcement system is up for debate. Police corruption defined as the abuse of power in exchange for personal gain. This may include extortion and bribery. As stated earlier, the key asset of criminal organizations in America is the relationships they have built with legal enforcement agencies during the Prohibition era. Mayors in major east coast American cities were all members of Mafia families. The Mafia's connection to political figures helped them used corruption within the police force to their advantage. The ability of these groups to control illegal markets relied solely on the organization's ties to legal enforcement agencies.
Nowadays, legal enforcement is much more professional. Interest in rooting out corruption cases within the police force has led to the decline in the development of relationships between criminal organizations and corrupt police. Prior to the '60s, police had their own "brand" of law enforcement aimed at protecting those who dealt with illegal markets.
Currently, limiting the operations of criminal organizations is one of the main concerns of law enforcement. However, this is no easy task because transnational crimes are considered both domestic and foreign affairs because of the global impact left behind. Although these groups are domestically based, they have international partnerships. The law enforcement perspective on organize crime is that it is a major source of the rising domestic and international crime levels. The goal of law enforcement is to reduce global crime through arrests and prosecutions of leaders of criminal organizations that operate internationally. Law enforcement agencies also work with intelligence to examine the global and economic impacts of organized crime. Intelligence agencies provide information related to organized crime that will help law enforcement in investigating transnational organized crime.
The conflicting perspectives on organized crime show the greater differences that exist between law enforcement and intelligence agencies. The mission of law enforcement agencies is self-explanatory. They seek to enforce the law and provide information in court trials that will establish proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Intelligence agencies, on their hand, collect information and preserve their sources rather than providing them in court trials. As a result of their different agendas, mistrust exists between the two agencies. Whereas intelligence worries about "protecting its sources and methods when assisting a criminal investigation", law enforcement is concerned about "protecting their evidence". It is important for the two agencies to put behind their differences in order to successfully apprehend members of criminal organizations and gangs.
Presently, The Department of Justice is looking to reduce global organized crime by establishing an overseas presence in the form of law enforcement. Law enforcement and intelligence agencies have determined that cooperation on a global scale is required in order to effectively solve transnational organized crime problems. The FBI currently has 70 agents stationed in 23 countries. These agents have collaborated with police in host countries on specific cases and report their findings of emerging threats to the FBI. This method is believed to be the most effective way to combat organized crime that spans internationally because it presents access to geography, skills, contacts and information that would be otherwise unavailable.
While the FBI has been successful in constructing a global network of law enforcement partnerships, their approach still has its obstacles. Collecting evidence beyond a reasonable doubt is a difficult task in global organized crime due to the fact that different countries have different policies when dealing with the freedom of criminals (i.e. they allow criminals to hide their tracks using different bank accounts, partners, and storage areas around the world). The efficiency of apprehending these criminals is being questioned. When the head of a crime family is brought to trial, his organization replaces him with a new head to carry out the organizations preexisting goal.
It has been noted that many preexisting humanitarian crises have only worsened due to organized crime. Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Antonio Maria Costa stated that transnational criminal organizations are a huge threat to the peace and security of the international community. Mr. Costa is quoted as saying, "Instability attracts crime, and crime deepens instability. In a chain reaction, humanitarian crises follow, development is stalled, and peacekeepers are deployed". To reduce the risk of these threats to international security, it is necessary to initially develop law enforcement agencies in foreign countries. Costa also urges the U.S. to make use of United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime.
The Convention was adopted by the General Assembly a decade ago as a method to combat transnational organized crime. The Convention is broken down in to three sections that address specific areas for organized crime. These protocols include: the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children; the Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air; and the Protocol against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, their Parts and Components and Ammunition.
The signing of this convention signifies a huge step forward in the fight against criminal organization. It also represents that member states have recognized the severity of the effects of organized crime. By singing this Convention, member states promise to take key measures against organized crime such as working with foreign legal enforcement agencies, as mentioned earlier. Member states will meet in Vienna this October to evaluate successful implementation of the Convention.