by Eugenio Weigend
When I first started studying Organized Crime, I stumbled upon an interesting discovery. There is no proper definition of the concept out there, at least not at the international
The United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime has focused its attention on transnational organized crime. However, the office recognizes that it does not have a precise definition of what this is, nor the kinds of crimes that might constitute it.
This seeming flaw in the study of organized crime is not really a great discovery; it has been a real challenge for some time. There simply is no consensus on what organized crime is. I am almost certain that this lack of a definition is not due to scholars in the field neglecting the issue. Rather, I think it is and it will continue to be almost impossible to get to a consensus because organized crime is so overwhelmingly broad.
Institutions and organizations alike have treated the concepts of organized crime and organized criminal groups almost indistinctly. Let us follow the trend for a moment and turn our attention to its scopes and attributes.
Organized crime is diverse because it has different scopes of action. The UN for example, jumps automatically to transnational crime. Yet, there are other types that are more territorial. Jones, one of my favorite authors on organized crime, makes a distinction between territorial profit seeking illicit networks and transnational profit seeking illicit networks.
The more territorial the organized criminal group is, the more it is associated with attributes such as a stronger use of violence, extortion, robberies, and kidnappings. Transnational organized criminal groups are more prone to drug smuggling, money laundering and other activities that involve corruption with authorities on some level.
The kind, type, size, scope, and color of organized crime will depend mostly on where it operates. New types of crime are emerging constantly as countries, regions and continents reshape their own contexts. In spite of that, I think it is possible to break down its constant attributes into five simple features. 1) It has a well-defined hierarchy or structure, even if its leaders change constantly, the structure remains. 2) It has restricted membership 3) It uses violence or threats of violence 4) It engages in illegal activities 5) It lacks an ideology; it is not acting for a cause as much as for profit itself.
Some authors in the field add more attributes, some fewer. I consider these five to be the most suitable for my field of study regarding organized crime in Mexico and the United States. And even in this particular region, I have found more than subtle differences on what each country considers organized crime. What is important to understand, is that these organized criminal groups plan, drink, eat, and act on illegal profit. Therefore, policies designed to fight organized crime will only be successful when the real incentives are addressed.