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In the United States, a violent crime
occurs every 25.3 seconds and a property crime occurs every 4 seconds (Federal
Bureau of Investigation, 2017). Black’s
Law Dictionary defines crime as an act that violates a public law, or a
breach of some public right to the community (Black’s Law Dictionary). Crimes
are generally split into two categories: property crimes and violent crimes.

Some examples of property crimes are arson, larceny, burglary, and robbery.

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Violent crimes include murder, assault, rape, and manslaughter. While crime is
often committed by individuals, there are sometimes larger, organized groups of
people committing these heinous acts, otherwise known as organized crime
groups. When many think of organized crime, the first things that comes to mind
are popular gangster films and television shows such as The Godfather, Scarface,
and The Sopranos. These glorified
images of the stereotypical Italian-American mobster can make people feel
distanced from the reality of organized crime. Unfortunately, these criminals
are not just fictional characters. Organized crime is a major issue not only in
the United States, but around the globe. In recent times, criminal
organizations have become increasingly transnational, meaning they are not
limited within the borders that they originate in, as a result of the Internet
and advances in communication technologies. Crime syndicates like the
Yamaguchi-gumi, the Russian mafia, and the Sinaloa Cartel pose immense threats
to many nations outside of their own. Evidently, it is important to understand
what exactly these criminal organizations are. This paper will attempt to
define organized crime, describe the common structures of criminal
organizations, and detail efforts made by the federal government to control
organized crime.

            Knowledge regarding organized crime
is scarce due to the level of secrecy that surrounds these organizations.

Findings also vary widely since each crime syndicate is different. Despite
this, there are still a few general features that distinguish organized crime
from a disorganized group of criminals or a terrorist group. The goal of most
criminal organizations is economic gain. Unlike terrorist groups, which commit
crimes for religious, political, or ideological reasons, organized crime groups
seek to make money. Their activities often involve the “planning and execution
of illicit business ventures” (National Institute of Justice, 2007). These
business ventures are attempted through a multitude of ways. Crimes committed
by criminal organizations often involve the proliferation of illegal markets,
such as drug trafficking, human trafficking, firearms trafficking, counterfeit
goods, wildlife and cultural property smuggling, and illegal gambling. Other
common crimes involving money are money laundering, tax evasion, and extortion.

The employment of these acts can often also include or lead to violent crimes, like
assault or murder. Another way that organized crime groups try to achieve their
goals is through the corruption of political figures and groups or large
corporations. This is an additional factor that makes it so difficult for law
enforcement officials to tackle organized crime. In addition to economic goals,
another defining characteristic of organized crime groups is a hierarchal
structure. Crime syndicates have a strict hierarchy with a leader or elite
group of leaders. Other members of the organization are grouped into different
groups, with their own specializations and leaders for each individual group
who report to the leader of the entire organization. Although this is the basic
structure of organized crime groups, there is variation between groups in
regards to specifics.

            As previously stated, criminal
organizations follow a hierarchal or pyramidal structure. There are three main
types of hierarchies used by criminal organizations. The most type is the
standard hierarchy. According to Le (2012), standard hierarchies are
“characterized by a sole leader, a distinct chain of command and clearly
defined roles” (p. 123). There is a single leader in which the members of the
organization are absolutely loyal to. Factions within the syndicate each have a
specific role or duty. In organizations with a standard hierarchy, violence is
used as the main tool to maintain order and enforce an extremely strict code of
conduct. Also, standard hierarchies are generally comprised of members from the
same ethnic group or background (Le, 2012, p. 123). The second structure type
is a regional hierarchy. Like standard hierarchies, regional hierarchies also
have a chain of command, a shared ethnic or cultural background, and set roles.

The thing that differentiates regional hierarchies from standard ones is the
decentralization of power. Individual groups have relative control over a
particular area or region. Instead of individual factions having one activity
that they are solely responsible for, they may have multiple activities they
handle in a particular region. Regional hierarchies make it easy for criminal
organizations to spread over a larger geographic area, which is advantageous
for transnational activity (Le, 2012, p. 123). The last main structure type is
the clustered hierarchy. This type of organization is relatively rare. “A
clustered hierarchy consists of smaller organizations that operate under a
central coordination body” (Le, 2012, p. 123). Unlike the regional hierarchies
which still share a common identity, each cluster in a clustered hierarchy has
an independent identity. Leadership in clustered hierarchies can be a small,
elite group of individuals or a flexible umbrella type (United Nations Office
on Drugs and Crime, 2002, p. 37). Clustered hierarchies are more like
associations between individual organizations.

            Several efforts have been made by
the federal government to fight organized crime over the past few decades. One
of the most significant is the Organized Crime Control Act. It was signed into
law by President Richard Nixon in 1970. The main purpose of the Act is to
eliminate or weaken organized crime in the United States by creating new procedural
rules for witnesses and increasing punishments for crimes such as in arson or
bombing cases. Laws against gambling organizations were also included in the
Act, which directly targeted organized crime groups. Part of the Act was the
Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, also known as RICO. RICO is
a federal law that allows individuals to be penalized for acts that were done
as part of a crime syndicate. The law was revolutionary because it allowed
leaders of criminal organizations to be charged for crimes that they did not
personally commit, but instead ordered others to do (U.S. Department of
Justice, 2016, p. 169). Another significant federal law against organized crime
is the Continuing Criminal Enterprise Statute. While the Organized Crime
Control Act and RICO focused on various crimes committed by criminal
organizations, the CCE Statute specifically targets drug trafficking groups. The
statute’s focus is on continued crimes rather than individual events. Also, the
CCE Statute targets leadership in criminal organizations, since in order to be
convicted, the defendant must have been either an organizer, manager, or
supervisor of the continued crime. All of these laws and many others that were
not mentioned have been instrumental in the fight against organized crime in
the United States.

            Organized
crime is increasingly becoming a concern for not only the United States, but
for many other countries. Because of this, more research needs to be done on
the structure and activities of criminal organizations in order to stop them. Although
there is little knowledge regarding organized crime, there are still some
consistent characteristics among organizations. Crime syndicates’ main goal is
to gain more money and power. They do this through a variety of crimes, and
through the corruption of important figures in politics and business. They also
have a hierarchal or pyramidal structure. There are three main types of
hierarchies found in criminal organizations: standard, regional, and clustered.

Standard hierarchies have a single leader and clear roles for each faction,
while regional hierarchies have more decentralized power and each faction has
some control over their geographical region. Clustered hierarchies are rare,
and are more of an association between individual organizations. There have
been some moves made by the federal government against organized crime. The
most significant laws created are the Organized Crime Control Act, which
includes the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, and the
Continuing Criminal Enterprise Statute. These laws have been influential in
convicting organized crime group members in the United States. Hopefully in the
future, more information can be uncovered about organized crime so that actions
can be taken against it. 

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