Sociology Index

Organized Crime

Political Crime, Corporate Crime, Occupational Crime, Conventional Crime, Organizational Crime

Organized crime is a nonideological enterprise involving many in close social interaction and organized on a hierarchical basis, with levels or ranks, for the specific purpose of securing profit and power. This is done by engaging in illegal and legal activities.

Positions in the hierarchy are assigned on the basis of kinship or friendship, or according to skill. Members strive to keep the enterprise integral and active in pursuit of its goals. Organized crime eschews competition and strives for monopoly on an industry or territorial basis. In organized crime there is a also use of violence and bribery to achieve ends or to maintain discipline.

In organized crime membership is restricted, although nonmembers may be involved when the need arises. In organized crime, rules are enforced by sanctions that could include murder.

Organized Crime Research
Selected Definitions of Organized Crime (collected by Klaus von Lampe)

It appears that the most primary distinguishing component of organized crime is found within the term itself, mainly, organization.
...Interaction is a key concept here: a mere aggregation of individuals performing a criminal act in the presence of one another would not, in itself, constitute an organized act. Organization, then, is the basic distinguishing element between organized and other types of crime. (Albini, 1971: 35).

In a very broad sense, then, we can define organized crime as any criminal activity involving two or more individuals, specialized or nonspecialized, encompassing some form of social structure, with some form of leadership, utilizing certain modes of operation, in which the ultimate purpose of the organization is found in the enterprises of the particular group.
This definition permits us to view organized crime on a vast continuum allowing for freedom of analyzing and defining a (38) given particular criminal group as an entity in titself possessing a variety of characteristics, as opposed to a rigid classification based upon certain specific attributes. Viewed from this wide perspective there are many forms which organized crime can take, with variations, of course, to be found within each form. (Albini, 1971: 37-38)

American Heritage Dictionary
organized crime n. 1. Widespread criminal activities, such as prostitution, interstate theft, or illegal gambling, that occur within centrally controlled formal structure. 2. The people and the groups involved in such criminal activities. (The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition, Boston/New York/London 1992)

Beirne and Messerschmidt
The core of syndicated crime (commonly referred to as "organized crime") is the provision of illegal goods and services in a society that displays a continued and considerable demand for such goods and services. Syndicated crime has developed a structure that makes it possible to provide such goods and services on a regular basis. This structure can best be understood as a variety of criminal syndicates - associations of individuals such as businesspeople, police, politicians, and criminals- formed to conduct specific illegal enterprises for the purpose of making profit. These enterprises include, for example, illegal drug distribution, illegal prostitution, and such other illegal activities as money laundering and labor racketeering. However, the structure of a syndicate depends on its specific illegal activity. Thus, although criminal syndicates are highly organized, a syndicate engaged in the distribution of illegal drugs, for example, is structured differently than one engaged in illegal prostitution. (Beirne & Meserschmidt, 2006: 160)

Organized crime is both a social system and a social world. The system is composed of relationships binding professional criminals, politicians, law enforcers, and various entrepreneurs. (Block, 1983: vii)

In the Introduction I suggested that organized crime is part of a social system in which reciprocal services are performed by criminals, their clients and politicians. And I would argue that the Seabury investigations provide ample proof of this system, of these relationships. At the same time, this definititon, if strictly followed, seems to preclude many of the organized conspiracies uncovered by Seabury and his staff. The definition demands three distinct entities functioning for some illicit purpose. What, then, do we call all those conspiracies composed of politicians and their upper-world patrons and clients? Are they sufficiently different from conspiracies in which all three elements are present? Part of the problem lies in the need to explain what are clearly organized crimes in which the personnel do not fulfill all the criteria. One way to handle this is to hold that criminal justice agents and politicians involved in criminal conspiracies ace in reality professional criminals in which case they hold two roles. But for many reasons that seems to be confusing. Another even less satisfactory way is to hold that the Seabury examples are forms of organizational deviance. But this only obscures the system of informal power in which these conspiracies are endemic. Much the most economical solution is to treat or term conspiracies lacking one of the three elements as organized criminality. These conspiracies are not only the ones mentioned above, but also those in which one is hard pressed to ind the client. One example should suffice: the vice racket in the Magistrates' Courts which had as racketeers: lawyers, bondsmen, police, professional informers, Magistrates' and so on. By no stretch of the imagination could the women framed be called clients. They were victims, pure and simple. And that racket was an expression of organized criminality. (Block, 1983: 57)

California Control of Profits of OC Act
"Organized Crime" means crime which is of a conspiratorial nature and that is either of an organized nature and which seeks to supply illegal goods and services such as narcotics, prostitution, loan sharking, gambling, and pornography, or that, through planning and coordination of individual efforts, seeks to conduct the illegal activities of arson for profit, hijacking, insurance fraud, smuggling, operating vehicle theft rings, or systematically encumering the assets of a business for the purpose of defrauding creditors. (California Control of Profits of Organized Crime Act 1982, Penal Code Part 1, Title 7, 21; 186).