This page discusses the particular challenges posed by organised crime, which make an organised approach to knowledge vital for its control. It then presents the Conjunction of Criminal Opportunity Framework, showing how it can be applied to organised crime. Finally, it gives links to other Crime Frameworks relevant to organised crime, including Disruption and the Crime Role Grid.
The term disruption is often used very loosely. An attempt to sharpen and differentiate its definition – and hence utility in the control of organised crime – is set out here. The intervention principles identified are organised in terms of whether they affect organised crime groups and networks operationally, environmentally or in a strategic-existential way.
The Crime Role Grid supports a system-level view of all the agents/players in complex or organised crimes which can be used to plan interventions that in principle have a greater chance of success, and lesser chance of backfiring. It is set out here.
The challenges of organised crime
Organised crime is especially challenging to control. It is:
- Dispersed and invisible – forming networks more than gangs
- Invasive and progressive
- Subversive and self-protective – disabling and corrupting crime control systems
- Adaptive and durable
- Entrepreneurial and well-resourced
These features confront us, on the security side, with a pernicious combination of moving targets and shifting ground. They set the scene for an arms race between preventers and organised offenders, especially where social and technological change constantly creates new opportunities for offending – new targets, environments, business models, tools and information sources. Even successful crime control methods eventually weaken as offenders learn to circumvent them.
Legislative solutions lag behind changing crime patterns – particularly those requiring international agreement. It is therefore vital for security to improve its performance against organised crime – in terms of cost-effectiveness, responsiveness, sustainability and scope (i.e. the range of crime problems controlled). But beyond incremental advances, we must gear up to:
- Catch up with existing crime problems we cannot yet prevent
- Scan for emergent crime problems and stop them early
- Anticipate new crime problems and develop and deploy timely new solutions
- Make solutions durable, striving to maintain them whilst preparing for obsolescence
Gearing up involves treating organised crime control as an evolutionary process (Ekblom 1997, 1999, 2017e) and becoming adaptive and innovative ourselves – aiming to outpace offenders. We, too, can organise better. However, the main challenge is to gain the edge and then keep it sharp. What we can do that organised criminals usually cannot? We can be:
- Systematic – in analysing crime problems and criminal organisations, and in designing solutions
- Scientific and professional – using evidence and ideas distilled from research on the causes of crime and evaluation of crime reduction, and blending this with the ‘craft’ competencies of detectives and crime analysts
- Strategic – analysing, planning and acting at different levels – from preventing individual criminal events to putting criminal organisations out of business, to pursuing career criminals, to disrupting entire criminal markets
- Contextual – customising action to local circumstances
- Cumulative – building reliable and durable knowledge
- Current – keeping up to date on crime and crime reduction and prepared for obsolescence of existing preventive measures; pursuing a succession of momentary advantages rather than vainly seeking permanent solutions
- Communicative – sharing know-how and broader capacity
- Collaborative – working in partnership with diverse agencies, to pool complementary resources (the mirror image of why criminals themselves link up)
Doing the above requires an organised approach to knowledge.
The Conjunction of Criminal Opportunity Framework and organised crime
This extension of the Conjunction of Criminal Opportunity Framework provides one focus for developing knowledge of organised crime and its control.
It derives from work on the EU-funded project The Identification, Development and Exchange of Good Practice for Reducing Organised Crime 2001. The EU report includes an Executive Summary and a chapter on application of the CCO Framework, which is better read as book chapter version (see next paragraph). Other contributions, e.g. by Michael Levi, are relevant to the more general issue of managing knowledge of practice.
The academically-published version of the chapter in the EU-funded report (above) is Organised Crime and the Conjunction of Criminal Opportunity Framework (Ekblom 2003). It sets out how the Conjunction of Criminal Opportunity Framework can be applied to organised crime to meet the above requirements for maintaining an edge over offenders.
The chapter makes some suggestions on how prevention might be extended beyond the proximal causes approach central to Crime Science, including interventions at molecular and strategic levels:
‘Molecular’ interventions against specific crime problems make specific crime opportunities more risky, more effort and less rewarding; or focus on disrupting, inhibiting, removing or reforming specific offenders. Even repeated, temporary disruption of offending reduces the average yield to criminals and limits the rate of growth of their activities.
However, preventing organised crime must extend to higher strategic levels to incapacitate and permanently reduce the activity of illegal enterprise. Without this, we may win the battles but still lose the war. Something more than just single blockages and disruptions is needed because illegal enterprises can circumvent individual barriers, and new organisations will replace those closed down if the niches are still available and the markets persist.
Strategic interventions tackling the higher levels of causation include:
- Targeting ‘lynchpins’ in an offender network
- Tackling those crimes (e.g. vehicle crime) that lead to individual criminal careers, aid recruitment to organised crime, or financially nourish more serious and organised crimes like terrorism
- Considering wider patterns of displacement and offender replacement which may limit the sustainability of specific interventions
- Tackling multiple scenes in a complex organised crime
- Simultaneously disrupting several aspects of a market for contraband, stolen or illegal goods
- Establishing a linked system of barriers collectively hard to bypass. (Damming a stream eventually requires blocking off the whole valley. But studies of displacement of crime suggest that offending does not overflow forever – eventually the effort to maintain the rewards of crime relative to the risk increases so much that offenders choose to channel their activities legitimately.)
- Designing out niches for offending –concentrations or flows of wealth which inevitably draw offenders to exploit (e.g. warehouses full of expensive computer chips, funds flowing routinely through particular channels) – e.g. by dispersing targets and making the average level of risk and effort unacceptable with the resources available to the offenders
- Generally tackling crime as a business enterprise … and reversing all central/ local government’s knowledge about supporting enterprise without harming legitimate companies. Here, the planning and development/construction control systems are strategically important
- Disrupting specific markets for stolen goods – the Market Reduction approach
- Preventing/ resolving sustained conflicts between gangs, ethnic groups etc, which generate persistent crime problems
These strategic interventions are consistent with, and/or complementary to, the EU’s Administrative Approach to tackling serious and organised crime.
Despite the importance of these high-level interventions, it remains the case that they usually work through a structured set of activities at the lower, molecular levels – right down to erecting barriers to individual crime events.
The presentation below introduces the Conjunction of Criminal Opportunity Framework and illustrates how to apply it to organised crime and its prevention. It includes a case study of theft of vehicles and shipping them abroad, which includes combines CCO with crime scripts and early thoughts of the diversity of crime roles, as subsequently developed under the Crime Role Grid:
Other Crime Frameworks and organised crime
Many of the generic Crime Frameworks can be applied to understand and counter organised crime. For example:
- The Misdeeds and Security Framework for criminal affordances/ business opportunities
- Evolutionary/arms race approaches to handle highly adaptive, persistent groups of offenders
- 5Is Framework – Australian application (Rowe et al. 2013) to planning preventive action informed by a scripts analysis of organised crime and corruption
Of especial relevance are Disruption and the Crime Role Grid.
- The term disruption is often used very loosely. An attempt to sharpen and differentiate its definition – and hence utility in the control of organised crime – is set out here. The intervention principles identified are organised in terms of whether they affect organised crime groups and networks operationally, environmentally or in a strategic-existential way.
- The Crime Role Grid supports a system-level view of all the agents/players in complex or organised crimes which can be used to plan interventions that in principle have a greater chance of success, and lesser chance of backfiring. It is set out here.