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Alternative ways to measure organized crime

Alternative ways to measure organized crime have arisen due to the difficulties in measurement noted above. An inadequate strategy to measure organized crime would rely solely on police statistics (such as arrests) because these data can be misleading. For example, arrests for illegal gambling, an activity that has been associated with organized criminal groups in various countries, have decreased for decades in multiple jurisdictions, but this is not likely due to organized crime reduction efforts. Instead, this is due to the dramatic growth in legal gambling venues from sports betting to casinos.

Better examples are efforts to measure organized crime that focus on the nature of specific offences committed by organized criminal groups. For instance, the movement of various illicit products from their source to various destinations allows for an assessment.

Measuring drug trafficking

For example, UNODC publishes an annual World Drug Report to assess trafficking in illicit drugs worldwide. Many controlled drugs, such as heroin and cocaine, are plant-based, so beginning at their source creates a trail to follow to their ultimate destination markets (UNODC, 2017).

Of course, the problem of transnational organized crime is not static. To continue using the example of drug trafficking, new drugs appear that are synthetic (not plant-based), there are shifts in enforcement activity, and the nature of drug markets is not constant or universal. These circumstances make existing measurements short-lived and require constant monitoring of criminal activity trends and patterns.

An alternative approach in the case of drugs is to focus on their production. The data on which international illicit drug production estimates are made are based on several sources. First, UN Member States are required to provide drug-related information under the international drug control conventions. Also, data are included from reports produced by international organizations such as INTERPOL and the World Customs Organization (WCO). Information is also provided by regional organizations such as EUROPOL and the Organization of American States (OAS) or national agencies. For instance, the U.S. Department of State Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs produces the International Narcotics Control Strategy Report. In addition, UNODC has developed its own Illicit Crop Monitoring Programme, which has worked with individual countries to develop monitoring systems to identify the extent and trends in the cultivation of narcotic plants (UNODC, 2016). These monitoring systems include satellite images, time-sequenced photographs, ground surveys, and interviews with apprehended traffickers.

Measuring amphetamine-type stimulants

Measuring amphetamine-type stimulants is even more difficult than plant-based drugs. Unlike the other three major drug groups (cannabis, cocaine, opiates) it is a synthetic stimulant, comprised of chemicals rather than plants. Amphetamines can be produced at almost any location on earth for comparatively low cost. The manufacture of amphetamines (including ecstasy) has been reported in a third of the world's countries and, although trafficking in amphetamines often occurs within specific regions, their precursor chemicals are trafficked from many locations, often diverted from legal use (UNODC, 2010; UNODC, 2017).

For recent data and trends in drug production and trafficking, please refer to Module 3 and the most recent World Drug Report.

Measuring other types of organized crime, such as environmental crime and wildlife trafficking, trafficking in falsified medical products, counterfeit products and cultural property, human trafficking and migrant smuggling, and cybercrime pose similar problems for measurement. Efforts to improve our knowledge and enforcement capabilities are sorely needed in order to interrupt and prevent these kinds of criminal enterprises, but those efforts do not necessarily help us determine the true extent of these organized crime activities.

As the capacity of law enforcement improves, it becomes more effective in detecting organized crime in all its forms and manifestations (UNODC, 2017). Consequently, more organized criminal groups are detected and disrupted. On the other hand, it remains difficult to know whether the true levels of organized crime are changing, or that we are simply getting better at detecting it.

Next: Measuring product markets and flows
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