To date, most risk assessments in organized crime have focused on groups. These assessments have been carried out by law enforcement agencies to determine which groups are at highest risk or pose the greatest threat. The methods used to determine risk involve identifying the known organized criminal groups in the specific region and then ranking them by their attributes and potential seriousness (Criminal Intelligence Service Canada, 2007; Zoutendijk, 2010). Sample attributes used in these assessments include violence, corruption, infiltration, sophistication, discipline, insulation, stability, and group cohesiveness, as evaluated by law enforcement experts.
For instance, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation's organized crime investigations are focused on African, Asian, Balkan, Eurasian, Middle Eastern, and Italian American organized crime, illustrating a primary focus on criminal groups as a focal point for attention to organized crime (U.S. Department of Justice, 2017). A Europol threat assessment concluded there were more than 5,000 organized criminal groups operating on an international level and currently under investigation in the EU. In addition, criminals of more than 180 nationalities were found to be involved with most of the groups composed of members of more than one nationality, and operating in multiple countries (Europol, 2017). This large number of groups with members from many different countries demonstrates a need to assess their comparative risk, so that resources can be targeted to the most serious threats.
Actual risk assessment is difficult to carry out in practice. This is because the assessment is based on imprecise measures of the nature and extent of the criminal activity, the harms caused as well as subjective evaluations of experienced investigators, experts, and the community, which can differ widely (Ratcliffe, Strang and Taylor, 2014). Basing the assessment on crime data collected at the various stages of the criminal justice process (police, prosecution, conviction, imprisonment) can also be misleading. For instance, the expectation that successful prosecution of individuals involved in organized criminal groups will disrupt the operation of the group, or the market for the illicit goods and services, is problematic.
Successful prosecutions of members, in particular leaders of organized criminal groups, affect those groups for short periods unless the supply and customer demand for the illegal products or services they had been providing is also diminished. Otherwise, remaining (or new) groups will replace the old ones and take over these illicit markets, as was concluded by UNODC global threat assessment: "[w]hile organized criminal groups can become problems in themselves, eliminating these groups is unlikely to stop the contraband flow" (UNODC, 2010). Therefore, attention also must be given to long-term prevention of organized crime as discussed in Module 13.