Beginning in the 1970s and extending to the present day, many empirical studies and analyses of the operations and structure of organized criminal groups have occurred in different locations around the world. A significant number of these studies found that cultural or ethnic ties, rather than hierarchy, connected organized criminals together, and that many groups are local in nature without significant connections to larger groups or distant locations (Abadinsky, 1981; Albini, 1971; Coles, 2001; Ianni with Reuss-Ianni, 1972; Reuter, Rubinstein and Wynn, 1983; Chin and Zhang, 2002).
The local, cultural model of organized crime structure highlights the importance of heritage (i.e., racial, ethnic, national, or other cultural ties) as the basis for trust, which is fundamental to establish working relationships in illegal activities (Smith and Papachristos, 2016; von Lampe and Johansen, 2004). These groups are often smaller, operate in neighbourhoods, or smaller regions or territories, and control some portion of the illicit activity there. Studies also found that some organized criminal groups operate with relatively little direction or supervision in their day-to-day activities. The difference from the hierarchical model lies in how relationships within the group are structured, because the types of criminal activities are similar among groups, as they all exploit illicit markets for products and services.