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Risk assessment in practice

There are examples of international efforts using risk assessment to target more effectively organized crime operations. For example, Finland, Hungary, Italy, and the Netherlands reported on an in-depth analysis of 15 major cases of organized crime, looking for "red flags", suggesting possible preventive measures (Van de Bunt and van der Schoot, 2003). These cases involved trafficking in women, smuggling of migrants, and drug trafficking. The analysis found three factors in common to these cases:

  • Demand for illegal products and services from the legitimate environment.
  • Abuse of facilitators in the legitimate environment (e.g., public officials, landlords, taxi drivers).
  • The availability of "tools" (e.g., fraudulent documents, money laundering).

Both European Union and North American countries have examined individual and structural measures for risk reduction associated with organized crime, including money laundering control measures, document fraud prevention, and making more difficult the manufacture of synthetic drugs, the smuggling of stolen cultural property, restricted timber, and contraband cigarettes (Graycar and Felson, 2010; Nelen, 2010). In addition, there have been efforts to exclude certain individuals and organizations from participating in different markets, such as construction and public works, due to past associations with organized crime activity (Savona, 2010). These risk-reduction efforts are noteworthy because they are not primarily aimed at the perpetrators of organized crime but rather at the circumstances that facilitate organized crime activity. (Cartwright and Bones, 2017) In this way, enforcement efforts can become risk-reduction and prevention efforts when they aim to target more long-term goals, reaching beyond the prosecution of a single case.

Efforts to address organized crime using a risk assessment approach are underway in several parts of the world. The Europol Scanning, Analysis & Notification (SCAN) System provides EU Member States with strategic early warning notices regarding new organized crime threats based on early assessments (Europol, 2010) Research-to-practice efforts in the United Kingdom and Canada also have focused on the reduction of organized crime rather than merely the prosecution of known offenders (Kirby and Nailer, 2013; Savona, Calderone and Remmerswaal, 2011). In addition, efforts by the World Economic Forum and others are now focusing on precursors and enablers of organized crime in order to better assess threats and target prevention efforts (World Economic Forum, 2012).

An assessment of multiple organized crime risk assessment tools reviewed their strengths and weaknesses, and made some useful recommendations for the path forward (Shaw, 2011). These are:

  • A standardized set of methodologies, trainings, and guidelines should be developed and tested for the specific conditions in post-conflict States.
  • A cross-section of experts needs to be involved in finalizing the guidelines, as well as the assessments themselves.
  • Assessments should be conducted as a joint effort by multiple players and not exclusively as a law enforcement project.
  • Assessments should make use of community-based surveying and information collection to determine both the dynamics of illicit trafficking and its impact.
  • The process for applying the threat assessment to strategic planning and policy should be determined from the outset.
  • The threat assessment should be repeated over time to monitor trends and improve methodologies.
  • Threat assessments should be used as a tool to plan for the allocation of resources, to determine areas for technical assistance, and to measure progress.

Organized crime risk assessments are a very valuable tool for law enforcement, as well as other public and private sector organizations, because they move understanding from an anecdotal view to a systematic evaluation of the larger picture. This understanding assists in defining the selection of priorities and suggests methods of approaching intervention and prevention. In some locations, this has contributed to the development of "intelligence-led policing", an approach that recognizes the importance and value of timely and accurate criminal information and intelligence to effectively tackle organized crime (Carter and Carter, 2009; Ratcliffe, 2016; UNODC, 2010). A key element of intelligence-led policing is the improvement of understanding of how criminals operate and make criminal choices. Risk assessments are an important method to making informed decisions in response.

Regional perspective: Pacific Islands Region

UNODC Research - Transnational Organized Crime in The Pacific: A Threat Assessment

In September 2016, UNODC released a report analysing major threats posed by transnational organized crime in the Pacific region. The report, developed with the support of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS), indicates that the countries and territories of the Pacific are increasingly targeted by organized crime groups.

Several factors contribute to the region's vulnerability to illicit flows, such as its location between big sources and destinations of illicit goods, the extensive and porous jurisdictional boundaries, and the differences between governance and law enforcement capacity across the territory. The report focuses on four main types of transnational organized crimes: Drug and Precursor Trafficking; Trafficking in Persons & Smuggling of Migrants; Environmental Crimes; and Small Arms Trafficking.

Highlighting the significant gaps in data and information in relation to transnational organized crime in the region, the report provides recommendations to governments and authorities.

Access the report here.

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