Law enforcement, researchers, non-governmental and international organizations have examined various manifestations of organized crime in different world regions using informants, police and court records, participant observation, interviews with community members, economic analyses and historical accounts. Dramatic variation is reported in both the size, scope and activities of organized criminal groups.
Market driven organized crime
A UNODC global assessment of nine distinct illicit product markets and flows concluded that the criminal activity is driven by the markets and products, rather than by the groups involved. As the study points out: "[m]ost organized crime problems today seem to be less a matter of a group of individuals who are involved in a range of illicit activities, and more a matter of a group of illicit activities in which some individuals and groups are presently involved" (UNODC, 2010).
As shown in Module 3, opportunities and demand for illicit goods and services generate groups willing to exploit those opportunities. At the same time, as explored in Module 4, infiltration of legitimate business and government requires aggressive tactics by organized criminal groups to create these openings for corruption and money-laundering.
There have been hundreds of cases and studies of organized criminal groups with many interesting findings. It is impossible to summarize all of them across time, location, and crime types, nonetheless a large number of empirical studies identifies three general types of organized criminal groups. These three types, or models, are summarized below.
A model is an effort to capture the essence of a phenomenon to understand it more clearly. For instance, we model the universe, child development, the aging process, and many other concepts to understand them. The patterns or models of organized criminal groups can be grouped into three general types: groups with hierarchical or organizational structure; groups based on local cultural or ethnic connections; and groups relying on economic business-type relationships. There is overlap among these models, and perhaps few organized criminal groups exist as a distinct "type," but there are important differences among these models that deserve a closer analysis.