Traditional Organised Crime and Transnational Organised Crime

Globalization has impacted traditional organised crime (OC), which has also been revolutionized by the increasingly global dimension of TOC. That said, TOC should not be viewed purely as an evolution of OC and, as such, tools used by national law enforcement to tackle OC do not necessarily transfer across to best tackle TOC. Historically, the image of OC has been influenced by the American concept, heavily portrayed by hierarchical ‘mafia-style’ groups, associated with relatively strict geographical coverage, be it community or region.[1] This image was imported into Europe and beyond, despite the fact that these criminal groups appeared to be less hierarchical. As a result, response strategies that demonstrated more success in tackling ‘mafia- style’ OC, failed to have a significant impact when targeted against less structured OC in other countries. It is important to note, however, that some academics argue that these differences in OC structure were attributable to positive policing strategies against hierarchical groups, resulting in a reduction in the number of such groups in operation and their ultimate replacement by less structured alternatives. Others argued that there was always a presence of looser networked criminals, just ignored or less studied given their more flexible and less easily explained structure.

The structure of groups conducting TOC remains relatively distinct from the hierarchical and loosely structured groups involved in traditional OC. TOC is said to be conducted by loose, dynamic, agile networks, which are very flexible in nature, innovative, and resilient, and more driven by market motives and profit.[2] For the most part, these networks straddle geographical borders, economies, and trades. While much of their business is of a clandestine nature in the grey and black economies, the use of facilitators also helps them to infiltrate the legal economy, with a view to laundering assets and penetrating licit markets.[3] In many cases these actors straddle the illicit and licit worlds with distorted views of where their illegal activities begin and the legal ones end. Some of the differences between OC and TOC structure may have been influenced by elements of globalization, thereby influencing the growth in TOC nationally as well as internationally, whilst reducing the influence of traditional OC groups. Irrespective of the exact motivation, the differences in structure has significantly contributed to the need for a change in the traditional national policing approach to TOC.

The dynamics and growth of TOC have brought about the need for a change in policing perspective, from one which focuses on traditional OC to one which challenges traditional policing methods and policing ideology.[4] Before the acknowledgement of TOC’s presence, policing responses to OC were traditionally viewed as an issue of national sovereignty, with a nation’s criminal justice system (CJS) being viewed as having the primary responsibility for internal stability.[5] Now, the growth in TOC has resulted in the recognition of a need for a two-pronged approach from law enforcement, an international and a national response. While there has been little resistance in accepting the need for a shared, cohesive, collaborative, international response, the shift in national responses appears to have been less consistent from country to country. An integrated national and international response has provoked resistance by many law enforcement agencies as it represents a significant challenge to traditional approaches by which OC is viewed and policed. There are a number of potential reasons for this, including differing availability of resources, skills, experiences, and knowledge. In addition, the level of political will and commitment to tackling TOC differs considerably from country to country.

Such resistance to change is dangerous, given the extent of the damage TOC can do to a nation. TOCs are diverse and require considerable, complex responses. For example, TOCs include but are not limited to illicit drug trafficking, illegal firearms trafficking, human trafficking, sale and supply of stolen vehicles and parts, fraud, money laundering, smuggling stolen antiques or artworks, sale and supply of animal products, counterfeiting, and the illegal trade of legal commodities.[6] [7] [8] Such criminality can permeate and weaken a country’s political, economic, social, and security structures. As a result, some nations have realized that TOC has the ability to expose a range of vulnerabilities in their traditional policing response to OC.u The acknowledgement of the potential impact of TOC has resulted in some shifting their view of TOC to one in which TOC is viewed as a national security threat. Tackling TOC at the national level is difficult and complex, especially with regard to investigation, prosecution, and understanding. Whilst policing OC at the national level was never easy, the developments within TOC have resulted in the fight becoming increasingly harder. The clandestine nature of these activities, in conjunction with the growing use of modern technology and telecommunications, and the cross-border or commodity elements, makes it increasingly difficult for law enforcement to fully understand/2

  • [1] Ibid. 6 ibid.
  • [2] 7 Australian Government, Commonwealth Organised Crime Strategic Framework: Overview, 2009,
  • [3] available at:, accessed 3 September 2015.
  • [4] Bruce Ohr, ‘Effective methods to combat transnational organised crime in criminal justice processes’, Resource Material Series No. 58, 116th International Training Course visiting expert papers,UNAFEI, 2001, pp. 40-60.
  • [5] Le, Bell, and Lauchs, ‘Elements of best practice’, cited in note 3 above.
  • [6] Ngor Ngor and Awunah Donald, ‘Effective methods to combat transnational organised crime incriminal justice processes: the Nigerian perspective’, Resource Material Series No. 58, 116th InternationalTraining Course visiting expert papers, UNAFEI, 2001, pp. 171-82.
  • [7] Sasa Dordevic, ‘Understanding transnational organised crime as a security threat and security theories’, (2009) Western Balkans Security Observer 13.
  • [8] Karen Kramer, ‘Witness protection as a key tool in addressing serious and organised crime’, UNAFEI,2012, available at:, accessed 1 September 2015.
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