Organized crime – definition and meaning

Organized crime refers to crime that powerful groups carry out on a large scale. Criminals plan these crimes. It is a category of national, international, or local groupings of centralized businesses that criminals run. In organized crime, the criminals usually aim to make money, i.e., black money. Black money is money that a person, group, or company obtains illegally.

If the criminals plan, coordinate, and conduct crimes on a continuing basis, they are participating in organized crime. In most cases, the criminals’ motivation is financial gain. However, this is not always the case.


Organized crime groups

Britain’s NCA says that organized criminals who work together for a specific criminal activity belong to an organized crime group. NCA stands for National Crime Agency.

Groups that criminals run vary in size considerably. Successful groups typically comprise a durable core of key people.

Around these key individuals, there is a cluster of subordinate specialists. In other words, the specialists work under the orders of the core members.

There are also other transient members, as well as a network of associates.

Some groups are loose networks of people who get together to work on a specific criminal activity. Each group carries out a specific role, depending on its members’ expertise. In fact, many ‘loose networks’ span the globe.

Often, the collaborators in crime had a shared experience. For example, perhaps they met in prison. Often, other criminals recommend them.

In fact, some crime exists because of family or ethnic ties among members. Hence the term ‘crime families.’


Organized Crime - image with definition and examples
Organized crime is carried out by groups of criminals who work together. In fact, many criminal activities involve groups from several different countries.

Transnational organized crime groups

The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) says that often removing key people is not enough. Some organized crime groups are so deep and financially powerful that they manage to continue.

Therefore, the FBI targets whole organizations responsible for a wide range of criminal activities. In other words, it does not just try to cut off the head of the snake. It targets the whole snake.

The FBI says that transnational organized crime (TOC) groups are self-perpetuating organizations. In other words, they are capable of indefinite continuation without any input from outside.

The FBI is the United States’ domestic intelligence and security service.

TOCs constantly seek to gain power, influence, and make money. There are many types of TOCs. For example, some are clans, cells, or networks. In fact, many start off with one structure and evolve into another.

Regarding transnational organized crime groups, the FBI says:

“These groups are typically insular and protect their activities through corruption, violence, international commerce, complex communication mechanisms, and an organizational structure exploiting national boundaries.”

Below is a list of some, but by no means all, organized crimes:

  • drug trafficking
  • migrant smuggling
  • cyber crime (we can also write it as one word: cybercrime)
  • human trafficking
  • money laundering
  • smuggling wildlife and cultural property
  • firearms trafficking
  • illicit gambling
  • counterfeit goods
  • extortion
  • prostitution

White collar crime represents a much higher proportion of total organized crime activity today than thirty years ago. White collar refers to office-type work, i.e., non-manual work.


Video – the story of organized crime

In this Watch Mojo video, criminologist Peter Schneider talks about how organized crime has evolved. This type of crime has become pervasive. In other words, it has an effect on every part of society.