Organised gangs in the modern world

The term ‘organized crime’ refers to networks or groups of individuals strategically collaborating to engage in various illicit activities, such as fraud, extortion, and other crimes. These groups aim not only for wealth accumulation but also seek to control and exert power over people and circumstances. The Italian Mafia, widely depicted in films, television, and literature, is perhaps the most iconic example of these criminal syndicates. However, organized crime is a global phenomenon, manifesting across diverse regions like Eastern Europe, Asia, and Africa, engaging in activities ranging from money lending and cybercrime to drug trafficking and human trafficking.

Organized crime is characterized by its complex and sophisticated structure, akin to large international corporations, with detailed operational models, long-term strategies, defined hierarchies, and strategic alliances. Their goal is to maximize profits while minimizing risks. These criminal networks participate in a broad range of criminal activities that include human trafficking, drug and arms trafficking, as well as armed robbery, forgery, and money laundering, generating estimated revenues in the billions of dollars.

How do modern criminal organizations operate?

The structure of these organizations has evolved significantly. In the past, a ‘gang’ might simply consist of a group of thugs dedicated to specific crimes like robberies or thefts, usually confined to a particular region or community. Today, however, criminal organizations are vast and multifaceted, engaging in a variety of lucrative criminal activities. The most influential and dangerous groups now primarily derive income from less conspicuous activities like gambling, drug distribution, prostitution, business and labor extortion, and other forms of economic crime.

Types of crimes by organized bands

Among the most common criminal activities carried out by these organizations are:

  • Drug trafficking
  • Trafficking in firearms and military materials
  • Trading in stolen goods (cars, antiques, electronic devices)
  • Illicit trafficking of migrants
  • Human trafficking, including modern slavery
  • Sexual exploitation of minors
  • Cybercrime
  • Money laundering

Internal dynamics of a criminal organization

Within these organizations, interaction among members is continuous and structured, with well-defined roles, status, and specializations. Corruption of public officials and infiltration into private sectors are common, as is the use of violence to achieve their objectives. Members view their involvement as a long-term career, focused on the progressive accumulation of capital, influence, and power. Criminal activity is seen as a means to these ends, not an end in itself. Operations are complex, with multiple levels of execution and organization, and often have an international scope. To protect key members and maximize profits, these organizations attempt to monopolize markets and use front men and legitimate associates to evade the law.

This structured and strategic approach to crime makes modern criminal organizations extremely resilient and difficult to dismantle, especially in jurisdictions with less rigorous legal systems.