When the topic of organized crime is broached, the individual often imagines the old-school gangsters of Chicago with fedoras and Italian accents. However, over the years, the face of organized crime has changed dramatically. No longer is organized crime in America the sole venue of the Sicilian Mafia; today, organized crime takes on many different faces. Each different group offers different challenges to authorities, and each group varies in organization, level of violence, and type of crime that they specialize in. The size and the structure of the organization can vary widely as well; this is one of the reasons organized crime is so difficult to stop.
A bureaucratic approach to organized crime is one in which the structure of the organization is very strictly organized. In bureaucratic crime structures, there are very strict rules for behavior and a strict pecking order that is determined by both implicit and explicit rules (Boundless.com). A bureaucratic crime organization is generally business-oriented, and will use violence only when necessary to enforce the strict rules within the organization; however, in these organizations, most participants are aware of the rules and unwilling to cross them, for fear of violence (Boundless.com).
The problems that a bureaucratic crime organization faces are similar to the problems that a corrupt business would face. Keeping records written down can be problematic, but it is a necessity when the structures within the organization are so authoritarian (Bustingbureaucracy.com). Similarly, research suggests that infiltration by law enforcement on the lowest levels of the organization can cause the collapse of the entire organization (Bustingbureaucracy.com).
Patron-client organizations are different from bureaucratic organizations in that they are much less rigid in their structures. Unlike bureaucratic organized-crime structures, the patron-client structures are naturally formed through cultural or familial ties (Boundless.com). Instead of answering to a single high authority, patron-client networks are mostly independent, linked only loosely to other patron-client networks within their organization. This type of organization is much more common for gangs; some of the most famous gangs, like the Japanese Yakuza and the Sicilian Mafia, are considered patron-client organizations.
The problem with patron-client organizations is, obviously, different from the problems of bureaucratic organizations. Patron-client organizations are prone to feuds within the tight-knit knots of individuals that make up a node of the organization (Boundless.com). The rules of the patron-client organization are also much more localized and much more prone to the emotional whim of the individual in charge, making them much more volatile organizations (Boundless.com).
Understanding how organized crime structures function is fundamentally important for the individuals who spend their lives trying to destroy them. Without a keen understanding of the structures that they are trying to disassemble, law enforcement officials cannot infiltrate or properly prosecute the people responsible for crime. Dealing with organized crime families and organizations can be incredibly dangerous, especially undercover, which is why a good understanding of crime organization is important to law enforcement officials everywhere.
Boundless.com (2011). Organized Crime - Crime. [online] Retrieved from: https://www.boundless.com/sociology/understanding-deviance-social-control-and-crime/crime/organized-crime/ [Accessed: 23 Apr 2013].
Bustingbureaucracy.com (2012). The bureaucratic organization: eight major characteristics. [online] Retrieved from: http://www.bustingbureaucracy.com/excerpts/theorg.html [Accessed: 23 Apr 2013].
Galemba, R (2008). "Informal and Illicit Entrepreneurs: Fighting for a Place in the Neoliberal Economic Order". Anthropology of Work Review 29 (2).