Organized Crime: Definitions and Models

The definition of organized crime is dependent on the investigator. This definition is supposed to match that of the agency, jurisdiction or state. A proper definition helps in the formulation of solutions for problems that occur during an investigation. This paper looks at the definition of organized crime according to Abidinsky and Cressey.

Abadinsky defines organized crime as a non-ideological endeavor that consists of various individuals who are in a close social interaction. In addition to this, the individuals organized are structured in a hierarchical manner, with a minimum of three levels, with the intention of ensuring profit and power by taking part in both lawful and unlawful acts. Organized crime according to Abadinsky must portray several features including limited membership, hierarchical, non-ideological, self perpetuating, exhibit willingness to use violent means and illegal acts, demonstrates specialization of roles, and directed by precise regulations.

Abadinsky’s definition of organized crime suggests that positions in the group are assigned depending on either kinship or friendship. Assigning roles or positions may also be based on an individual set of skills and is not dependent on the person occupying the position at that time. The members of the crime group who are keen in undertaking operations and keeping it on track according to their purpose acquire permanent positions. Organized crime avoids competition and, therefore, its use of both aggression and corruption in order to meet its goals or uphold authority. Abadinsky also believes that organized crime has restricted membership, though it may incorporate new people based on the situation. Lastly, Abadinsky suggests that organized crime has clear policies that are either oral or written. These rules are enforced by any means, including murder of antagonists.

Cressey states that the key positions involved in organized crime are those of a corruptor, the corrupted and an enforcer. The division of roles in organized crimes involves rules of operation and coordination of activities. Cressey defines the organized criminal as any individual who has a role in a social system whose purpose is to maximize on profits through engagement in unlawful practices or through the provision of legally restricted commodities that are desired by a considerable number of people in their community of operation.

Besides the two definitions of organized crime by Cressey and Abadinsky, social scientists had attempted to categorize crime using legal terms but failed on account of the involvement of division of tasks. This was the case because of the inclusion of both formal and informal structures in defining the illegal activities of organized crime. Secondly, the use of descriptions based on attitudes and values of criminals left out certain acts of organized crime on the basis of intent, such as white-collar-crime and crime against property. Social scientists defined organized criminals based on their behavior. Organized criminals were required to portray anti-legal attitudes while holding fast to the stipulated code of conduct.

The social definition of organized crime takes into account the legal requirements of individuals, and disregards other attributes to do with society, economics and politics. Organized crime is, therefore, defined as any offense that has an individual assuming a position in a recognized distribution of duties that is formulated with the intent to commit illegal acts. Organized crime involves the members taking part in unlawful practices that are well structured using stipulated guidelines. Every criminal, who takes part in organized crime, is assigned a position or rank within the organization that is not dependent on the incumbent. All criminals have their duties, tasks and rights defined by the rank or position within the organization.

Based on this conclusive definition of organized crime, it can be said that Abadinsky’s definition is more correct than that of Cressey. This is because Cressey provides a brief definition of organized crime, as a conventional division of tasks with the view to commission of a crime. This definition is not limited to organized crime, as it fails to distinguish various groups based on allotment of tasks for small criminals, businesses and criminal alliances.

Organized crime can be divided into three models namely patron-client networks, bureaucratic or corporate operations and street gangs. Patron-client networks fit into Abadinsky’s definition of organized crime. They are organized crime groups existing as smaller units of a larger network, with each group undertaking particular roles, but valuing the activities of each other within the network. These include conventional organized crime units that need close monitoring for the prevalence of justice and the democratic process. These organized crime networks include the Sicilian Mafia, which comprises Sicilian and Italian American Cosa Nostra, the Calabrian Mafia and Italian Canadian ‘Ndrangheta and the American Mafia.

The structure of these criminal systems satisfies the definition of organized crime by Abadinsky. The ‘Ndrangheta, for instance, is a criminal group based in Italy. The structure of the group is hierarchical, whereby the sons are groomed to take over the family businesses and operations under the organization. The group does not allow nonfamily members, in order to enhance cohesion by blood ties, and prevent conflicts that may lead to police intervention and disbandment of the group. The ‘Ndrangheta is a collection of many families that are autonomous but dependent on each other, with no organizational head.

The American Mafia has a structure that fits the definition of organized crime by Cressey. The division of labor in the crime group is well defined, with the top bosses running the organization operations. These bosses are the boss, who is the head of the family and dictates business operations, the under boss, who runs the family businesses, and the Consigliore, who is the advisor to the boss.

The mafia groups satisfy the definitions put forward for organized crime. Some of the key features of highly developed forms of organized crime like the ‘Ndrangheta or the American Mafia include dictatorial organization, protection from the law through corruption or professional legal counsel, permanency and structure, profitable and low risk operations, running of operations by instilling fear to other members and the public, efforts to destabilize reasonable administrations, narrowness of management from criminal activity, and strict rules in a hierarchy of ranks.

Cressey suggests that organized crime requires a corruptor. He suggests that there is illicit distribution of roles in the Cosa Nostra. He suggests that the role of corruptor is vital and always filled in the Cosa Notra, in order to secure protection from the law by whichever means. There is also a position for the person who is influenced, the corruptor, and the person who maintains organizational integration, the enforcer.

Additional features of organized crime groups include business enterprises, influence, power and bribery, insulation, restraint, public relations and a common way of life. The difference between organized crime groups and small working groups of criminals that have division of labor is that the latter do not operate according to the stipulated guidelines.

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"Organized Crime: Definitions and Models." LawBirdie, 16 Sept. 2023,


LawBirdie. (2023) 'Organized Crime: Definitions and Models'. 16 September.


LawBirdie. 2023. "Organized Crime: Definitions and Models." September 16, 2023.

1. LawBirdie. "Organized Crime: Definitions and Models." September 16, 2023.


LawBirdie. "Organized Crime: Definitions and Models." September 16, 2023.