Fighting Organized Crime: The Need for Evaluating “What Works?”

Suppose we looked at all the published reports which evaluate the efforts of police, prosecutors and politicians to fight criminal organizations. Ideally, the reports would show a list of things which don’t work, some which might work, and some which clearly do. Fortunately, such a study has already been done .

    In a 2003 report for Canada’s Department of Justice, criminologist Thomas Gabor reviewed the research which assesses domestic and international efforts to control organized crime. A key problem for doing this type of analysis is the limited number of published evaluations. Most crime control efforts are justified by anecdote, the plural of which does not constitute "data". That knowledge gap should cause us concern because policy-makers do not have information to evaluate efforts to control criminal organizations.

    According to Gabor, the least effective means for dealing with organized crime includes prosecuting organized crime leaders, passing legislation to control money-laundering, seizing assets obtained by crime, and trying to reduce the supply of illegal goods and services through interdiction and enforcement.

    The existing research tells us that the worldwide supply of drugs is largely unaffected by enforcement tactics, and gang warfare is the outcome of fights over drug distribution networks. Criminal organizations rapidly adapt new supply routes and have an virtually unlimited global supply of methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin.

    Organized crime leaders are quickly replaced, and money laundering laws are ineffective because of the sheer volume of transactions, and the lack of cooperation from domestic parties and foreign jurisdictions. Forfeiture and other efforts to seize the assets of crime are complex, costly, and only a miniscule of proceeds are captured.

    Earning the "moderate" or "moderate-high" ratings were enforcement strategies such as prosecuting those operating within criminal organizations (especially under taxation laws), strike and drug task forces, and electronic surveillance. One of the most effective strategies are witness protection programs which facilitate the prosecution of those within criminal organizations.

    Going after gangs requires more than new or enhanced tools for the police and Crown. We also must have a formal means for evaluating the anticipated and unintended consequences of our laws and policies. Only then will we avoid the mistake of repeating the same efforts while expecting different outcomes.

The link to Gabor’s study is http://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/pi/rs/rep-rap/2005/rr05_5/index.html 

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