'Polymorphous Criminal Networks'

Considering Criminal Groups' Engagement Across Markets

Published in: Further Insights into Aspects of the Illicit EU Drugs Market / Franz Trautmann, Beau Kilmer, Paul Turnbull (eds.) (Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union, 2013.), Part II, Report 3, p. 361-388

Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 2013

by Jennifer Rubin, Mafalda Pardal, Peter McGee, Deirdre May Culley

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At a time when drug policy and law enforcement regimes for tackling illicit markets are in a state of flux, it is important to understand how changes in the treatment of one type of illicit activity or substance may impact others. Some criminal networks are unlikely to allow profits and trade in one area to disappear without seeking to replace that income in other ways. On the contrary, many criminal groups and networks have shown themselves to be adaptive to changing when under pressure. We call these 'polymorphous criminal networks' (PCNs) because of their ability to change. However, relatively little is known about the relationship between most illicit trades, for example between one illicit drug and another or between drugs and human trafficking, or about the relationship between those and many of the licit activities in which criminal networks also engage. Indeed, there are very few sources of information, datasets or even frameworks for thinking about such relationships. And the data that are available largely depend on law enforcement reporting, driven by seizures and arrests, which is often a better measure of the allocation of police resources than of actual levels of activity by criminal groups. Yet without better information about how criminal networks' activities shift and change, it is difficult to develop evidence-based policy and operations to tackle them. This chapter begins to address this gap and indicate a means of building the evidence base by providing an illustrative collation of the licit and illicit activities undertaken by criminal networks as identified in a targeted review of the literature. The paper also captures, where possible, reasons for market diversification and movement between licit and illicit goods. Finally, we propose a new framework building from textured micro-level case study and investigative information, to develop an understanding of wider, non-criminal justice datasets that may be available to develop more robust understanding of the relationships between the range of activities undertaken by transnational criminal networks, especially those who traffic in drugs.

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