An Aerial Perspective on the Predictors of Organized Crimes: Micro and Macro level

“Behind every great fortune lies a great crime” – The quote given by Honoré de Balzac aptly substantiates the discussion on the motives behind Organized Crimes.

FBI in 1995 defined Organized Crimes as “self-perpetuating associations of individuals who operate, wholly or in part, by illegal means and irrespective of geography. They constantly seek to obtain power, influence, and monetary gains. There is no single structure under which these groups function—they vary from hierarchies to clans, networks, and cells, and may evolve into other structures. These groups are typically insular and protect their activities through corruption, violence, international commerce, complex communication mechanisms, and an organizational structure exploiting national boundaries.

Why do individuals involve themselves in Organized Crimes? – The reason lies on a multilevel framework of factors, both at the micro and macro levels. The article aims at providing a conceptual understanding of organized crimes through examples from the past and how it influences the structure of organized crimes in the present scenario. It also emphasizes on the causation of organized crimes and how deterrence plays a vital role in curbing it.


At the micro level we have individual causations that originate from the need to fulfill goals and desires on an economic, social, financial and psychological level, irrespective of the means of attaining such goals. For example, The Irish Mob in the US and Ireland who carried out activities such as, money laundering, drug trafficking, racketeering, fraud, robbery, theft, illegal gambling etc can be a good example of the economic motives of organized crime at micro-level. They were involved in every activity that earned them a profit. Hence, we can presume that “Finance” was their major goal.

Most members of such organized groups, especially the ones who are lower on the power line are individuals who have no proper education, employment and usually have a criminal record. These factors make them more vulnerable to being part of an organized crime group or a ‘Gang’ as they acquire financial aid, power, social status, the ideology of being “feared” and better standards of living (at least as compared to their previous lifestyle), as explained in the research conducted by Jay Albanese in 2003.

However, such groups cannot sustain on their own. They acquire political power through bribery and corruption of public officials – legislators and public executives, who keep them aloof of the legal system. The group’s power and position is maintained by the protection of the public servants who are paid in return – a symbiotic give and take relationship. The irony lies in the fact that the public officials assigned to curb such groups and activities end up supporting them in the long run due to the financial profit they make.

D-Company, led by Dawood Ibrahim – a powerful underworld organized criminal syndicate who were responsible for the Mumbai bombings of 1993 – were also involved in other cases such as extortion, targeted killing, terrorism etc. This is an example of an organization which was supported and run with cooperation from the public offices. Another such example would be that of the Medellin Cartel headed by Pablo Escobar who at one point made his own prison for him to live in as a prisoner. The power and political influence of these gangs and individuals are uncanny. 

The system (of public offices and institutions) undoubtedly lies in the hands of such groups. They exercise an unruly amount of control over the flow of the system. Their illicit activities are supported by the government officials as they are all under the pay roll. These members are never questioned, arrested or detained for their activities. In fact proofs against them are hardly even found which would further encourage and motivate the cause. In reference to the leader and sub leaders of the system, power drives as a lustful force. Most gang leaders of this sort are seen to be in constant greed of power and money.

Now, the question arises, how do the members of such organized groups function within (despite) a strong legal system? This can be explained by the Deterrence theory. Theorists believe that the rate of crimes can be reduced by the use of deterrents as the aim or goal of deterrence or crime prevention is the assumption that potential criminals or criminals will think twice before actually committing a crime as the result could lead to paying a greater consequence.

There are two types of deterrence: general and specific. General deterrence theory states that crime can be reduced by the fear of punishment. If people fear being arrested and punished the chances of the committing the crime is lesser. Capital punishment is an example of deterrence theory as people end up avoiding crime due to the fear that the state will award them a death penalty for that crime. A study was conducted on ‘Criminal Deterrence’ by Philip J Cook, University of Chicago which showed how the deterrence theory has way too many aspects that affect criminal deterrence than simply just the factor of punishment – such as: i) which dimension of the threat of punishment has a greater deterrence effect – likelihood or severity and ii) what effect does the threat of punishment for one type of crime have on involvement on other types of crime.

Specific deterrence, on the other hand, states that the severity or penalties of the punishment given should be so intense that the convicted criminals will refrain from ever committing the crime again. Specific deterrence results from actual experiences with detection, prosecution, and punishment of offenders. It prevents recidivism. For example, if a person is caught possessing marijuana, the first time possession punishment should be severe enough that there is no potential room for recidivism.

Control Theory is another theory which is almost very similar to the deterrence theory as it states that crime is motivated by lack of fear of punishment. Even though deterrence theory has not been supported by any empirical evidences, theorists believe that it can be effective. For e.g., W Potter, 1975, points out that crimes are committed by larger number of people because courts and correctional centers emphasize on treatment rather than punishment. This makes the criminals more willing to risk getting caught. As mentioned in the study of W Potter and colleagues we can conclude that it is a simple ratio understanding: lesser the punishment more the crime rates.

Irrespective of the legal system and the socio-economic factors, we should also emphasize the role of psychological factors which pull an individual to organized crimes. Many individuals joining “gangs” are people who are psychologically vulnerable, easily brainwashed into committing crimes and involving themselves in illicit activities. Individuals with an adverse childhood, belonging to broken families, raised by single parent especially single mothers and socially neglected groups of people tend to be driven towards organized crimes even more.

Different psychological theories could include:

  1. Psychoanalytical Theory – Sigmund Freud stated that the human body is governed by the various central forces: the id represents instinctual needs, the ego represents the understood social norms and the superego is learned moral reasoning. Criminal or abnormal behavior is cause by the imbalance in the id, ego and superego. The id being the irrational pleasure principal drive of the body, if it abides dominance over the ego and superego, could lead to one committing irrational, pleasure seeking activities which maybe illegal and also through illicit ways. As a result, criminal, deviant and delinquent behavior may develop.
  2. Erik Erickson in his developmental theory later formulated that delinquency as an “identity crisis” that arose from inner conflict or turmoil. This theory states that behavior is ‘learned’ and that it is largely influenced by ‘experiences’. When a person’s actions are reinforced through conditioning, the behavior is learned. In Edwin Sutherland’s “Principles of Criminology”, it states how criminal behavior is enhanced when in association with criminals. Hence, individuals, especially delinquents who are being brought up in a culture or environment where criminal behavior is normalized, criminal sub-cultures, gives a higher chance ratio that the child would involve himself in such behaviors or activities. This is also corroborated by the Chicago school and theories of Social disorganization.
  3. Cognitive theory which focuses on the idea that the higher order mental processes govern human behavior and emotions. Cognitive theorists have proposed stages of cognitive development that can help understand causation of crime and delinquency. Lawrence Kohlberg refined the work of Jean Piaget, proposing three levels of moral development: The pre-conventional level is common in children and focuses on external consequences that actions may have. This stage could lead to reinforcement of unwanted behavior if the consequences are positive in nature. The conventional level is common in adolescents and young adults and focuses on society’s views and expectations and the post-conventional level is common in adults over the age of 20 and focuses on the critical examination of human rights and moral principles. A faulty development in any of these stages can end up causing an under developed sense of morality which influence deviant behavior as a whole. Such individuals have a higher chance of engaging in illicit activities to attain the culturally desired set of goals.


At the macro level we have social reasons and societal impact as a whole on the causation of organized crimes such as, bureaucratic nexus, societal tolerance and an inadequate legal structure. As organized criminal groups are structured in a hierarchical manner; the higher echelons of leadership become insulated from law enforcement agencies. These gangs maintain relationships with the bureaucrats, government functionaries, politicians and media persons, to manipulate the system and make profit. It is difficult for agencies to go beyond the lower down members of the hierarchy because of rules of evidence, particularly, non-admissibility of confessions made by criminals before the police. Witnesses are not willing to be eye witnesses for fear of their lives and there is no law to provide protection to the witnesses against organized gangs in India. This provides kind of a surety and sense of admissible safety among the members of the gang which further promotes organized crime involvement. There is a provision called “Immunity” which is letting a criminal go scot-free if he/she provides vital information that can help the law enforcement get hold of members on top of the hierarchy. Also the informers are not willing to come forward as some kind of stigma is attached to being an ‘informer’.

Also this is strongly supported by the inadequate legal structure. Other reasons of as to why organized crimes occur in the Indian context are, first of all, India does not have a special law to control/suppress organized crime. The existing law is inadequate as it targets individuals and not the criminal groups or criminal enterprises. The surety of getting away from the legal consequences promotes the violence to a greater extent (Deterrence theory).

Another very important factor that influences and promotes organized crimes is the societal tolerance and reactions – This is one of the most overlooked aspects in organized crimes. Society supports and tolerates organized crime and all its subtypes indirectly. They do so as it gratifies many of their needs. Without sustained public pressure, law enforcement officers and politicians have very less incentive to address themselves to combating organized crime (Ahuja, 2001).


There are a plethora of reasons as to why organized crime keeps flourishing, and the most prominent among them is lack of detailed study in the area. Women in ‘organized crimes’, for example, is a highly understudied subject. Women’s involvement in organized crime has not been validated. Older theories give emphasis of as to why men commit crimes, but there are genuinely only as few hand full of theories that emphasizes on women’s role in crime, especially organized crimes. One such example of a woman in organized crime would be that of –  Phoolan Devi a.k.a the Bandit Queen – who was part of a bandit gang and eventually became the head of the organization that led the gang into numerous illicit activities. Later on, she went on to be an MP in the Lok Sabha but was shot dead based on reasons from her previous gang rivalries.

Organized crime will continue to persist till law makers enact laws rendering illegal activities, products and services. The public tolerance has to be reduced and action needs to be taken from that front also. The public servants assigned to execute the law are siding with crimes and presenting a warped picture. Given these numerable factors – social, cultural, political, legal and economic conditions, organized crimes are there to stay at least in the foreseeable future. Also, criminologists are ignoring the role of women in organized crimes, where the number of women in this type of crime is drastically increasing. More studies and research need to be conducted in this aspect of organized crimes which focuses on as to why women end up being a part of organized crimes – motivation, reason and drives. (Ahuja, 2001)


Ahuja, R. (2001). Criminology. Rawat Publications.


Rithin Joseph

Rithin is an MA (Criminology) student specializing in Forensic Psychology from National Forensic Sciences University, Gandhinagar, Gujarat. He holds a BSc in Psychology.

Krupa Nishar

Krupa is an assistant professor at National Forensic Sciences University, Gandhinagar, Gujarat.

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