Monday, January 18, 2010
Seeking a single definition of “organized crime” is a futile quest. “Organized crime” is a social construct. Whatever the case with natural entities, it has no “essence” in the traditional sense of the term. Thus, the meaning of “organized crime” is a question of the purpose for which it is used. Various definitions work well or ill in varying circumstances. Using one definition in each circumstance is problematic.
Forms of organized crime were present in the United States from its earliest days. Apart from Prohibition, organized crime, used in the sense of the Mafia or the Mob, did not come to national attention until the 1950’s, when its operations received widespread publicity, as the result of congressional investigations. Nevertheless, because we have traditionally thought of crime control as a local matter, the federal government did not at that time get into the fray in a major way. Even then, its responses had little impact on the Mob. In fact, the Mob reached its apex in the United States in the 1960’s. Following recommendations of the President’s Crime Commission in 1967, which studied organized crime, in particular the Mob, in detail, Congress acted in 1968 to authorize court-ordered electronic surveillance. In the 1970’s, it authorized other evidence gathering tools, set up the witness protection program, established sentencing guidelines, and enacted the anti-racketeering act, or RICO.
Little happened in the efforts to control the Mob until the 1980’s, when the FBI finally learned how to use these new law enforcement tools. Today, the Mob, throughout the United States, is a shallow of its former self. The legal tools and administrative changes to control or eliminate it are in place. Its final elimination is a matter of the political will to continue to provide the necessary law enforcement resources. The sun has not set, but it is twilight for the Mob.