X Close

Organised Crime Research Network


A UCL-based research network on preventing and controlling organised crime


On The Question of Human Rights Abuses Perpetrated by the Mafia in Italy

By uctzrec, on 25 April 2017

U.S. Air Force graphic

U.S. Air Force graphic

The Italian Mafia and other criminal organizations prove a direct threat to the upholding of universal human rights and are fundamentally opposed to any pacific societal order.  These organizations have committed serious human rights violations such as routinely engaging in human trafficking operations.  As criminal associations constitute a very real issue for the Italian state, the government should take effective and constructive steps towards reducing opportunities for crime and increasing risks for criminals.

Human trafficking and forced labor are important sources of income for the Mafia and criminal organizations.  The problem has only worsened over the past several years due to a notable increase in immigration to Europe from African and Middle Eastern states (Bommes, Fassmann, and Sievers, 2014).  Out of the 900,000 immigrants that arrived in Europe after traveling through the Mediterranean Sea, circa 180,000 arrived in Italy (Il Post, 2015).  Given these geopolitical events, Italy is now ‘the final destination’ (Campana, 2016) for human traffickers and enslavers.  However, the issue then becomes local, as the ‘involvement [of traffickers] may also extend to control of victims during the exploitation stage’ (Campana, 2016).

Traffickers transport women for sex work in Italy and arrange transfers with local ‘madams’ or brothel managers.  The traffickers do not receive payment for the actual sex worker, rather they are paid for the transportation of the individual.  Conversations that the Italian government collected as signals intelligence provide evidence of this process.  During a recording, a trafficker instructs a colleague that the madam ‘has to pay first’ and to not allow her to see the girl (TrNA 2009).  He states ‘you have to get the money first’ (TrNA, 2009).

This exchange is indicative of the regular human trafficking that both global and local mafia groups conduct in Italy.  While the problem is extensive, there are solutions that will lessen its effects.  Situational crime prevention (SCP) theory provides several concrete responses.  SCP assesses the ‘opportunities that specific situations offer for crime’ and includes 25 techniques that can be used to remove environmental precursors for crime (Popcenter.org, 2017).  Clarke (1980) created techniques to remove the benefits of crime and to increase the risks associated with committing a crime.

Campana and Mancuso, two Italian scholars, have provided information on human trafficking from Nigeria across several international borders to Italy.  Mancuso et al., used a crime script to map the exact criminal process of human trafficking (Savona et al., 2014).  This approach is important because it gives specific information about the criminal process based on strong empirical evidence.

Mancuso et al., illustrates the process by providing a detailed crime script of human trafficking from Nigeria to Italy (2014).  They state that the transportation process occurred by bus, car, and plane and in the Nigerian case, victims arrived in Campobasso.  If the victims travel by plane or bus, they will do so alone whilst ‘following the orders of traffickers’.  Once in Italy, the victims are picked up at stations by an associate and brought to a ‘safe house’.  These steps allow security forces and law enforcement agencies to create specific and real world solutions to the problem.

Mancuso et al., identify that trafficking ‘requires negotiating a number of checks’ (Savona et al., 2014).  These organizations use ‘corruption to obtain forged documents’ and to cross borders.  Therefore, creating situational crime prevention measures to reduce the availability of forged documents would create disincentives.  This could be accomplished by ‘improving technical instruments to reduce… forgery’ such as biometric measures and ‘improving the controls where documents are stored’ (Savona et al., 2014).  These are examples of increasing the risks under the 25 Techniques framework (Popcenter.org, 2017).  Furthermore, the authors state that airline companies and officials should acknowledge ‘that their negligence could favor criminal activities’ (Savona et al., 2014).  This last measure would remove excuses, an important component of situational crime prevention (Popcenter.org, 2017).

The issue of human trafficking in Italy by mafia groups is troubling and extremely damaging, causing psychological and physical harm to thousands of victims.  However, through crime science measures, such as situational crime prevention theory and the use of crime scripts, law enforcement agencies, and security services can make real and effective progress in deterring criminal groups.  The Italian government must cooperate with international partners such as EUROPOL and other EU governments to strengthen border controls and to identify victims before they are passed into sex work.


Bommes, M., Fassmann, H. and Sievers, W. ed., (2014). Migration from the Middle East and North Africa to Europe: Past Developments, Current Status, and Future Potentials. 1st ed. Amsterdam, Netherlands: Amsterdam University Press.

Clarke, R. (1980). ‘Situational’ Crime Prevention: Theory and Practice. British Journal of Criminology, [online] 20(2). Available at: https://academic.oup.com/bjc/article/20/2/136/356435/SITUATIONAL-CRIME-PREVENTION-THEORY-AND-PRACTICE.

Il Post. (2015). La tratta di donne dalla Nigeria all’Italia – Il Post. [online] Available at: http://www.ilpost.it/2015/12/08/tratta-donne-prostituzione-nigeria-italia/ [Accessed 24 Apr. 2017].

Popcenter.org. (2017). Center for Problem-Oriented Policing | About CPOP. [online] Available at: http://www.popcenter.org/about/?p=situational [Accessed 24 Apr. 2017].

Savona, E.U., Giommoni, L. and Mancuso, M., 2014. Human trafficking for sexual exploitation in Italy. Cognition and crime. Offender decision making and script analyses, pp.140-163.

TrNA. (2009), Tribunale di Napoli. Ordinanza di Applicazione Misure Cautelari, N. 164/096

 I am an American/Italian MSc student reading for a degree in Countering Organized Crime and Terrorism at the Jill Dando Institute.  I like to think/write about the crime-terror nexus, organized crime in Italy and art crime. Contact: LinkedIn

The views expressed in this blog post are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of UCL, the Department of Security and Crime Science or the UCL Organised Crime Research Network.

Upcoming Seminar: “Governing Criminal Markets: The role of insurers in kidnap for ransom”

By Patricio Estevez-Soto, on 21 April 2017

We are happy to announce a new seminar: Governing Criminal Markets: The role of insurers in kidnap for ransom, by Dr Anja Shortland, from King’s College London.

The seminar will be held on Tuesday April 25, 2017 at 5:15 pm, in the Teaching room of the Department of Security and Crime Science (35 Tavistock Square, London, WC1H 9EZ). As usual we welcome all who are interested in the topic of organised crime, and the OCRN will provide refreshments for informal networking after the seminar.

Dr Anja Shortland is a Reader in Political Economy at King’s College London. Anja was an Engineering and Economics undergraduate at Oxford University and did her Masters and PhD in International Relations at LSE. Before joining King’s, she worked as a lecturer in Economics at Leicester, a Reader in Economics at Brunel University and as a consultant to the World Bank. Anja’s research broadly falls into three categories: 1) the economics of crime, 2) informal governance, and 3) civil conflict. She is currently working on the topic of kidnap for ransom, examining who kidnaps and why, how ransoms are negotiated and kidnaps resolved, and who provides the governance for this tricky market. She has published widely on the issue of maritime piracy and co-authored the 2013 World Bank Policy Report: “The Pirates of Somalia: Ending the Threat; Rebuilding a Nation.”

Seminar Overview

The intersection between the formal and criminal economies presents a range of intractable coordination and enforcement problems. Who orders and facilitates the interactions between private, legal entities and criminals (potentially) engaged in kidnap for ransom? Dr Shortland analyses the contracts, protocols, norms, and agencies created by insurers to govern this unusual market. Stringent insurance contracts, effective security measures and orderly resolutions create a profitable market for kidnap insurance. Underwriters manage moral hazard and adverse selection. Business risk consultancies minimise the kidnapping of insured workers, high net-worth individuals, and travellers. Crisis responders ensure that hostages are treated well, keep ransoms moderate and stable, and discourage kidnappers from reneging on agreed ransoms. The state, private sector and mafias incentivise co-operation and enforce contracts. Understanding this complex polycentric governance architecture is crucial for remedying current trends in “terrorist” kidnap for ransom.

Review: Open Source Intelligence and Organised Crime seminar

By Philip T Doherty, on 1 February 2017


On Tuesday the 24th of January, we were privileged to welcome Michael Endsor, from King’s College London, to conduct a seminar addressing the factors associated with open source intelligence and the subject of ‘Organised Crime’. Michael is a research associate of the ‘International Centre for Security Analysis’, and eluded to the abundance of information available through social media for the collection, analysis and processing of intelligence.

The boom of social media in the last decade has spread internationally, with the example of Facebook reaching 1.79 billion users at the end of 2016. Michael explained that social media can be used as a ‘database bank’ for the collection of information on various sources, and can positively enable law enforcement agencies to develop social networks within organisations. Furthermore, with the ever growing population of online users, law enforcement can use open source intelligence (OSINT) to better their understanding of the spatial mapping of the demand for illicit products, and their consequent supply chains.

The patterning of identifying criminal activity is observed differently within each of the media sites. However, similarities occur as a trending ‘hashtag’, where the user tags a post with a specific code, enabling other interested users to interact and create online networks. Popular tags include ‘#junkiesofiggg, #dope, #ilovedope, etc.’ Michael’s primary focus within the seminar was ‘Instagram’, as patterns are observable in imaging as well as text. He described the characteristics of certain images, where an individual enjoys flaunting their wealth through designer products, and large sums of cash; while others directly display the illicit product they are trying to sell.

Instagram has tried to block certain hashtags from trending and existing altogether, however this has not seen a reduction in criminal activity, as extra letters have been added to the tag in order to avoid the security protocols. The most popular form of criminal activity on social media is the distribution of drugs.

The advantage to law enforcement is the insight into names/coding of products, the packaging of certain drugs, the regions of distribution (due to geolocation tagging on images), the individuals involved in such a transaction, and the observation of proliferating online networks. Through the analysis of tags, shares and direct messaging (DM), law enforcement are able to trace products back to the distributer are consequently spark an investigation for an arrest. This can also lead to the research into open source hotspot mapping (both temporal and spatial) for specific use of illicit produce and the supply demand markets of these.


Michael’s research paper ‘A structural Analysis of Social Media Networks: A Reference Guide for Analysts & Policymakers’ is a brilliant example of how intelligence can be gathered from public, and even private accounts, of social media.

The views expressed in this blog post are the authors own and do not necessarily represent the views of UCL, the Department of Security and Crime Science or the UCL Organised Crime Research Network.

Upcoming Seminar: Open Source Intelligence and Organised Crime

By Patricio Estevez-Soto, on 16 January 2017

We are happy to present our first seminar of 2017: Open Source Intelligence and Organised Crime by Mr Mick Endsor, from Kings College London.

The seminar will be held on Tuesday January 24, at 5 pm, in the teaching room of the Department of Security and Crime Science (35 Tavistock Square, London, WC1H 9EZ). As usual we welcome all who are interested in the topic of organised crime, and the OCRN will provide refreshments for informal networking after the seminar.

Mick Endsor is a research associate at the International Centre for Security Analysis. He holds an MA with Distinction in Intelligence and International Security from King’s College London. Mick previously read History at the University of Leeds, where he obtained a First Class Honours Degree in 2012. A former intern at ICSA, Mick has also worked on secondment at the National Crime Agency where he provided open source intelligence expertise. Mick’s research interests include: open source intelligence, organised crime and intelligence-led approaches to strategy and security.

Seminar Overview:

Open source and social media intelligence offers law enforcement the opportunity to generate insights into a range of criminal activities and organised crime networks that can be integrated with other data sources to better understand organised crime threats. Analysing drug related posts on Instagram provides a case study of how social media information can provide insights into patterns of supply and demand as well as new developments in the illicit drugs market.

Upcoming seminar: Make America Great Again? Donald Trump’s War on Drugs

By uctzhid, on 3 December 2016

Please save the date for our next seminar entitled “Make America Great Again? Donald Trump’s War on Drugs”. It will take place at 6:00pm on Monday 5 December 2016 in the Teaching Room of the Jill Dando Institute of Security and Crime Science, 35 Tavistock Square, Jill Dando Institute, UCL, London, WC1H 9EZ.

During his presidential campaign, Donald Trump argued that Mexican people were bringing drugs and crime into the US. One month later, he accused the Mexican government of corruption after drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman escaped from a Mexican prison. One of his main pledges as a presidential candidate was to build a wall along the US-Mexico border.

Dr John Collins will talk about the implications of Trump’s election on drug policy and organised crime. Our guest speaker is the Executive Director of the LSE IDEAS International Drug Policy Project and coordinator of the Expert Group on the Economics of Drug Policy.

He earned a PhD from the Department of International History at LSE. His research focuses on Anglo-American relations and international drug control over the period 1939-1964 and the creation of the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs in 1961.

This event is open to the general public and will end with a networking sesión with our fellow OCRN members.

We look forward to seeing you there!

Trump’s wall and its implications for organised crime

By uctzjdp, on 11 November 2016

Let’s be honest. We have no clue what the world will look like once Donald Trump becomes the 45th US President. If you think he has failed to present details on how to “Make America Great Again” in most policy issues, it is equally uncertain when it comes to his plans to tackle organised crime.

Trump’s plan to stop “rapists and murderers”

One of his few clear proposals was the 1,000-mile wall on the southwest border with Mexico. With an estimated cost of $25 USD billion—78% of the US Department of Justice budget—Trump proposes to stop illegal immigration, allegedly, as a way to disrupt the networks of ‘rapists, murderers, smugglers, and drug traffickers’ coming from the south.

When confronted with reality, there are reasons to believe this measure will not be effective. For instance, it fails to understand the problem. Net migration from Mexico to the US is in its lowest recorded level. Today there are more Mexicans moving back from the US to Mexico, than the other way around.

Moreover, nearly half of all the unauthorized migrants living in the US entered the country legally through an official port of entry—such as an airport—and over-stayed their visa. No matter how high, a wall would not make a difference.

Trump’s plan to stop drug traffickers

Trump’s wall won’t stop drugs entering the US either. While Mexico is the primary producer of heroin for the US,—due to logistical requirements—American citizens are obviously involved in border drug operations. Four out of five drug busts by the border patrol involve US citizens. Even when there is not an ‘American Chapo’, someone is moving the drugs once they are inside the US, and a wall will not make a difference.

Even if drugs and crime were exclusively coming from the south, Trump’s proposal seems to be quite naive. Since 1990, more than 150 secret narcotunnels have been found along the border. With the growing availability of hundreds of commercial drones creating huge situational opportunities for trafficking, a wall will be meaningless.

Drug-markets are also changing. Alongside Trump’s election last Tuesday, voters in Massachusetts, Maine, Nevada, and California chosen to legalise marijuana for ‘recreational use’.

With almost 30 states allowing medical marijuana and 10 permitting some type of ‘recreational use’, it may be not surprising that domestic marijuana production has increased up to more than 10,000 metric tons/22 million pounds. Currently, half of the marijuana consumed by Americans is already produced inside the US. A wall is unlikely to change this situation.

Trump’s plan to stop illegal migrants

The President-elect also proposed to deport 11 million migrants, the largest mass-scale deportation in all American history. Due to its economic effect, it is very unlikely that this will occur, at least in the short term. What is more conceivable, however, is a steep rise of racially motivated violent assaults. As a normalisation effect, we can expect an expansion of gangs and organised criminals starting to target specific racial groups.

Unrealistic? Well, a similar phenomenon occurred some months ago after the controversial Brexit vote in the UK where hate crime increased by almost 60%.

When it comes to the US, we should not forget that some highly organised groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan, were prevalent not many years ago, thus it wouldn’t be surprising if we see a rise of far-right extremist and white supremacist groups, which have been notable players in organised crime.

We should not ignore that minorities routinely suffered racial attacks during Trump rallies. Hate speech has a cost. When Trump proposed to ban Muslims, hate crimes against American Muslims increased 78%.

Should we be concerned? Probably.

Trump’s openly hostile stance against financial regulation makes it less likely that his administration will target money launderers, facilitating organised crime activity. Furthermore, his closeness to the NRA is very likely to increase gun availability, and hence lead to more violence and shootings. Lastly, his isolationist foreign policy foreshadows obstacles for international cooperation to tackle organised crime.

Difficult times are coming. More than ever, science and evidence should play a central role in our approach to preventing and disrupting organised crime.

*David Pérez Esparza holds a Master in Public Policy, a Master in Political Economy and Conflict Resolution, and a Master in Security Sciences. He is a PhD candidate at University College London (UCL) and founding member of the UCL Organised Crime Research Network (OCRN).

The views expressed in this blog post are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of UCL, the Department of Security and Crime Science or the UCL Organised Crime Research Network.

Meet and Greet Event

By Patricio Estevez-Soto, on 27 October 2016

Thursday 10th November 2016, 17:30

Sir David Davies Lecture Theatre, Roberts Building UCL

1-19, Torrington Pl, London WC1E 6BT, UK


We are pleased to invite you to our next OCRN evening at UCL. As the primary aim of UCL OCRN is to create a networking platform for those interested in the field of organised crime, we are pleased to announce that our next evening will be a networking event where members and prospective members can meet and greet. The UCL OCRN Meet and Greet will kick off with a small talk on current OCRN related progress; this will then be followed by complimentary refreshments.

Whether you are a student looking to meet others like yourself, an academic wanting to scout for new collaborations, a practitioner interested in the latest academic developments in the field of organised crime, please do come and join us!

This event is free, and we welcome anyone who is interested in the topic of organised crime.

If you have any questions, please email us, visit our blog, or contact us via social media.

Review: Wildlife trafficking and its security implications

By uctzhid, on 24 October 2016

Last week, we were delighted to have Cathy Haenlein, Research Fellow from the RUSI National Security and Resilience Group Studies, as an OCRN guest speaker. Her talk provided an insight about how wildlife trafficking has been evolving throughout the last years and the different response approaches adopted by countries and international organisations.

Wildlife trafficking is becoming a serious issue across the world and a lucrative criminal activity. Cathy explained there is a lack of consensus and consistency within the legal definition, for instance, it is not clear what are the species included. Hence, the terminology used is imprecise and the dimensions of this activity are insufficiently understood.

Despite the gravity of the threat affecting a vast range of species, wildlife trafficking is not considered a security threat or priority for governments. Three narratives linking security threats to wildlife trafficking: terrorism, organised crime and human security.

Wildlife trafficking is part of organised crime activities as it embeds complex operations, using high-volume transportation and the participation of different actors in the supply chain. It is known that East Africa has source and transit countries for wildlife illegal activities. International organisations such as Interpol have identified kingpins and large shipments have been seized in the region.

Another aspect to point out is that this type of crime faces several challenges for doing research (how to measure it or to get data) as well as prosecution (the role of corruption). However, our expert suggested different responses that might help to develop effective strategies such as community engagement; law enforcement, demand reduction and the identification of money flows.

In the case of terrorism, there is an alleged involvement of al-Shabaab with ivory illicit trade and poaching elephants in Africa. Nevertheless, our expert made the caveat of an overstated discourse regarding the role of terrorism in wildlife trafficking as there is not sufficient evidence suggesting this nexus.

Currently, RUSI is working on a research project and training programme in Kenya and Tanzania funded by the UK Government focused on tracking the illicit funds from illegal wildlife trade. Also, they are undertaking a research programme on the security dimensions of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing in collaboration with The Pew Charitable Trusts.

The views expressed in this blog post are the authors own and do not necessarily represent the views of UCL, the Department of Security and Crime Science or the UCL Organised Crime Research Network.

Reflections on Colombia’s “No” vote to the peace referendum

By Patricio Estevez-Soto, on 3 October 2016

By Enrique Gutierrez*

Sunday’s Colombian peace referendum results reflect a deep distrust of the FARC guerrillas and highlights the unpopularity of Juan Manuel Santos’s government among the local population. On the one hand, it showed that over six million four hundred voters are not willing to forgive the FARC so easily and are reluctant at the idea of “rewarding” them with political participation without paying for their crimes in jail first. This, of course, was a massive misjudgement on behalf of the government. Furthermore, the arrogance showed by some FARC leaders during speeches and interviews just days before the referendum boosted the anger and reluctance of those who said No on Sunday.

On the other hand, there was a great risk that the President’s unpopularity would affect the results of the referendum. It did. Since taking office in 2010, President Santos has set negative records of approval ratings plummeting to its lowest in May 2016 (only four months before the referendum). Moreover, he was unable to persuade the voters, despite the unprecedented support of the international community.  As The Economist wrote in June 2016, in relation to his inability to be eloquent in public, “he seems more comfortable among bankers than peasants”. Still, it was the peasants who were the direct victims of the conflict who resolutely voted Yes on Sunday.

In this sense, paradoxical (and at the same time unfair) is the fact that the regions that suffered the least consequences of the conflict decided over those who have suffered the most. Paradoxical because in most of the municipalities that have historically been affected by the conflict, the Yes won decisively. For example, Bojaya, which is a municipality in the Pacific region of Colombia, that suffered one of the most atrocious massacres of the conflict in 2002, had an overwhelming 96 per cent of the population voting Yes.

What Follows

The government was clear on saying that if a “No” vote won, both parties would not sit again to renegotiate the agreements. However, reality is different and after acknowledging the results both, government and the FARC have expressed their willingness to retake the negotiations involving ALL parties. Meaning that an apparent “new process” would include the opposition led by former President and now senator Alvaro Uribe Velez.

Thus, the opposition will also have to take responsibility over the result of the referendum and will now have to take a step forward to explain what the new strategy will be to reach a peace agreement with the FARC guerillas without returning to conflict.

Additionally, the call for a constituent assembly, which was initially proposed by the FARC and the opposition, but continuously ignored and rejected by the government, would reemerge. Still, the assembly is a complex and long process that would take at least another year and for which results are uncertain.

Finally, for the other half of the voters who supported the Yes, they cannot lose their hope and must continue supporting the ideal of peace with the largest and oldest guerrilla in the world. In the end, as famous Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez once said, “make no mistake: peaceful madmen are ahead of the future.”

*Enrique Gutierrez currently works as Project Development Officer at the European Centre of Minority Issues Kosovo. He has worked with minority communities who have been systematically marginalised in Kosovo, and victims of the internal conflict and indigenous peoples in conflict zones of Colombia. He holds a Master’s Degree in Theory and Practice in Human Rights from the University of Essex and a BA in Political Science and International Relations from Pontificia Universidad Javeriana in Bogota, Colombia.

The views expressed in this blog post are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of UCL, the Department of Security and Crime Science or the UCL Organised Crime Research Network.

Upcoming seminar: Wildlife trafficking and its security implications

By Patricio Estevez-Soto, on 29 September 2016

We are happy to announce our next seminar: Wildlife trafficking and its security implications, which will take place at 6:00 pm on October 10, 2016, in the Teaching Room, of the Jill Dando Institute of Security and Crime Science.

Wildlife trafficking is a complex crime that covers a wide range of illegal activities, from poaching to corruption and black markets, weaving vast networks of participants transnationally. It has environmental, economic and social implications.

The scale of the problem is staggering. In 2013, the United Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said that wildlife trafficking was organized crime on a massive scale; while just this week, reports emerged naming ringleaders profiting from $23 billion in annual trade in illicit animals, involved in a network that spans multiple countries and tangles international governments.

Our guest speaker Cathy Haenlein, is a research analyst on national security and resilience at the Royal United Services Institute.

She conducts research and analysis on a range of African political and security issues, with a focus on organised crime, the illegal wildlife trade, peacekeeping and counter-violent extremism.

She formerly worked for three years as Deputy Editor of RUSI Newsbrief and Associate Editor of the RUSI Journal. Prior to joining RUSI, Cathy worked for various international NGOs, including as a project development specialist based in Madagascar, focusing on environmental programmes. Before this, she spent five years in Italy, producing and writing for two European journals on EU–African relations, with a focus on migration.

Cathy holds an MSc (distinction) in African Politics from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, with a focus on conflict, peacekeeping and governance. She also holds a BA Hons (first class) in Social Sciences from Durham University, is an experienced editor and graphic designer, and a qualified project manager, holding PRINCE2 Foundation and Practitioner certifications.

Be sure to join us Monday October 10, 2016 at 6:00 pm, in the Teaching Room, of the Jill Dando Institute of Security and Crime Science35 Tavistock Square, London, WC1H 9EZ.

As usual, there will be an informal session to chat and network with fellow OCRN members after the seminar.