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Criminal Groups and Violence

The perpetrators of organized crime, namely criminal groups or organizations, come in a great variety – ranging from loosely knit networks of just a few individuals up to relatively large and well-structured, hierarchical groupings.  Street gangs, particularly centered in urban settings, are a form of criminal organization.  So too are outlaw motorcycle gangs, drug cartels, various ethnic-based mafias, etc.  At least some capacity for violence and its use is characteristic of just about all of these groupings.  But both the capacities for and the actual use of violence tend to be different – often markedly so.  In addition to differences in violence capacity, there may be differences in the type of violence engaged in, e.g., impulsive and gratuitous, or instrumental, planned and directed toward some specific aim.  These differences, I suggest, have important implications for prevention and control.  The variability in the capacity for violence; the variability in the type of violence; and, the efficacy of various approaches used to confront and contain violence will be explored.  Since we currently have few, solid, empirically-based answers for most of the questions surrounding criminal groups and violence, a research agenda will also be tentatively outlined.