Researchers reconstructed the movement of organised crime members using police data

Communities with higher-than-average illegal market opportunities (proxied by drug-related activities) are more likely to be targeted by organised crime groups, a new study shows.

Criminals in the gangs are also more likely to target urban communities, according to the analysis of police data.

The study, byPaolo Campana from the University of Cambridge and Cecilia Meneghini from the University of Exeter, is published in the journal Trends in Organised Crime.

Researchers reconstructed the movement of organised crime members using police data about 41 months of recorded crime events.

The anonymous crime incident data was recorded by Cambridgeshire Constabulary between May 2018 and October 2021. It includes information on all crime events in which organised crime members appear as either suspects or victims.

Experts found slightly less than half of the communities in Cambridgeshire were impacted by the movement of organised crime.

Researchers focused on 121 organised crime members who offended in multiple areas. They analysed information on 1073 crime events committed by these offenders: 22.4 per cent were drug-related crime events, 16.3 per cent concern thefts and burglaries, 6.2 per cent robberies, 7.9 per cent criminal damage, 13.2 per cent relate to violent crime with injury, 7.4 per cent to violent crime without injury and 14 per cent to threats and harassment.

Organised crime groups were more prevalent in urban rather than rural communities, and towns and cities had a higher level of criminality overall. Organised crime offenders were more likely to move into communities within close geographical distance or, alternatively, between the major urban areas of the county. Through analysis of these networks they found some of the most active communities appear to act both as source and target locations of organised crime activities, receiving an inflow of organised crime offenders whose main area of operation is elsewhere and acting as turf communities for organised crime members who also offend elsewhere. Other communities had a clearer role as either a stronghold of organised crime activities or as a target of organised crime expansion.

Dr Meneghini said: “Our results suggest organised crime offenders have their turf in the most deprived and criminally active communities of the county, and they tend to move into areas where illegal market opportunities are present and with a similar socio-demographic profile. Such movement is also more likely to happen between urban communities.”

Dr Campana said: “Organised crime group members appear to target communities that have higher than average illegal market opportunities. The presence of economic market opportunities makes a community attractive to organised crime. There is strong evidence that income deprivation increases the probability of a territory sending organised crime members while its impact on being a receiver of such movement is less clear. When moving, organised crime group members select territories that are similar to their own. Jumping into the ‘unknown’ may be seen as too difficult or too risky.”

Experts used network analysis to analyse movement. Their approach can be scaled up to study transnational, long-distance, movement as well as scaled down focussing on smaller geographical areas.

This could allow law enforcement agencies and policy makers to map the movement of organised crime members across territories and – if repeated over time – to be able to pick up emerging trends.