Introduction to Criminal Organizations


Week 1: Introduction to Criminal Organizations

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The movies and media have often portrayed the seductive nature of gangs and organized crime—from Goodfellas to The Wire and The Sopranos—painting their members as a slick, confident “family” operating above the law, or at least alongside it. In reality, criminal organizations are less glamorous than they are destructive. Such organizations contribute to drug and gun proliferation, as well as violence, and negatively impact the communities in which they operate. They also may be more prevalent than you think, their roots spreading even to rural areas of the United States.

The goal of the course is to study criminal organizations so that you, as a professional, can combat their activities and the lasting effects of those activities. This week, as an introduction, you define and compare street gangs, organized crime groups, and terrorist groups. You also reflect on firsthand experiences with these groups as a way to gauge your existing understanding.  

Learning Objectives

Students will:

· Differentiate between street gangs, organized crime groups, and terrorist groups

· Reflect on personal experiences with street gangs, organized crime, and terrorism 

Learning Resources

Note: To access this week’s library resources, please click on the link to the Course Readings List, found in the Course Materials section of your Syllabus.

Required Readings

Howell, J. C., & Griffiths, E. (2018). Gangs in America’s communities (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

· Chapter 3, “Defining Gangs and Gang Members” (pp. 51–80)

Ball, R. A., & Curry, G. D. (1995). The logic of definition in criminology: Purposes and methods for defining “gangs.” Criminology, 33(2), 225–245. doi:10.1111/j.1745-9125.1995.tb01177.x 

Hagan, F. E. (2006). “Organized Crime” and “organized crime”: Indeterminate problems of definition. Trends in Organized Crime, 9(4), 127–137. doi:10.1007/s12117-006-1017-4 

National Gang Center. (n.d.-a). Frequently asked questions about gangs.Retrieved May 4, 2019, from

Pyrooz, D. C., LaFree, G., Decker, S. H., & James, P. A. (2018). Cut from the same cloth? A comparative study of domestic extremists and gang members in the United States. Justice Quarterly, 35(1), 1–32. doi:10.1080/07418825.2017.1311357 

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. (2018a, April). Module 1: Definitions of organized crime. Retrieved from

U.S. Department of Justice. (n.d.-c). Transnational organized crime.Retrieved May 4, 2019, from

Zubrzycki, W. (2015). Similarities and differences between organized crime and terrorism. Internal Security, 7(2), 53–70. doi:10.5604/20805268.1212112 

Discussion: Street Gangs, Organized Crime Groups, and Terrorist Groups

In every book or article you read, you may find different definitions of street gangs, organized crime groups, and terrorist groups. This is because there is no such thing as a prototypical gang, organized crime group, or terrorist group. On one hand, there are similarities in themes within and across these groups, such as the participation in illegal activities and the use of widespread violence. On the other hand, there are also important distinctions among these groups in terms of their structures, tactics, memberships, and cultures.

In this Discussion, you examine the distinctions among street gangs, organized crime groups, and terrorist groups and consider why it is so difficult to define and distinguish these groups.

By Day 3

Post a response that addresses the following:

· What are the differences between and among street gangs, organized crime groups, and terrorist groups? Be sure to use specific examples to support your response.

· Explain why it may be difficult to define and distinguish between street gangs, organized crime groups, and terrorist groups. 

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