Organized crime broadly describes the concept of crime carried out by a unified group of criminals acting concertedly towards a goal, generally the accumulation of wealth and power. Organized crime can operate at the local, national, or international level, and examples of organized crime have existed throughout history and in most cultures.
The earliest examples of organized crime include the Thugs of India, as well as pirates and highwaymen or bandits who plagued early Europe, all of whom operated on a far less sophisticated level than the current incarnations of organized crime. What is currently understood to be "organized crime" is typically believed to have arisen in the late nineteenth century with the rise to prominence of the Sicilian Mafia in Italy and the Triads in China.
Illegal activities carried out by organizations vary across time and culture. In mid-twentieth century America, for instance, organized crime was mainly involved in the subversion of prohibition legislation, while modern Latin American organizations are involved mainly in drug trafficking. Modern organizations typically have some level of involvement in the trafficking of arms, drugs and other illegal or controlled products, prostitution, coercion and extortion, counterfeiting, fraud, theft, racketeering, corruption and embezzlement, among numerous other activities.
Organizations also frequently employ hitmen who carry out anything from the honour killings typical in the highly tradition-based yakuza, to assassinations, to the elimination of competition and informants. Often, organizations are structured around a family-style hierarchy framework, with members recruited from within actual family units with ties to the organization, as well as outsiders who are inducted into the pseudo-family.
Organized crime is distinct from terrorism in motivation- terrorists are ideologically or politically motivated, while organized crime is profit-driven. It is distinct from most, but not all, street gangs, in the level of discipline and the complexity of crimes committed.
There are a wide variety of types of organized crime portrayed in the media. The four criminal organization most often portrayed are:
The Mafia is among the most commonly portrayed of all criminal organizations, especially in American crime fiction, due to the dominance of Italian American crime families. Generally, the mafia is portrayed as placing heavy emphasis on loyalty to the family and honour. Typically in media the mafia refers to Italian or Italian American crime families, however, the term can be applied to basically any crime family in any country, with the name of the country or region appended to the word mafia, such as the Russian Mafia or the Mexican Mafia.
Similarly to the mafia, the generic term "mob" tends to be used to refer to any criminal organization not otherwise covered by more culturally specific terms. The first organization to use this name was the Irish Mob, which originated among the immigrant Irish population in the United States, and has or had operations in Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and, unsurprisingly, Ireland.
They are fairly prominent in American media, especially in cities, such as Boston, Chicago and New York City, where there has been a traditionally high level of Irish immigration.
The crime syndicates in Japan, the yakuza are noted for their exceptionally strict codes of conduct and preoccupation with the concept of honour and loyalty. They are organized around a familial structure that encourages loyalty, with the head of the family being called the "oyabun", literally meaning "foster parent".
The yakuza operates both within Japan and around the world; their presence is most powerfully felt in Japan, but they also have a noticeable presence in the United States, Mexico and North Korea.
Triads and the Tongs
A Chinese criminal organization that is one of the largest in the world, with over 2.5 million members around the world, mainly in China and countries with large Chinese immigrant populations, such as the United States, Canada, the UK and Australia. Triads are similar to, but distinct from, the Tongs, which are similarly Chinese-centric and often actively emulate Triads, but do not necessarily engage in criminal activities (though most do) and were formed as social groups of Chinese immigrants.