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Assessing Organised Crime: Testing the Feasibility of a Common European Approach in a Case Study of the Cigarette Black Market in the EU

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Reorganising our understanding of organised crime

The standard approaches for collecting and analysing data on organised crime in Europe have been found wanting. An EU-funded project proposes a radical new approach to assessing organised crime data.

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Organised crime is a major challenge facing European law-enforcement agencies. However, the standard tool for assessing organised crime at the EU level has been considered inadequate in some respects. The annual 'Organised Crime Report' (OCR) met with some criticism regarding its meaningfulness. In 2006, it was replaced by the 'Organised Crime Threat Assessment' (OCTA), which has also been criticised. The EU-backed Assessing OC project set out to undertake a fundamental re-evaluation of the concept of organised crime, including the available empirical and theoretical knowledge associated with the phenomenon. Financed by the EU's Sixth Framework Programme (FP6), the new approach marks a fundamental departure from the current framework. Basically, the methodology does not seek to define criminal activities using the binary classifications of 'organised' and 'unorganised'. Instead, data are collected and processed in such a way as to help determine where an offence lies on the spectrum of organised crime. In addition, the data help law enforcement agencies to determine how organised crime gangs cooperate. Assessing OC calls this system the 'New European Common Approach' (NECA). It takes stock of multiple facets of criminal conduct and how crime is organised for profit. NECA also widens the circle of information for strategic analysis to account for the findings and to develop grounded theories. Although NECA needs an effective information technology (IT) system to make the most of its methodology, it is not intended to be specific to any particular tool. NECA promises to radically redefine how organised crime is analysed and studied. By so doing, it could revolutionise the understanding of this phenomenon among law-enforcement agencies, helping them to combat organised crime more effectively.

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