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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

Final Report Summary - ASSESSING OC (Assessing Organised Crime: Testing the Feasibility of a Common European Approach in a Case Study of the Cigarette Black Market in the EU)

In early 2003, the European Commission (EC) invited proposals under the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) that would contribute to an improved knowledge-base on organised crime. The expected outputs were to include a review of existing data sources on criminal organisations and an evaluation of the usefulness of these data sources, a review of the existing situation in specific economic sectors, and an examination of the feasibility of a common European approach and the proposal for a common methodology.

At that time, the standard tool for assessing organised crime in the European Union (EU) was the annual 'Organised crime report' (OCR) (Europol, 2003) which had met with some criticism regarding its meaningfulness and has only recently been replaced by an alternative tool, the 'Organised crime threat assessment' (OCTA) (Europol, 2006), However, the OCTA also appears to be met with fundamental criticism (Van Duyne, forthcoming).

The ASSESSING OC project was designed not merely to amend or modify existing approaches, such as those represented by OCR and OCTA, with their respective shortcomings. Rather, the intention was to go back to a fundamental re-evaluation of the concept of 'organised crime' and the available empirical and theoretical knowledge of the phenomena commonly associated with the term 'organised crime'.

The new approach marks a fundamental departure from the current framework of organised crime reports in various respects. Perhaps most fundamentally, in the new approach the question 'is it organised crime?' is no longer raised on the level of data collection and data entry. This implies that the collection and processing of raw data no longer hinges on any definition of 'organised crime'. The only initial delimitation that is suggested for practical purposes is to confine the assessment process to crimes for profit, possibly above a certain threshold level. Instead, data are collected and processed with a view to the final analysis and the answering of questions like: 'to what extent is crime organised?' and 'how do criminals cooperate?' In this sense, 'organised crime' is not treated as a coherent phenomenon but as a thematic frame of reference within which various issues are examined that are commonly addressed in the debate on 'organised crime'.

The consortium of the ASSESSING OC project presents the 'New European common approach' (NECA) being fully aware that considerable effort is required in the further elaboration and fine-tuning of this methodology.

NECA is an approach to take stock of a multifaceted criminal conduct, the organisation of crime for profit, and to move beyond that stock-taking by widening the circle of information for strategic analysis to account for the findings and to develop grounded theories. Although designing a proper Information technologies (IT)-data tool is essential to meet the demands of reliability and validity, NECA should not be identified with one particular tool. The development of data entry tools in Germany, like EASy, may result in a tool which is compatible with the NECA philosophy. However, NECA can only come out fully in a properly developed IT and analytical environment.

There is reason to be optimistic about the implementation of NECA. Firstly, EASy can serve as an example for an electronic file keeping system with apparently high acceptance by practitioners and wide and increasing implementation (in Germany despite federal / state and state / state animosities, and, interestingly, not following a central decision but more in a grassroots movement). Secondly, one might want to draw an analogy to the introduction of computers in police work: what was a Personal computer (PC) with MS Word for every officer 15 years ago is a computer network of compatible electronic file keeping software today, a utopian vision, but one with a good chance of becoming reality in a not too distant future.