24 Hour Conference on Organised Crime

24 Hour Conference on Organised Crime

Leadership reflection

24 Hour Conference on Organised Crime

Last week we attended the online 24 hour conference on organised crime, sponsored by the Global Initiative on Transnational and Organised Crime (GI-TOC) and others. With 79 sessions, involving 320 experts, delivered round the clock over 24 hours, there was something for everyone no matter what corner of the globe.

Replays of the conference presentations are available to watch online here Replays - 24-hour Conference on Global Organized Crime by IASOC | GI-TOC (heysummit.com).

Three caught our attention.

1. Taking the Measure of Crime

First was the Taking the Measure of Crime presentation (Taking the measure of crime: The 2021 Global Organized Crime Index - 24-hour Conference on Global Organized Crime by IASOC | GI-TOC (heysummit.com)) delivered by Laura Adal and colleagues from the GI-TOC. They walked us through their Global Organized Crime Index data platform, which uses a series of metrics around criminality and resilience to assess the risk from organised crime in a given country.

The data platform is available as a navigable resource. If we drill into the data and explore Australia and New Zealand, we can draw comfort from a criminality-resilience ratio in favour of the angels Criminality in Australia and New Zealand - The Organized Crime Index (ocindex.net). We can also see the impact that the synthetic drug trade has as a proportion of organised criminal activity in the ANZ jurisdiction, and that neighbouring countries in the Pacific are more severely impacted, with organized crime groups using Melanisian islands in particular as transit hubs before reaching the large Australia and New Zealand markets.

The platform also allows us to dig deeper into the synthetic drug trade, or any criminal activity, comparing and ranking countries Synthetic drug trade score in Africa - The Organized Crime Index (ocindex.net). But perhaps the most impactful part of the presentation and accompanying documentation is the illustration that “almost 80% of the world’s population live in countries where criminality is pervasive, and resilience is not sufficient”.

Figure 1: Vulnerability classifications (Source: Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime, 2021, p.15)

In a globally connected world, we know we cannot be content with our national invulnerability to organised crime. As is often said about other globally connected challenges, none of us can be truly safe, while global vulnerability continues. The full report, including an in depth analysis of each region, is available here global-ocindex-report.pdf

2. Trading Life: Organ Trafficking, illicit networks and exploitation

This provocation was taken up in a second presentation of note, this time delivered by Dr Séan Columb from the University of Liverpool who relayed his research into the human organ trafficking in Africa Trading life: Organ trafficking, illicit networks, and exploitation - 24-hour Conference on Global Organized Crime by IASOC | GI-TOC (heysummit.com). The intersections of social, economic, and political drivers of organ trafficking were bought to life through the story of an Eritrean boy, who escaping conscription as a child soldier, ended selling his kidney in Egypt, being caught between exploitation and exclusion, and ultimately losing everything. Writ large in this account was the unintended consequences of legal instruments designed to protect. The illegality of the organ trade in Egypt meant this young man was criminalised. His decision not to register as a refugee with the UN (a decision itself driven by assessments of the least-worst option) meant he was vulnerable to deportation. And the continued faith in the legalistic approach to stemming the trade kept institutions and NGOs from thinking through other ways to help the individuals involved. Sean’s work is further captured in his book Trading Life published with Stanford University Press https://www.sup.org/books/title/?id=30383. His account of the systems that drive and compound disadvantage and exploitation will be familiar to many of us who see them in microcosm in much of the work that our organisations do. 

3. Predicting High Harm Offending using Machine Learning

The third talk that caught our attention was delivered by Dr Tim Cubitt and colleagues from the Australian Institute of Criminology, who explored the application of machine learning in predicting high harm offending by Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs (OMCGs). Approaches to outlaw motorcycle gangs in the Netherlands and Australia - 24-hour Conference on Global Organized Crime by IASOC | GI-TOC (heysummit.com). (Talk starts at 39 minutes)

Drawing on data from 2246 OMCG members, Tim and colleagues successfully predicted high harm offending accurately in 91% of cases (and were marginally better at predicting the absence of high harm offending). This is an interesting development for law enforcement, especially as we think about the application of predictive models across other aspects of our work. What do we do when we can predict crime? Where are the boundaries of our preventative interventions? What does this mean for the investigative process? And can we think of it as a tool that enables police leaders to better understand vulnerabilities, and the need for investment in broader preventative systems, not just as a means to predict specific crimes?

Leadership reflection

The OC24 was a great investment for those with professional interest in better understanding global drivers of crime, criminal networks, systems of exploitation and exclusion, and how these manifest in activities that require intervention by police. But it was also more. It was a useful example of the value of bringing together multiple perspectives to better understand a shared role in reducing organised crime related harm. By bringing scholars, NGOs, multi-laterals, practitioners, analysts, policy makers, and activists from around the world together, the complexities of dealing with systems of exploitation - and the limits of the law enforcement approach – were plain to see. This will be no surprise to seasoned police leaders. Nor will the need to work across traditional boundaries in new and novel ways. The presentations at OC24 encouraged participants to examine the whole system. And prompted reflections on how else law enforcement might disrupt organised crime. Is ‘crime’ the best frame of reference, for instance? Modern slavery, trafficking, drugs, all involve victimisation, exploitation, economic necessity, and a series of tragic choices. Recognising organised crime as an emergent property of a system can open our eyes to new strategies for intervention. Can new partnerships create new opportunities for reducing public safety harms? Can the police role in organised crime be re-evaluated? Are we open to an honest reflection on what is and is not working well, and can we have some frank conversations with those who have other perspectives? The OC24 conference was therefore thought provoking at a number of levels. Creating more of these ‘spaces’ for global reflection and debate might be just one of the concrete actions police leaders can take forward.

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