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The Mafia is an informal and unofficial name given to a crime organization that has its roots in New York’s Lower East Side and other areas of the East Coast of the United States of America. The Mafia was established at time when America received wave after wave of Italian immigrants from Sicily. The criminal elements from Sicily saw an opportunity to develop in the USA, and they created their own version of the Mafia in America.
In the present time, the Mafia is active in New York City, New Jersey, Philadelphia, New England, Detroit, and Chicago. At the same time, it must be noted that smaller crime families and associates of the Mafia operate in places like Los Angeles, Texas, Florida and Las Vegas. It must be made clear that there have been at least 26 cities around the United States with Mafia families.
Crime Prevention and Prosecution
One of the best methods to defeat the mafia is through the use of law enforcement agencies as well as the Justice Department should also participate. This particular method requires active involvement of all the bodies meaning that law enforcement agencies must conduct active investigations and follow up on leads generated by their respective intelligence community.
Effective law enforcement requires not only active participation but also dedicated service from law enforcers to prosecutors. In other words, public servants like police officers, detectives, and public prosecutors must maintain a certain level of integrity so that the Mafia would not corrupt them. A tainted law enforcement agency and a corrupt justice department would result in too many legal loopholes so that it would be impossible to indict and punish the members of the American Mafia.
Effective law enforcement also requires the use of available resources and programs that could help bring down the Mafia. In terms of legislation, one of the most effective rulings was the RICO Act. The acronym stands for Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, a law that was ratified in 1970. The RICO Act was designed to counter the growing influence of the Mafia. At the same time, the said statute made it illegal to belong to an organization that performed illegal acts.
The provision that made it illegal to belong to a crime family created a negative impact on the Mafia. Before the ratification of the RICO Act, the Mafia was able to circumvent the law by exploiting certain legal loopholes. For example, the law requires direct participation in a crime. Unless the person was in the scene of the crime and there was strong evidence to show that the said individual was the mastermind, then there is no case. In addition, serious criminal offenses required at least one witness to the crime.
The members of the Mafia and their bosses were aware of the limitations of the law enforcement framework that had been designed to capture and imprison criminals. It seems that the legal framework was built on the idea that it would be better to set free a person who was probably guilty, rather than to imprison someone who was innocent. In other words, the law focuses on the principle that states that an individual must only be punished if there is knowledge beyond a shadow of doubt that he committed that crime.
An overview of the Mafia’s organizational structure seems to suggest that the organization was created to make it extremely difficult to penetrate and dismantle the said group. Consider, for instance, the hierarchy of leaders and members. The associates are at the lowest rung. The associates are not members of the crime family, but they perform illegal acts on behalf of the family members.
The least important and yet powerful members of the crime family are the soldiers. They are comparable to rank-and-file employees in a company. But the major difference is that they can commit serious crimes like murder, assault, arson, and intimidation. The significance of the structure is rooted in the fact that there is a buffer layer that separates the soldiers and associates from the boss of the crime family.
In order to insulate the boss from prosecution, the flow of communication does not link the top leaders to their underlings. There are several capos or captains that separate the big boss from the person who commits the crime. For instance, if an associate burglarized a jewelry store and was apprehended, he would not be able to testify that the boss of a certain crime family was the one who authorized the heist. Even if it were indeed true and the top leader of a particular Mafia family was the one who had given the go signal for the robbery, the associate would never be able to prove that fact. The best that the associate can do is to reveal the identity of the one of the soldiers of the family who worked with the associate in executing the plan for the robbery.
In a bungled burglary or in the event of exceptional detective work, the perpetrators of the said crime are apprehended, tried, and convicted. But the only people expected to serve time are the associates and the soldiers. Even if law enforcement agencies are able to indict and incarcerate a soldier belonging to a crime family, the Mafia has already developed contingency plans in the event of a capture, interrogation or imprisonment. The Mafia developed the concept of “Omerta”, which simply means “silence” on the part of the soldier. In other words, the soldier makes an oath never betray his captain and his boss.
The importance of the RICO Act is seen in the fact that it attacks more a group rather than an individual. Therefore, the fact of membership and participation in the criminal activity of a crime family is considered a criminal act. There are various implications to this particular statute. First, the layer of protection that the Mafia created to protect the boss from direct connection to a particular crime would no longer be effective. The mere fact that the boss was a member of the group already means that he could be imprisoned for up to twenty years.
The second implication is that the associates who form part of the criminal structure are no longer prosecuted merely on the type of crime committed but on the more serious charge that he or she is a member of the Mafia. There is rather a greater impact when the U.S. Attorney General or the FBI tells a person that he or she is a suspected member of the Mafia than refer to the person as an ordinary suspect (Jacobs, Panarella, & Worthington, 1996).
The success of the RICO Act is a major proof that a dedicated law enforcement agency can weaken and immobilize a major crime family. However, there are those who fear the possible re-emergence of an invigorated American Mafia, especially after significant portions of government resources were diverted to deal with homeland security. There is, therefore, the need to intensify actions against the American Mafia or develop alternative solutions to prevent crimes in an area.
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The strategy outlined in the previous discussion demonstrated the conventional way to fight against crime. In the conventional method, law enforcement agencies work in conjunction with the justice department to apprehend, convict and incarcerate members of the Mafia. But the said strategy is not pro-active. In other words, the main goal is to apprehend the criminal, not to prevent the crime.
It is necessary to be pointed out that crime prevention is more practical and more cost-efficient than investigation, litigation and incarceration are. In addition, it is expensive and time-consuming to deal with the aftermath of serious crimes like murder, damage to property, robbery, arson, assault and human trafficking. It is also expensive to build and maintain prison facilities.
There are two major ways to prevent crimes: 1) Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED), and 2) Crime Prevention through Social Development (CPSD). CPTED is the manipulation of the environment, such as enhancing the lighting facilities in a community to lessen dark areas where crimes could be committed. Another example of CPTED is the establishment of a community policing force wherein volunteers help watch homes and public areas at night (Arrington, 2007).
CPSD focuses on social development in order to deal with the social forces that could compel teenagers and individuals to join a crime family or become an associate of the Mafia. There must be access to public education as well as information dissemination with regard to the real nature of criminal organizations (Hoffman, Knox, & Cohen, 2011). Another related strategy is to help those who are prone to join crime families, and these are troubled youth, teenagers in foster care, and those who are from poor families.
It is imperative to strengthen the capabilities of law enforcement agencies to apprehend and convict members of crime families like the American Mafia. But limited resources and other limiting factors make it difficult for law enforcers to accomplish their jobs. It is, therefore, important to develop crime prevention strategies, such as CPTED and CPSD. By combing crime prevention to the task of crime deterrence, law enforcers would have a greater chance of dismantling the Mafia.
Arrington, R. (2007). Crime prevention: the law enforcement’s officer’s guide. UK: Jones & Bartlett Publishers.
Hoffman, J., Knox, L., & Cohen, R. (2011). Beyond suppression: global perspectives on youth violence. CA: ABC-CLIO.
Jacobs, J., Panarella, C., & Worthington, J. (1996). Busting the mob. New York: New York University Press.