Effectively Combating Transnational Organized Crime

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by James O. Finckenauer

Crime that is “transnational” or “organized” presents special challenges for law enforcement. But when these two factors are combined, as in transnational organized crime, the challenges are especially formidable. Law enforcement agencies have created a number of effective approaches for surmounting these challenges.

Task Forces. One approach is the use of multijurisdictional task forces that combine investigative resources from several agencies so that the strength and sophistication of a task force's capabilities are greater than any single agency. Collaboration among law enforcement agencies is a key element in discovering possible links between local crimes and crimes with a transnational component.

For example, Operation Trifecta, a 19-month transnational investigation led by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, involved 9 Federal agencies and 67 State and local law enforcement agencies from 8 States. In 2003, it led to the arrests of some 240 individuals charged with transnational drug trafficking.

Heightened Awareness. Transnational organized crime often plays out in reality on local streets. State and local agencies should consider the possibility of transnational crime when atypical characteristics and patterns are present. Characteristics that should alert police include offenders with overseas contacts, the involvement of foreign nationals, false documents, and large amounts of cash.

Improved Communications and Intelligence Sharing. State and local law enforcement should understand how sophisticated communications—such as satellite phones, Web-based financial transactions, and e-mail—help facilitate transnational crime. They must know what steps to take when they encounter cell phones, computers, and other electronic devices that may be involved in illicit communications. Criminals can quickly communicate across international boundaries, and law enforcement agencies must improve their willingness and ability to share intelligence across jurisdictional boundaries. As noted in 2000:

Ignoring the transnationalization of crime would be akin to adopting a “head in the sand” strategy. American police, prosecutors, judges, and corrections officials, as well as regulatory agencies... would be shortchanged by such an outdated strategy. Both criminal justice practitioners and researchers would be forced to do their jobs with only partial and very limited information.... [R]ecognition of this changing reality... led NIJ to create a new International Center in 1997. [1]

About the Author

James O. Finckenauer is a professor at Rutgers' School of Criminal Justice and an expert in international organized crime, comparative justice, and criminal justice policy, planning, and evaluation. Back to the top.


[1] Finckenauer, J.O. “Meeting the Challenge of Transnational Crime.” NIJ Journal 244, July 2000, NCJ 183454.

Date Created: November 15, 2007