What are Special Investigations?

The face of organized crime, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), has changed dramatically since the days of the Italian Mafioso. Today, organized crime encompasses everything from Asian crime rings and Eastern European criminal enterprises (e.g., Hungary and Romania) to Russian mobsters and Nigerian drug trafficking and financial scams.

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Adding to the proliferation of organized crime is the fact that many of these groups target U.S. citizens online from unknown foreign locations, thereby making them difficult to apprehend.

Generally, the activities of organized crime groups routinely investigated by special investigations teams include:

  • The manufacture, distribution and possession of controlled substances
  • The illegal sale or distribution of firearms and/or explosives
  • Prostitution
  • Pornography
  • Illegal gambling
  • Loan sharking
  • Corruption
  • Gang-related property crimes or crimes against persons

Investigators within special investigations units must be able to prioritize and evaluate all complaints or intelligence according to:

  • The nature of the intelligence or complaint
  • The validity of the intelligence or complaint
  • The availability of resources

The Effects of Organized Crime in the U.S.

A 2010 report by Congressional Research Service reported that organized crime “threatens the economy, national security, and other interests in the United States.” It also noted that in the past several decades, organized crime has evolved to take on an “increasingly transnational nature,” likely due to the expansion of the Internet.

With much attention being given to terrorism in recent years, these criminals have been able to increase their illicit activities and more actively engage in everything from labor racketeering and money laundering to smuggling/trafficking and extortion.

Organized crime groups are defined as those who conduct criminal activities for financial or economic gain, for advancement of power or influence, and to perpetuate the life of the group. Organized crime groups often use violence and intimidation and promote corruption to advance their goals.

Although the scope of organized crime is often difficult to measure, the FBI recognizes its impact as “significant,” with estimates that global organized crime takes in some $1 trillion per year in illegal profits.

Organized crime rings affect and manipulate our financial markets, traditional institutions, and legitimate industries. Organized crime results in more violence and more illicit drugs in the U.S., as well as the widespread presence of prostitution and human trafficking.

Special Investigations: Investigating Organized Crime at the State and Local Level

Although the FBI is the lead agency focused on organized crime in the U.S., spending a great deal of their time and resources dismantling and disrupting major international and national organized criminal enterprises, organized crime investigations are being conducted at nearly every level in many jurisdictions across the country.

Organized crime units are typically organized within a criminal investigations division of a police department. For example, the New York Police Department (NYPD) has a massive organized crime control bureau that includes no less than 7 divisions and more than 2,300 uniform and civilian personnel.

The scope of investigations generally differs among each organized crime division or unit, usually based on the jurisdiction or geographic location. For example, the Tampa Police Department’s Organized Crime Unit’s major focus is on drug traffickers of narcotics, pharmaceuticals, meth labs, and grow houses. Investigators with the unit work out of three DEA offices, all located in the Tampa Bay Region. The Knoxville Police Department’s Organized Crime Unit, on the other hand, investigates criminal activity associated with prostitution, drug trafficking, gambling, and other criminal endeavors. The investigators of the unit work with partners at the local, state, and federal levels.

Similar to other criminal investigations, investigations into organized crime activity include the completion of a thorough preliminary investigation, taking witness information and statements, and the evaluation of all information received. Specific training for investigator jobs, however, is likely, as to ensure they are kept up-to-date on the latest technologies and tactics used by organized crime groups.

Special Investigator Job Duties

Typical job duties of special investigations detectives include:

  • Performing covert and undercover operations, which may include: raids, undercover infiltration, and surveillance
  • Developing an Operations Plan, which includes information on the type of operation; suspects; location; radio assignments; special concerns; officers involved; confidential informants; equipment; and instructions

Many times, organized crime investigative units employ a number of analysis/intelligence professionals who are responsible for assisting investigators by identifying criminal organizations, networks, their activities, and the characteristics of their targeted victims. Investigators within organized crime units may also receive specialized training in the areas of intelligence and analysis as to perform many of these duties.

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