Criminal Networks



Smith, Chris M., and Andrew V. Papachristos. 2022. “Violence Brokers and Super-spreaders: How Organised Crime Transformed the Structure of Chicago Violence during Prohibition.Global Crime.

The rise of organised crime changed Chicago violence structurally by creating networks of rivalries and conflicts wherein violence ricocheted. This study examines the organised crime violence network during Prohibition by analysing “violence brokers” – individuals who committed multiple violence acts that linked separate violent events into a connected violence network. We analyse the two-mode violence network from the Capone Database, a relational database on early 1900s Chicago organised crime. Across 276 violent incidents attributed to organised crime were 334 suspected perpetrators of violence. We find that 20% of suspects were violence brokers, and nine brokers were violence super-spreaders linking the majority of suspects. We also find that violence brokers were in the thick of violence not just as suspects, but also as victims – violence brokers in this network experienced more victimisation than non-brokers. Unknowingly or knowingly, these violence brokers wove together a network, attack-by-attack, that transformed violence in Chicago.

Joseph, Jared, and Chris M. Smith. 2021. “The Ties that Bribe: Corruption’s Embeddedness in Chicago Organized Crime.” Criminology 59(4):671-703.

The crime of corruption ranges from politicians involved in high-profile scandals to low-level bureaucrats granting contracts and police officers demanding bribes. Corruption occurs when state actors criminally leverage their positions of power for financial gain. Our study examines how corruption varies by political power position and within criminal contexts by measuring the embeddedness of corruption within Chicago historical organized crime. We analyze Chicago’s organized crime network before and during Prohibition (1900–1919 and 1920–1933) to compare differences across embedded network positions between political, law enforcement, and nonstate actors. Our findings show that more police were in organized crime than politicians before Prohibition, but the small group of politicians had higher embeddedness in organized crime. During Prohibition, when organized crime grew and centralized, law enforcement decreased in proportion and became less embedded in organized crime. Politicians, however, maintained their proportion and high level of embeddedness. We argue that everyday corruption is more frequent but less embedded when criminal contexts are moderately profitable. As criminal contexts increase in profitability, however, corruption moves up the political ladder to include fewer people who are more highly embedded. This work has theoretical implications for the symbiotic relationship between corruption and criminal organizations.

Smith, Chris M. 2020. “Exogenous Shocks, the Criminal Elite, and Increasing Gender Inequality in Chicago Organized Crime.” American Sociological Review 85(5):895-923.

Criminal organizations, like legitimate organizations, adapt to shifts in markets, competition, regulations, and enforcement. Exogenous shocks can be consequential moments of power consolidation, resource hoarding, and inequality amplification in legitimate organizations, but especially in criminal organizations. This research examines how the exogenous shock of the U.S. prohibition of the production, transportation, and sale of alcohol in 1920 restructured power and inequality in Chicago organized crime. I analyze a unique relational database on organized crime from the early 1900s via a criminal network that tripled in size and centralized during Prohibition. Before Prohibition, Chicago organized crime was small, decentralized, and somewhat inclusive of women at the margins. However, during Prohibition, the organized crime network grew, consolidated the organizational elites, and left out the most vulnerable participants from the most profitable opportunities. This historical case illuminates how profits and organizational restructuring outside of (or in response to) regulatory environments can displace people at the margins.

Smith, Chris M., and Andrew V. Papachristos. 2021. “Criminal Networks.” Pp. 616-32 in the The Oxford Handbook of Social Networks, edited by R. Light, and J. Moody. New York: Oxford University Press.

Social network analysis identifies and explains criminal behavior and criminal groups as an outcome of social relationships that are structured beyond the characteristics of individuals engaged in crime. This chapter takes stock of research using SNA to study criminal organizations and groups of criminals, considers the innovations in measuring criminal groups, discusses the limitations of criminal network data, and classifies theoretical orientations used in the field. We discuss the implications of criminal networks research on policy and intervention efforts, and we conclude with a proposal for future directions to advance criminal networks inquiry.

Smith, Chris M., and Andrew V. Papachristos. 2016. “Trust Thy Crooked Neighbor: Multiplexity in Chicago Organized Crime Networks.” American Sociological Review 81(4):644-67.

Bureaucratic and patrimonial theories of organized crime tend to miss the history and mobility of crime groups integrating into and organizing with legitimate society. The network property of multiplexity–when more than one type of relationship exists between a pair of actors–offers a theoretical and empirical in-road to analyzing overlapping relationships of seemingly disparate social spheres. Using the historical case of organized crime in Chicago and a unique relational database coded from more than 5,000 pages of archival documents, we map the web of multiplex relationships among bootleggers, politicians, union members, businessmen, families, and friends. We analyze the overlap of criminal, personal, and legitimate networks containing 1,030 individuals and 3,726 mutual dyads between them. Multiplexity was rare in these data as only 10 percent of the mutual dyads contained multiplex ties. However, results from bivariate exponential random graph models demonstrate that multiplexity was a relevant structural property binding the three networks together. Even among our sample of criminals, we find dependencies between the criminal and personal networks and the criminal and legitimate networks. Though not pervasive, multiplexity glued these worlds of organized crime together above and beyond the personalities of famous gangsters, ethnic homophily, and other endogenous network processes.

An early sole-authored version of this paper received 2nd place in the Gene Carte Student Paper Award from the American Society of Criminology in 2013.

Papachristos, Andrew V., and Chris M. Smith. 2014. “The Embedded and Multiplex Nature of Al Capone.” Pp. 97-115 in Crime and Networks, edited by C. Morselli. New York: Routledge.

Al Capone’s organized crime syndicate of Prohibition era Chicago continues to fascinate the general public as well as scholars. Historical research tends to focus on Capone’s criminal organization as a group or a hierarchy. This study challenges a group-bounded approach to organized crime by analyzing the criminal, personal, and legitimate worlds surrounding organized crime individuals. At the empirical heart of this study is a unique relational database created by coding more than 3,000 pages of primary documents pertaining to early 1900s organized crime. Employing the tools of social network analysis, Papachristos and Smith find that Prohibition era organized crime comprised multiple networks overlapping through the properties of embeddedness and multiplexity. This multiple network approach reveals the ways in which crime spills into and intersects with legitimate social institutions.

Piquette, Jenny C., Chris M. Smith, and Andrew V. Papachristos. 2014. “Social Network Analysis of Urban Street Gangs.” Pp. 4981-91 in Encyclopedia of Criminology and Criminal Justice, edited by G. Bruinsma and D. Weisburd. New York: Springer.

This entry synthesizes the current state of network-related research on street gangs around the themes of network structure, network action, and network location. At their core, street gangs are social networks created by the coming together, socializing, and interacting of individuals in particular times and in particular places. The employment of social network analysis has the potential to examine patterns of interaction among gang members and gangs, illuminate structural variation across gangs, and measure the influence of gang networks on individual action. This entry includes an overview of social network analysis, suggestions and directions for future gang network research, a discussion of limitations, and a vision for how a social network approach to gangs might inform theory, research, and practice.