Criminal Networks



Smith, Chris M., and Andrew V. Papachristos. Forthcoming. “Criminal Networks.” In the Oxford Handbook of Social Networks, edited by J. Moody and R. Light. 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.

Invited public sociology:

Smith, Chris M., and Andrew V. Papachristos. 2016. “How Network Science Unearthed the Overlapping Relationships of Organized Crime in Al Capone’s Chicago.” The London School of Economics Public Policy Group. USAPP American Politics and Policy Blog. August 31.

Public fascination with organized crime is not new. In new research which studies the social relationships of organized crime in Chicago in the 1920s, Chris M. Smith and Andrew V. Papachristos were able to take advantage of this fascination with the availability of thousands of notes and documents on Al Capone’s criminal network. By applying network analysis to the criminal relationships in Capone’s gangs they find that multiplexity – when two people have more than one relationship – was a rare but very relevant part of Chicago’s Prohibition era network. Their research highlight the ways that multiplexity links the underworld and the upper world — a process that organizes crime into mainstream society.