Varieties of Drug Trafficking Organizations: A Typology of Cases Prosecuted in New York City

By Natarajan, Mangai; Belanger, Mathieu | Journal of Drug Issues, Fall 1998 | Go to article overview

Varieties of Drug Trafficking Organizations: A Typology of Cases Prosecuted in New York City


Natarajan, Mangai, Belanger, Mathieu, Journal of Drug Issues


This paper examines a sample of 39 drug trafficking organizations prosecuted in New York City federal courts. Using a new two-dimensional typology based on organizational structure and tasks/roles, a considerable variety of organizational types was found. This result has important implications for future research. In particular it suggests the need for caution in generalizing from the findings of single case studies. These studies need to be located in the broader framework provided by the typology. The typology also permits the systematic sampling of trafficking organizations for detailed study. This is particularly important for policy since interventions must be closely tailored to the nature of criminal enterprises.

Introduction Social research into the nature of drug dealing enterprises can make an important contribution to drug control policy. Thus, economic analyses of drug markets (Moore 1977; Reuter 1985; Johnson et al. 1985; Reuter and Kleinman 1986; Lewis 1989; Reuter, MacCoun and Murphy 1990; Dorn, Murji and South 1991; Caulkins 1993; Strong 1995), have produced information about the supply of drugs, the nature of competition at various levels, pricing strategies, the elasticity of demand and so forth. This information is of value in formulating a wide array of national control and intervention strategies. At a more local level, detailed ethnographic accounts of street-level dealing (Johnson et al.1985,1994; Zimmer 1987,1990; Kleinman and Smith 1990; Sviridoff, Sadd, Curtis and Grinc 1992; Johnson, Hamid, and Sanabria 1992; Johnson and Natarajan 1995) have produced information that is relevant to the development of law enforcement measures for disrupting retail sales. This information includes dealers' marketing strategies, the roles individuals play in drug distribution and techniques to evade detection from law enforcement.

Efforts to intervene in trafficking at higher levels in the distribution chain (i.e. including the production of raw materials, manufacturing, smuggling/ importation, regional distribution and wholesaling) would be assisted by detailed research into the variety of organizations involved and their ways of transacting business. What little is known about these matters comes principally from law enforcement reports, news reports of prosecuted cases, and books by journalists about particularly notorious organizations (Alexander 1988; Chaiken 1988; Klein, Maxon, and Cunningham 1988; U.S. Department of Justice 1989; U.S. Senate Committee Report 1989; Gugliotta and Leen 1989; Rice 1989; Florez and Bernadette 1990; Lee III 1992; DEA 1996; Fuentes 1998). Some isolated ethnographic studies (e.g. Adler 1993) have focused on the lives and activities of individual traffickers rather than the nature of the organizations. Even without this limitation, these accounts are difficult to evaluate because it is unclear whether the organizations studied are representative of some broader universe.

The void in research about the structure and functioning of drug trafficking organizations has been filled with theoretical speculations, often made by those who have studied street level dealing. These researchers have sometimes assumed that, in fact, there is little structure or specialization of function among trafficking organizations. Thus, criminologists working in Australia in the mid-1980s reported that the heroin market was fluid and the individuals working at the street level quickly could move up and deal at a higher level without needing specialized knowledge or skills (Wardlaw 1985,1986). Dorn, Murji and South (1992) in the United Kingdom, also argued that individuals move up and down the distribution chain according to need. Reuter and Hagaa ( 1985) summarized this position as follows: "The little available evidence suggested that the organizations were not durable and hierarchical enterprises, but consisted rather of temporary and shifting coalitions of dealers"(p.v.). According to their subjects, trading relationships were more like networks than hierarchical organizations. …

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Varieties of Drug Trafficking Organizations: A Typology of Cases Prosecuted in New York City
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