Trust in Criminal Networks: A Theoretical Analysis

Gerben Bruinsma, NSCR and Leiden University
Wim Bernasco, NSCR and Leiden University

In a recent issue of Crime, Law & Social Change we apply social network theory to the analysis of criminal grousp that are active in three transnational illegal markets. One of the conclusions is that financial risk is an important explaining factor for the structure of criminal networks. High-risk transactions occur between partners organized in dense, cohesive, and often ethically homogenous networks, while transactions with lower risk take place between partners who operate in networks that have chain-like social structures and are less cohesive. In order to accept the risk involved in a criminal enterprise you must rely on, have a certain degree of trust in the other people involved. In this paper, we focus on the effects of trust on the structure and content of criminal networks. When offenders commit transnational crimes they have to collaborate with others to be successful. Collaboration implies a certain degree of truest between the participants. One of the problems for criminal groups is that they lack mechanisms for resolving conflicts through legal institutions, and therefore must rely more on other mechanisms, like information and control. However, these mechanisms are only effective in cohesiv enetworks. When other kinds of networks (chain networks, for instance) are involved criminals have to organize trust in a different way: violence and bribery. The theoretical analysis is illustrated by data from Dutch police files and criminological studies.

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Updated 05/20/2006