COVID-19 BLOG

Chance or hurdle? Covid-19 and yakuza’s adaptation skills

Martina Baradel

University of Birkbeck

Japanese organised crime groups, the yakuza, are involved in a variety of legal, semi-legal and illegal activities. Therefore, the restrictive measures due to the spread of Covid-19 in Japan had an impact on their business as well. In particular, the night-time entertainment sector in most cities was affected by the limitations applied on movement, and, despite some governmental subsidies, a deep crisis invested bars and clubs. The collapse of the night-time economy in big cities represents serious damage for the yakuza, which offer protection services and are more or less directly involved in the management of some of these venues. Many restaurant owners whose business is closed or operates within a restricted opening time are now unable to pay the rent, even with the support provided monthly by the government. As purported by a yakuza executive, some shops operate in a clandestine manner behind a facade of closed doors and shuttered windows. For example, hostesses keep inviting their favourite customers in for a fee of half the customer’s bill. In addition, so-called ‘gyara nomi’ are spreading, whereby yakuza groups provide hostesses to customers who request to eat and drink with a woman in a place that does not usually provide a hostess service, such as taverns and restaurants. Since there is no actual penalty in Japan for circumventing anti-Covid regulations, yakuza groups have a wide margin of action to make up for the losses.

The spread of coronavirus has also disrupted the festival season in Japan, causing further losses to the yakuza. Indeed, in each region there is a yakuza group that manages the festival area and the disposition of the stalls, known as tekiya. The representative of such yakuza groups collects the ‘applications’ of the vendors and the fee for the place, which ranges from ¥5,000 to ¥10,000 (£35-£75) a day. However, this year the cherry-blossom viewing season was disrupted by the spreading of the virus. In Tokyo, spots popular for cherry-blossoms gatherings such as Ueno Park and Yasukuni Shrine were confined, causing losses for stall-holders (and consequently for the yakuza) in the order of tens or hundreds of millions of yen. In the summer, Japanese cities have a tradition of fireworks shows, and operating a stall at the fireworks of the Sumida river in Tokyo makes up for a big profit even for a one-day event. This year most summer gatherings and events were cancelled, causing further losses to the stall-holders as well as the yakuza managing the area.

As a result, the yakuza are looking for new revenue opportunities, and the shortage of masks opened up a new, profitable market. A Yamaguchi-gumi executive who had bought a big stock of masks at the beginning of the emergency reported that he is making good money by reselling them. Even though there is a ban on mask reselling, it is enforceable exclusively to people selling on the Internet, and not to those who make the transaction in person. However, masks prices rose rapidly and only those who managed to buy a big stock very early could resell them for a profit. A yakuza boss who was not quick enough reported that, because of the rapid increase of masks prices, an investment for a big bulk of masks would have been too risky. Furthermore, masks are difficult to move because they are voluminous and come in big cardboard boxes, and their stocking, shipping and delivery costs are expensive and difficult to organise. However, as masks prices are decreasing again, some yakuza groups prefer to distribute their stocks for free to nursing homes or other associations in need: given the yakuza’s deteriorating relationship with the population, they do not miss any opportunity to do a good deed and make a good impression on the population. In other words, rather than a pure humanitarian spirit, these efforts display their need to gain a return in image: once the business resumes, payback is concrete, as the yakuza group is perceived as socially acceptable and thus as a legitimate business counterpart. To the same end, yakuza groups were reported distributing masks to passers-by in the streets, exchanging words with citizens and encouraging them through this difficult time.

Even though the crisis hit yakuza businesses, at the end of the month low-ranking yakuza still have to pay the jonokin (association dues). They are trying to exploit this emergency to gather enough money to pass on to their superiors: there have been many reports of yakuza members trying new frauds, selling testing kits and airplane tickets and demanding payment in advance. Frauds are becoming a common activity of low-skilled yakuza members, who are the most affected by the general decline of the yakuza in the past 15 years. Disasters and periods of emergency also provide a chance for illegal money lending, the interest rates of which can be as high as 30% every 10 days for sums up to ¥100,000 (around £700). Furthermore, similarly to other countries hardly affected by the coronavirus-induced economic crisis, the risk of an increase of corruption and loan-sharking is particularly high. At the same time, illegal activities such as drug trafficking do not seem to be compromised: in Japan, transports and shipments have not been disrupted severely as in many European countries, therefore granting the mobility of legal, as well as illegal, goods.

It is still impossible to understand to what extend coronavirus and the ensued economy crisis have affected the yakuza. Covid-19 has surely stopped the activities of the yakuza on the surface, as gang meetings and gatherings came to a halt, as well as the activities of the night-time entertainment. However, despite the apparent calm, the yakuza are organising swiftly and efficiently to take advantage of the current crisis to meet their monetary goals. Weaknesses in institutions and holes in regulations are easily exploited by the yakuza and their front companies, and the adaptation to the new rhythms of the city has resulted in the creation of new inventive businesses. Although the yakuza have been considered a rapidly declining force of the Japanese underworld, Covid-19 highlighted that they are learning increasingly well how to cope with crises and now to adjust to adverse situations. Perhaps, the much-discussed end of the yakuza is not as near as it was thought.

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This blog aims to reflect the opinions, thoughts, and concerns of academics and researchers related to COVID-19. All views belong to authors and it does not represent the views of any organisation.

COVID-19 BLOG

Requiem for students


Giorgio Agamben


(Translated by Baris Cayli Messina from Italian to English)

As we had anticipated, lectures in universities will be held online next year. For a careful observer, this was not surprising, and the so-called pandemic would be used as a pretext for the diffusion of increasingly pervasive digital technology, which has been realised precisely with this transformation.

In this regard, we’re not interested in the consequent transformation of teaching, in which the element of physical presence has always been important for the relationship between students and teachers. Yet, this relationship disappears definitively with the erosion of collective discussions in seminars that used to be the most vital part of teaching. This constitutes technological barbarism as we are facing with the obliteration of life and its every experience gained by our senses, and the loss of the gaze that is all enduringly imprisoned in a ghostly screen.

In a more decisive way what is unfolding is something which is not debated significantly, and that is the termination of the state of being a student as a form of life. Universities were born in Europe thanks to student associations –univesitates– and the universities, today, owe their names to students. First of all, being a student was a form of life, in which studying and attending lessons determined this form. However, it was not less important meetings and constant exchanges with other scholars, who frequently came from remote places and reunited based on the origin of place where they came from. This form of life has been evolved constantly in various modes over centuries and included different groups from the clerici vagantes (wandering clergy) of the middle ages to the student movements of the twentieth century, which was the social dimension of the phenomenon. Anyone, who has taught in a university lecture hall, knows very well how friendships were formed before their eyes according to cultural and political interests in a small study or research group and how they continued to meet even after the end of those lectures and group works.

All this process has lasted for nearly ten centuries and now it ends indefinitely. Students will no longer live in the city where the university is located, but each of them will attend lectures remotely in a closed room, sometimes separated by hundreds of kilometres away from former classmates. Small cities, once prestigious university locations, hosted student communities who often made up the liveliest part of those cities and now the cities will witness the disappearance of those student communities from the streets.

It can be said for every eroded social phenomenon that, in some ways, they deserved such eradication. And it is obvious that our universities had reached such a level of corruption and specialist ignorance that it is not possible to regret their current situation and the form of student life was, consequently, impoverished. Two points, however, must remain firmly:

1) The professors who accept – as they are doing en masse – to submit to the new online dictatorship and to deliver their courses only online are the perfect equivalent of the university teachers swore allegiance to the fascist regime in 1931. As it happened at that time, it is probable that only fifteen out of a thousand will refuse, but, certainly, their names will be remembered alongside those of the fifteen teachers who did not swear to the fascist regime.

2) Students, who really love studying, will have to refuse to enrol in universities transformed in this way and, similar to the original form of universities, they will have to constitute new universitates. In the face of technological barbarism, the word of the past can remain alive and be born within these new universitates, -if it is born-, something like a new culture.

Note: The original article was first published on the website of Istituto Italiano per gli Studi Filosofici. SGOC is grateful to Giorgio Agamben and IISF for the permission to publish the English version of the article.

COVID-19 BLOG

My online teaching during the pandemic of Covid-19


Joselle Dagnes

University of Turin, Italy.


This week I finished my first entirely taught online course: 54 hours of lessons (plus 18 laboratory hours) with 367 students whose faces I have never seen. If someone had told me before, I probably wouldn’t have believed it. I would have said that this was not my job, that my job – part of it, at least – was to be in the classroom, talking and watching some nodding heads and many yawns.


Instead, on the evening of Sunday 23 February, half a day before entering my classroom for the start of my new course on ‘Sociology of markets’, an email from Turin University Rector arrived announcing that all lessons would be postponed. The first Italian Covid-patient had been diagnosed a few days earlier in a neighbouring region, thus my university would have been closed for a week “out of caution”. I sent an email to the students, just to reassure them that we would see each other the following week, and I continued to do my thing, from home, quite relieved to have more time to prepare my slides. It was nothing more than that, at that point in time: a small hitch, due to something similar to flu, that would not have changed much of my semester.
But, as we all know by now, the virus that was spreading was not at all similar to flu. In Italy, tens of thousands of people have lost their lives, despite the severe lockdown, and our intensive care system has been on the verge of collapse for weeks. Some people I know have died, others were hospitalized, many were quarantined in their homes.


In all of this, my university did not reopened and my course moved online. To be clear, I wasn’t prepared at all for this change: I was not at all familiar with the IT platform, I wasn’t able to record the video lessons and upload them, I hadn’t figure out how to assign homework and correct them online. I watched tutorials for hours and sent dozens of emails to technical support, but, despite this, most of my students lost their first essays, after pressing the “enter” key, because I had forgotten to flag up this option.


The university infrastructure itself was not prepared for this change: over 4,000 courses went online overnight, with all the related problems. In the early days, the system crashed frequently, content uploaded online was often unavailable, and both teachers and students were dazed by the situation.


In the end, somehow, we made it! My students and I designed together a hybrid version of the course, with video lessons that they could consult independently and conference calls for collective discussions. It was a very impoverished course in some parts, but – I must admit – enriched and enriching for other aspects. During our webinars, we dealt with the topics of the course, but often we reflected upon current events, i.e. by asking ourselves about the contractual guarantees of workers who had to continue their activity despite the lockdown, or about what would have happened to illegal markets during the health emergency. Surprisingly, students often asked for more optional activities and readings, getting very passionate about what could appear to be frankly boring arguments.


We have also compiled a list of movies to watch during the lockdown, somehow relevant to the course topics: it is now a very long and heterogeneous list, which is still bolstered day by day with the addition of new titles and contribute to making some of my evening and interesting and fun!


On the sidelines of the online meetings, I also spent some time trying to answer more difficult and personal questions such as “When will I be able to see my family again?” or “why can’t we meet our friends yet?”.
Paradoxically, with many students I developed a relationship more intense than perhaps it would have been in the classroom. Since I’m aware of the difficulties they have been experiencing, I was certainly more helpful and available than usual (although this has meant the suspension of any research and writing activity during these months, due to lack of time), and they probably felt freer to tell me about their situations or simply look for a conversation.


Thus, was it a positive experience in the end? For me, in fact, it has been, in many respects. Although there is no comparison with the quality of face-to-face teaching, this online semester has forced me to face new challenges and to experiment with different forms of interaction that I believe will be useful in the future too, when (hopefully) we will return to the physical classroom.


My impression, however, is that online teaching works well (or better, sufficiently well) with the most motivated and interested students. These are the students who are easier to involve in new activities and that actually encourage you to provide them with additional material. In my case, this was about a third of the students enrolled in the course. A considerable number, over a hundred people, but what about all the others? With them, I was unable to have any exchange during these weeks. In the absence of physical proximity, this means no eye contact, no chance encounter in the university corridors, no look at their repressed yawns in the classroom. I have no idea if they followed my video lessons or if they ever even logged in. And above all, I’m not at all sure that they will still be enrolled in university, when we finally go back into the classrooms.

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This blog aims to reflect the opinions, thoughts, and concerns of academics and researchers related to COVID-19. All views belong to authors and it does not represent the views of any organisation.

COVID-19 BLOG

 A Criminologist’s musings on the pandemic and wildlife trade and trafficking

Tanya Wyatt

Northumbria University

I have been researching illegal wildlife trade for 15 years. The coronavirus pandemic, therefore, is a shock, but not a surprise. All that time, I have been citing work of epidemiologists warning that wildlife trade—legal and illegal—posed animal, human, and public health risks. Since my specialism is at the heart of the now 9 weeks of staying at home, I am continually reading the latest back and forth as to whether we should or should not ban wildlife trade going forward. There are 3 things that jump out at me:

Conservationists are leading the discussions
Conservationists at academic institutions and non-governmental organisations seem to be driving this conversation. Predominantly, they focus on Africa and Asia, and ignore the rest of the world. They fall into the two camps that perpetually divide wildlife trade discussions—those advocating for utilisation and sustainable development and those for protection and the precautionary principle, the latter of which includes animal welfare and rights individuals and groups. This is a simplification, but captures the ideological landscape. Utilisation proponents argue that wildlife is a renewable resource that people have a right to use; their traditions, survival and livelihoods depend upon that use. Protection proponents argue we should err on the side of caution and limit wildlife exploitation not only for conservation, but because wildlife has intrinsic value beyond their use to people. It is probably obvious, which group is saying we should ban wildlife trade and which group is saying that we cannot.

As a biologist (at least by my UG degree) turned social scientist, I find it interesting and frustrating that those trained in conservation, ecology, biology and so forth are leading policy about human behaviour, regulation and governance, and crime. This isn’t just the case with the pandemic; this has been true for years. Wildlife trade and trafficking have featured on the global agenda such as the UN General Assembly Resolution adopted in 2015, and the London conferences on Illegal Wildlife Trade in 2014 and 2018; these fora were dominated by conservation NGOs. I know from interviews with wildlife law enforcement officers around the world that they are baffled by largely being left out of the discussions.

Wildlife Trafficking isn’t considered real crime
We know in criminology that environmental and wildlife crimes are not prioritised to the degree of other crimes. We know that law enforcement tasked with environmental and wildlife crimes are often not treated on par with police of traditional crimes (i.e. murder, assault, rape and so forth) not only by fellow officers, but also in terms of governments granting them fewer powers, such as not being able to arrest suspects or conduct investigations.


I think this attitude is evident in global discourse as well. Back in 2010, Samantha Bricknell wrote “Of note is the consistent use of the preface ‘illegal’ in the listed activities constituting environmental crime, a preface not regularly employed when describing other categories of crime”. This happens all the time in illegal wildlife trade media coverage, academic publications, and policy briefs. For instance, the UN General Assembly Resolution above is titled “Tackling illicit trafficking in wildlife” – trafficking means that the activity is illegal/illicit, so why include illicit?
In my many interactions with wildlife NGOs, there are the same and similar examples. Avoidance of the use of ‘offender’, ‘criminal’, ‘poacher’, ‘smuggler’, ‘trafficker’ for people who have committed wildlife crimes because these words label them as criminals. The argument made to me has been there are underlying reasons why they have committed the wildlife offence, so should not be labelled this way. This is true of every person breaking the law, why the justification to treat wildlife criminals differently? This approach to wildlife trafficking is likely to affect regulations aimed at preventing future pandemics

CITES isn’t enough
Since May 2018, I studied the implementation of and compliance with CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) under an AHRC Leadership Fellowship. This meant I have worked a lot from home in the last two years, so the lockdown hasn’t severely disrupted my routine. Mostly though, the project has reinforced that CITES—a trade convention meant to ensure the sustainable trade and survival of listed endangered species—may not be up to the task of either banning or improving regulation of wildlife trade. More species are listed every 3 years at the CITES’ convention, indicating sustainable trade is not happening. And the dozens of people I have surveyed and interviewed highlight CITES isn’t able or willing to demand better implementation and compliance by the 183 members. Countries, which are known to have poor or no science informing their species trade quotas, which don’t report for years at a time etc. are still awarded Category 1 status—that they have implemented the Convention fully, though they haven’t. In addition, apart from guidelines on how to transport live animals, CITES says nothing of animal welfare, a key element to stop pandemics.


But the Secretariat’s official statement saying that CITES has no mandate related to zoonotic diseases, clearly indicates CITES isn’t the mechanism for tackling wildlife trafficking or prevention of future pandemics. Since they are unwilling to contribute to the response, some other means must be found such as the former CITES Secretary General, John Scanlon’s, proposal for adding wildlife trafficking to the UN Convention on Transnational Organised Crime.

So as the lockdown continues, I remain working from my sofa writing about CITES and what can be done about wildlife trade and trafficking. Now, this has more urgency than before and the public health and animal welfare elements have become more critical. I’ll carry on despite the ongoing frustration of social scientists/criminologists/law enforcement not being listened to and hope that in the near future a truly interdisciplinary effort will be made to stop the next pandemic.

References
Bricknell, S. (2010). Environmental Crime in Australia. AIC Reports Research and Public Policy Series 109. Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology.

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This blog aims to reflect the opinions, thoughts, and concerns of academics and researchers related to COVID-19. All views belong to authors and it does not represent the views of any organisation.

COVID-19 BLOG

Never waste a good crisis


The Liaison Officer in Rome for the Dutch National Police, Italy.
The Project leader of the Anti-Maffia Team of the Dutch National Police, Netherlands.

At the end of February, the first case of Covid-19 was found in The Netherlands, its first death followed a week later. After some weeks of “soft” measures such as not shaking hands or working from home, the Dutch government took on a sterner approach. The 15th of March was the beginning of our lockdown, but again, quite a soft one compared to other European countries like Italy. Schools closed their doors, restaurants shut down and so did the soft-drug coffee shops, albeit for one day. When local dealers popped up left and right, it was decided that take-away marijuana was the way to go. The Netherlands remains the Netherlands even during crisis: regulated, but above all, practical.

Going in to week eight of the so-called “intelligent” lockdown, there have been around 40.000 registered cases of the virus (bearing in mind that the Dutch are not testing a lot, so presumably there is a huge dark number) and close to 4.600 deaths. Currently the curve has flattened and in one week’s time, primary schools and day-cares will be opening once again. Fortunately, Dutch intensive care units have remained within capacity during the lockdown, but this blog has been written, at home, by two colleagues living in two very different countries.

The situation in Italy was, and remains, much bleaker than it is in the Netherlands. Based on the outbreak of the Corona virus in the North of Italy, the whole country has been in lockdown since the first week of March 2020. The region of Lombardia (comprising cities such as Milan, Bergamo and Brescia) has been the most severely affected zone globally. Based on statistics from the Italian Protezione Civile 13,325 persons died in this region out of a total of 26,644 in all of Italy (as of April 27th).

The lockdown of Italian society has been rather strict. People have had to stay at home with just three exceptions: for vital work, urgent medical reasons and shopping in supermarkets or pharmacies. In reality, this means that the economy and social life have come to a complete (temporary) standstill and it is not known for how much longer this will persist.

Also, the juridical system and law enforcement agencies have almost closed down. Only for urgent bureaucratic matters do the systems continue to work. Even high-ranking mafia-members have been released from prison and sent home on house arrest, due to their old age or fragile health.

As result of the slowdown of the economy, at a local level as well as at a national and international level, people are not receiving an income. This is becoming an increasingly problematic scenario, particularly in the economically weak and fragile regions of the south of Italy. Companies and agencies are going bankrupt. People who haven’t had the opportunity to build up reserves are having financial problems that are deteriorating into hunger and poverty.

This unfolding of events provides the ideal scenario for home grown Italian organised crime groups in the different regions of Italy but also at a national and international level. At a local level, Italian criminal organisations like ‘Ndrangheta, the Camorra and even Cosa Nostra are in possession of large amounts of liquidity, in other words, cash. The strong Italian laws on money laundering have made it difficult for criminal organisations to invest money in Italy or to put cash onto bank accounts, so they will have most likely invested outside Italy or store it in cash form.

Still, one of the main characteristics of Italian criminal organisations remains to occupy their own territories as this is where they get their power. For sure Italian mafias have a lot of cash and Italian law enforcement agencies have already noticed the ‘help’ offered by these organisations to individual families, not just in the South of the country. Of course these people will receive the bill later on, as well as being forced to cooperate or help the criminal groups by voting for their desired candidate in the local elections.

European and national governments will help local, national and European economies with billions of euros to assist in recovering from the lockdown. In the south of Italy, criminal groups as well as law enforcement agencies and juridical authorities have a lot of experience with what can happen with these kinds of subsidies that will be spent without a well-structured financial administration, so there is no time to lose in helping the economy due to the growing problems created by the coronavirus pandemic.

For all these reasons, highly experienced Italian prosecutors such as Federico Cafiéro de Raho and Nicola Gratteri, who have earned their respect in combatting these mafia-type organizations for many years, are expressing their concerns about what can happen next if there is not the fast intervention of the authorities. They are afraid they will lose more than twenty years of work and fear that this crisis will drive Italy back into the arms of Calabrian and Sicilian crooks. This crisis is damaging the legal economy, but it will make illegal markets stronger.

When people don’t have money to pay for their food, and have to first pass through the bureaucratic jungle, before they can get help from the government, a lot of time passes and the path to organised crime is imaginable. On the other hand, providing subsidies to companies that are not well known or may be corrupt, will put the money into the deep pockets of the same organised crime groups that will try to invest it in legal companies worldwide.

These same Italian prosecutors and others convinced us many years ago that Italian organised crime is not just an Italian problem. The Sicilians (they are not beaten), the Calabrians but also the Neapolitans play central roles in international organised crime and because these criminals grew up in criminality and the history of their organizations are long and successful, they are not easy to investigate. The warnings and the concerns of Cafiéro de Raho and Gratteri are not just addressed to the Italian authorities, but also have to be heard by other European governments. European cooperation during crises is not always easy, but problems on a European scale can only be solved by European cooperation.

And so, we return from Italy to the Netherlands. The presence of Italian mafias in our small country has been proven time and time again, and it continues to be a country of choice thanks to its great legal and illegal logistics, its flourishing drug trade and, let’s just say, its practical and low-key regulations with regards to business and finance. In short: if Italian mafias are thriving and will thrive because of the Corona-crisis in their mother country, eventually, they will definitely thrive in the Netherlands as well. After all, the octopus-analogy is not that farfetched, and if the tentacles grow stronger and stronger, Dutch society will also soon suffer the consequences.

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This blog aims to reflect the opinions, thoughts, and concerns of academics and researchers related to COVID-19. All views belong to authors and it does not represent the views of any organisation.

COVID-19 BLOG

Misuse or missed use of data?

Considerations for a Public Health Approach

Lewis Prescott-Mayling
Thames Valley Violence Reduction Unit
Thames Valley Police

I remember my early days as a police officer. Before each shift an officer would come in early to start the printer into action spitting out reams of paper. Once the team were settled at the briefing room table, they would commence reading the printed paper stack, which was every single incident in the area since we were last on duty. It was a manageable volume of data. We would use the information to target our efforts where we believed we could have the greatest impact. Ultimately, we were using our clinical judgement of the data to forecast where the best places to patrol were. With the increase in calls, crimes and data, the idea of doing this style of “briefing”, is laughable.

Those early days now seem crude but presently there is an unknowable volume of data, and that creates risks as well as opportunities. When people come to harm, questions are legitimately asked. Were opportunities missed? Could this have been prevented? The single most sighted issue from serious case reviews is that information was not shared between agencies. But there is a converse problem highlighted in a study showing, notifications of vulnerabilities from one agency to another have increased dramatically, but nearly 90% result in no action, despite over a third being repeat notifications. Therefore, there is potentially a large group in need of support not receiving assistance. That’s a lot of potential opportunities missed. Or are these referrals false negatives, creating noise and making it difficult to see the real threat? Statutory partners need to work together to make sense of the collective data they hold, and here is why.

People are effected by heterogeneous harm events (e.g. crimes, neglect) and statutory agencies are required by law to reduce the likelihood of these events occurring. Often the identification of individuals or groups most likely to come to harm is done in isolation by each agency. However, harmful events interact, as do the agencies’ responses and in trying to maximise isolated parameters are we paying enough attention to the potential side-effects of actions, particularly on another agencies goals? This is seen in the every growing evidence regarding Adverse Childhood Experiences or ACEs (stressful events occurring before a person is 18 years old). For example parental drug abuse, domestic abuse or parental incarceration have an effect on both the parent themselves and they are recognised ACEs, affecting the child. They can have a significant negative impact on a child’s life, including early mortality. But fully understanding who is at risk may require greater data sharing. One agency may be aware of an individual being incarcerated, another aware the domestic abuse, another that they are a parent and another that their partner has lost their job. No single agency can see the potential risk, unless data is shared. The issue being they may not be willing to share via the established pathways unless they believe the risk is already so great, based on data they alone hold, to justify it. Had they had the whole picture, they may have made a different decision. This is a catch-22.

Finite resources are being deployed where harm has already occurred or when individuals are already at the point of crisis. At which point the problem is obvious to everyone so data is shared, but the problems are also entrenched. Early intervention provides support when issues are easier to resolve and many studies have shown this can make a substantial difference. There is another issue with measuring what works in tackling acute problems as what may seem like a successful intervention is actually a regression to the mean post crisis. It means we often confuse correlation with causation and muddle outputs (i.e. reduced crime) for outcomes (i.e. an individual’s needs are met).

Another way to think about this problem is to consider using data to identify risk factors for future harm. Risk factors, such as ACEs are not deterministic. But by understanding data we can afford insights on where and to whom harm is more likely to occur, then we can use data for social good, to support not stigmatise, for growth not control. This is not to predict binary outcomes but probabilistic forecasts. Only by taking such an approach can we ever prevent harm. This is a public health approach to data and like a disease, crime is more rationally treated by prevention than by curative methods. In health care we are accustomed to looking for risk factors for a disease and taking action with individuals or groups to prevent the harm ever occurring.

However, human behaviour is complex. When looking for risk factors for criminal harm we can use heart disease as an analogy. Whilst an ideal aim is to diagnose a group of symptoms to a single cause, this is not possible as heart disease, like crime, has many pathways. Also, just as there are different sub-types of heart disease there are different types of crime which may have different predictors. Many of these predictors will be common in those who do not commit crime. This is where data analysis, mirroring techniques used in health, are required. We could not only identify those at risk and support them but have measures for population health i.e. how much domestic abuse are children witnessing in a city, or how many are living in areas of multiple deprivation, with bullying or with high-pollution? Given many of these factors correlate with poor health as well as with poor social outcomes like crime, we could problem solve the causes of the causes and create cross partnership joint strategic aims.

Ultimately of course, it is what we were doing, in the early days of my career, we were forecasting, using our own clinical judgements on where to patrol. We’ve come a long way, but we can do more. There are justifiable concerns about such an approach, such as biased data being used to design systems, about a ‘black-box’ (where decisions cannot be explained), about negative feedback loops (which could automate inequality and perpetuate or amplify bias) and of course privacy. These concerns are real and justified. There are also many more considerations than we have covered here. Rigorous safeguards will be crucial, but without making better use of data we will miss opportunities and continue to see the same patterns in serious case reviews. The needle of useful information is buried in too large a digital haystack.

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This blog aims to reflect the opinions, thoughts, and concerns of academics and researchers related to COVID-19. All views belong to authors and it does not represent the views of any organisation.

COVID-19 BLOG

How Mafia-type groups respond to Italy’s Covid-19 economic emergency

Martina Bedetti

University of Bath

The Coronavirus outbreak is having a severe impact on the global economy: big drops in stock markets, a rise in unemployment and the risk of a global recession. (1) In particular, Italy, which has been one the worst affected countries in Europe has suffered significant economic losses. According to forecasts it is estimated that this year the italian GDP will probably drop by 6%/10% in comparison with 2019 (2) figures, while the worst hit sectors seem to be the manufacturing and tourism industry. For this reason Fitch has decided to downgrade Italy’s credit rating to BBB-.


This crisis has had visible consequences on Italians, especially during the Lockdown. For instance, rising poverty and unemployment, difficulties in getting “primary goods”, lack of liquidity for small and medium-seized enterprises and problems in accessing credit. It is clear that during this period without efficient tools to support the socio-economic fabric, Mafia type syndicates will take advantage of the pandemic. In fact, Mafias can be defined as “liquid” (3) entities that are able to easily adapt their strategies to new economic and social contexts in order to survive and succeed.
Surely, this emergency crisis has triggered the evolution of criminal markets providing opportunities for new businesses and, at the same time, boosting other sectors in which organized crime groups have already present. In this regard, it is thought that the “food supply chain, healthcare, tourism, restaurants, small and medium-seized enterprises” (4) will probably be the most vulnerable and the North of Italy might be the preferred region to target. Following the global trend, also cybercrime might rapidly emerge in Italy as a risk area too.

Lack of liquidity and wear
As mentioned before, SMEs are facing economic and liquidity problems and therefore they might be considered as vulnerable entities. For this reason, the Italian State has recently taken measures to improve the liquidity positions of companies and to help them access credit according to the “Liquidity Law decree”. However, it seems that this may not be enough: in the experts’ opinion, around 44% of companies are facing problems accessing these new State funds (5).
On the contrary, mafia syndicates can count on huge amounts of cash. For this reason, these groups can easily offer credit to businesses, lend money to distressed companies and acquire failing ones. Consequently, mafia groups will further pollute the legal economy by controlling companies which previously were not infilitrated.



In this regard, it must be mentioned that wear offences have increased over the last few years: for instance, the DIA report in 2019 stated that “thanks to wear and extorisions the ‘ndrangheta is able to penetrate the legal economy” . It is now clear that the pandemic is offering further opportunities in this sector. 0Furthermore supporting enterprises and meeting the needs of the population help organized crime groups to gain and streghten local support, which is vital for their survivor. A clear example is given by the Camorra gangs and the Sicilian mafia, which have been offering welfare assistance to low-income families both in Naples suburbs and in the Zen quarter in Palermo. Thus, the mafia can probably count on their loyalty and take advantage of the rising poverty. by later recruiting unempoyed people to the organisation (6) or asking them to return the favor at election time.

Lockdown and old businesses
Another aspect to be considered is drug trafficking since it is one of the most profitable mafia activities. According to experts, the ‘Ndrangheta controls almost 80% of the European cocaine market and it seems that this business has not been severely affected by the lockdown. Surely it is now more difficult to smuggle drugs, but it seems that organized crime groups have changed strategy by using couriers to deliver drugs to people confined at home (7).


Corruption and mafia infiltartion in the public prourement process, especially in the healthcare system must be considered as another high risk area especially when the emergency will be over.

References:

1-Jones Lora, “ Coronavirus: a visual guide to the economic impact”, in www.bbc.com, 30 April 2020
2-Confindustria, “Le previsioni per l’Italia. Quali condizioni per la tenuta ed il rilancio dell’economia?” in www.confindustria. It, 31 Marzo 2020
3-Forgione Francesco, “Commissione Parlamentare di Inchiesta sul fenomeno della criminalità organizzata mafiosa o similare. Relazione annuale sulla ‘ndrangheta”, XV legislatura, p. 18, 2008
4-Messina Francesco in “Coronavirus, Viminale: «Rischio mafia più alto per l’economia», www.ilsole24ore.com, 28 March 2020
5-Calugi in “Coronavirus, Calugi (Fipe) su dl liquidità: “44% imprese lamenta difficoltà sui prestiti. Rischio di usura e di consegnare settori alle mafie”, www.ilfattoquotidiano.it, 28 April 2020. 6-Lorenzo, “ Mafia distributes food to Italy’s struggling residents” in www.theguardian.com, 10 April 2020 7-Interpol, “ dealers using food delivery services to transport drugs during COVID-19 lockdowns”, www.interpol.int, 30 April 2020.

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This blog aims to reflect the opinions, thoughts, and concerns of academics and researchers related to COVID-19. All views belong to authors and it does not represent the views of any organisation.

COVID-19 BLOG

Is the Covid-19 threat a chance for the UK Police service to resurrect its relationship with the General Public

Aubrey A Jones
Detective Chief Inspector (Retired)


As I was retiring from the police service in 1995 after over 30 years’ service, of which 20 years was spent investigating organised crime and money laundering throughout Europe, The Far East and the Caribbean it was a time of epic change to policing in the UK.


The use of computers and other intelligence driven systems within forces was beginning in earnest and many Chief Officers saw this as the answer to the vast majority of policing issues. Technology was the answer; we no longer require the traditional relationship with the public that had existed for 100 years.


I was of the view and explained it forcefully that technology was certainly the answer for certain areas of crime and international liaison, fraud, money laundering and exchange of intelligence being examples. But, the issues that mainly affect the general public, burglary, vehicle theft, local drug trafficking, violence on the street, criminal damage still require a strong inter-action with society and appropriate agencies. Many Chief Officers disagreed and I heard it said – ‘We don’t need the public any more, technology is the answer to everything’.


The current pandemic has for the moment changed the course of policing the country. The police are being forced to interact with the public on the street and other public spaces. Already there have been a number of examples where officers are finding this problematical. The traditional relationship between the public and police has broken down. I often give presentations to assorted age groups with regard to Italian and European organised crime groups (The Mafia). I always ask, what is your relationship with local forces/officers to members of the audience? The answer is always – there isn’t one!


This is the time for UK police forces to resume, recreate even, this relationship!


In Italy where I worked for over three years there are three services with civil policing powers, the Polizia di Stato, the Carabinieri and the Guardia di Finanza totalling over 250,000 officers, this does not include local town police and other forces. They are visible on the street 24/7 in almost every town and village throughout the country. They have the numbers to man road blocks; check reasons for the public being outside and other Covid-19 related issues. The UK has a fraction of these numbers and stopped patrolling rural areas years ago. Can they step-up to this ‘new’ challenge of public inter-action in a positive and supportive manner? They have too!


Throughout towns and villages in the UK volunteers are coming forward to assist older and vulnerable members of society in many ways. It’s time for UK police forces to offer support to these members of the community and ‘dare I say it’, return to the traditionally values of British policing together with the aid and advantage of technology but not let it ‘rule’ their every- day operations.


Some of you might be thinking, OK what is he doing to assist these initiatives, how does he spend the day? Being 75 I am regretfully past the age of taking an active part in many issues but I feel it’s important to contribute in words and communication. Since my eventual retirement aged 60 I have written a biography of esteemed polar explorer – Dr Reginald Koettlitz. I’m currently busy writing ‘Three Bullets on the Doorstep’ an account of international organised crime throughout Europe. Hi-lighting both Italy and the relationship with the UK, using my experience, gained whilst residing in that most wonderful of cities, Rome, in the most beautiful of countries, Italy which I regard as my second home. I still visit as often as possible.


It’s time for this pandemic to move on so I can visit once more. In particular, the superb cities in the northern regions from my base in Ferrara. I had no time to absorb the art, medieval culture and architecture whilst residing in Rome. I had other pressing issues to attend too!

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This blog aims to reflect the opinions, thoughts, and concerns of academics and researchers related to COVID-19. All views belong to authors and it does not represent the views of any organisation.

COVID-19 BLOG

Between Covid-19 and Organised Crime: Some preliminary notes

Ludmila Quirós

Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime (GITOC), SHOC-RUSI

Since the covid-19 pandemic went global, human beings have been experiencing what geographer Alison Mountz (2020) point out as a proliferation of spaces of confinements through which we are interconnected yet socially-distanced. In a sudden way, we started living under surveillance, controlled by apps that share proximity information and watched by drones. Gradually, we get used to talking about social distancing, telework, isolation, lockdowns and curfews. We get used to meet virtually, to look at the world behind a window, to live in a way that become indistinguishable from virtual reality.

Since its emergency in the Chinese city of Wuhan, the SARS-CoV2 virus has been controlling a good part of our daily life, conditioning our work and testing our capacity for resilience and adaptation. Although, no one is sure about what will happen once pandemic ends, what we know is that once it occurs we will inhabit a different world, probably more unsafe, anti-social and more dystopic.

In this sense, even if it is not clear if covid-19 will shift the global order, there will certainly be changes, but as Joseph Nye pointed out ‘one should be wary of assuming that big causes have big effects’. This means that while the covid-19 pandemic will accentuate geopolitical and ideological rivalries between China and the United States, this will probably not be the final stage of the global power shift from West to East.

Beyond this, as I mentioned above, the covid-19 pandemic will be responsible for a more dangerous, risky and unsafe world, in which unconventional threats such as transnational organised crime (TOC) will continue to pose a significant and growing threat to national and international security.

Precisely, at the moment in which the pandemic of coronavirus triggered off a wave of lockdowns around the world, we begin to identify a different level of adaptation of transnational organised crime actors to the environment. However, there isn’t a homogeneus trend, therefore the long-term effects that covid-19 will probably have on transnational organised crime are yet to be seen.

In my particular experience, a week before the covid-19 pandemic closed the borders of the entire world, I was in the italian city of Naples, where I was doing fieldwork for a research project on Latin American criminal organizations in Europe. As a practitioner in organised crime and international security related issues, I spent the last two years of my academic life studying a wide-range of criminal structures from Brazil, in order to explore the path to internationalization of brazilian prison-gangs and its supposedly key role in the trans-Atlantic drug trade. However, the covid-19 outbreak and the subsequent Italian government decision to impose a national curfew to halt coronavirus, forced me to return home and to change the course of my research.

Since then, I have spent the following weeks taken data from different sources. In this context, this article is the result of much of the work done in these days of isolation. A preliminary work that is, of course, far from being an in-depth study on organised crime. In this sense, it’s necessary to make clear that the purpose of this writing is not to present a new research agenda. Firstly, because political and social phenomena are complex and changing. In this sense, I am reflecting on events that are happening now, by which the impacts and effects on transnational organised crime are difficult to fully understand. Secondly, because we do not have complete information. Thirdly, because of cases tend to vary, we have to be careful and not to generalise in a wrong way. As Anna Sergi tweeted ‘the south of Italy and the mafias are not all the same, you need more than one or two cases to generalise about covid-19”. Finally, because the pandemic is an exceptional case.

Having said that, in the following I highlight some preliminary notes on organised crime in times of pandemic.

• Criminal violence in Latin America may get worse due to pandemic. The recent acceleration of infection in the region caused prison riots in Republica Dominicana and Colombia. Moreover, violence could also arise as criminal groups see their illegal economy affected. Argentina’s worsening economic and social crisis could trigger a proliferation of micro-trafficking networks as subsistence economy.
• Criminal groups such as Maras in Central America, gangs in Cape Town, mexican Cartels and faccões in Brazil could acquire more legitimacy by adopting a ‘winning hearts and minds’ strategy. (i.e. Sinaloa Cartel and Los Zetas did handouts during the Covid-19, Maras in El Salvador have agreed to stop charging extortion, Brazilian gangs have imposed curfews in Rio de Janeiro in order to protect favela from the coronavirus outbreak).
• New crime trends have emerged (crime gangs in Western Balkans are investing in production of sanitary and medical equipment), others have increased (cyber crime, misinformation, fraud).
• Differences in quarantine and curfews measures around the world could reinforce certain illicit geographies to the detriment of others
• State controls imposed by governments to halt coronavirus have failed up to day to recover ‘illegal spaces’.
• Armed insurgents, drug cartels, gangs and terrorists became ‘alternative’ providers of health services.

Sources
Mountz, Alison (2020). The many facets of pandemic vulnerability. Open Democracy. Available at https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/pandemic-border/many-facets-pandemic-vulnerability/
Nye, Joseph (2020). No, The Coronavirus pandemic will not change the Global Order. Foreign Policy. Available at https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/04/16/coronavirus-pandemic-china-united-states-power-competition/

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This blog aims to reflect the opinions, thoughts, and concerns of academics and researchers related to COVID-19. All views belong to authors and it does not represent the views of any organisation.

COVID-19 BLOG

Living and adapting to the coronavirus


Stephen Musau

Independent Policing Oversight Authority in Kenya


One of the famous quotes by the father of scientific method, Galileo Galilei, is knowing thyself is the greatest wisdom. There is no other time this quote was more relevant than the current times the world is in. What, with the buzz words being Covid-19, coronavirus, lockdown, social distancing, face masks, frequent washing of hands and getting tested?


As a Kenyan who has interests in policing and law enforcement, security, human rights and governance, including how these themes get to adhere to their novel mandate and rule of law demands, coronavirus has really presented new dynamics, lessons as well as challenges in how people-centred development and law enforcement with transparency and accountability can be exercised, and particularly so at times of pandemics.


In Kenya, the President’s address to the Nation of March 15, 2020 led to scale down of work in all sectors of the economy (public and private). Many Kenyans started working from home apart from those engaged in essential services such as health workers, food suppliers, law enforcement and journalists. From March 16, 2020, I started working from home, with all field-oriented operations having been suspended. Since then, I have been enthusiast of all communication directives and media updates from Ministry of Health, the World Health Organisation and any other official communications, on ways to stay safe, even when working from home.


With this directive, I have largely been doing a lot of reading of various books, including story books, other work-related materials largely on law enforcement, crime prevention, criminal justice procedures and systems, public order management especially around law enforcement at times of pandemics, policing and oversight, and any other material that interests my line of thoughts. On March 24, 2020, the President announced a dusk-to-dawn curfew (7pm-5am), effective Friday, March 26, 2020 exempting 13 groups of workers offering essential services. Of great interest to me when the curfew was announced, and what remains an area of further research, is policing or law enforcement in developing countries, with attention on public order management, at the time of pandemics, curfews or lockdowns. This is largely being informed by the police brutality that was witnessed at the onset of the enforcement of the curfew (1) in Kenya, South Africa and India.


Working at home has also meant that I have more time to engage more with my children, knowing their strengths and weakness on their school work, assisting them learn new topics in the school curriculum, particularity on subjects they present some weaknesses, and also finding time to do readings together. This has been the positive side of working from home, even learning some things I did years back. With limited out of house activities, I have become used to doing the shopping to an extend of estimating how long some items last in the house and when I need to purchase or replace them. Of course, not mentioning the increased intake and cookery!


Working online has also had a new meaning. The content I have been able to access from social media, particularly twitter, has shown that there is a lot of information being shared. Some of it is so overwhelming and in all directions. The challenge presented by this being how the (mis)information can be ignored or tapped to make meaningful sense to those it relates to, as there is minimal or misdirected debates on any particular topic or issue. This also presents new grounds to those interested in any particular area of study to harness the information for research and further studies. On this line, I have developed more interest on issues related to police, policing, crime prevention and criminal justice issues, and now with use of information technology. Again, use of social media mostly WhatsApp has been of great help with all manner of groups being established and finding myself in some which I didn’t know of or even request to be enjoined. And then there are the Online Courses, with many of these being shared through some of these groups.


Searchingly, coronavirus is providing many questions than answers, and also more opportunities for each person to reflect and know thyself much better. On my side, the critical questions that keep popping up are: What is this devastating coronavirus? Is it a bio-weapon (2) , and if it is a bio-weapon, what would be its sole purpose, to decimate human race? Or might these still be the old-world power relations and dynamics? With deeper analysis, would this fit as organized crime (3) or crime against humanity, and what would be the implications of this on the fight against organized crime or crime against humanity in a global perspective? So many critical thinking questions indeed but hard to get answers.


With these thoughts, one evening I was strolling around the area I stay and saw some vervet monkeys (4). This kind of monkeys enjoy vegetarian diets, feeding on leaves, flowers, fruits, roots and grass. They are natural and destructive when they get to farms, and are so playful, free and jumpy. I watched how they were free, playful and with no concern for hand washing, social distancing, putting on masks, the things we are doing to contain coronavirus. I asked myself, what happened to humanity and what can be done to get back to basics of human and humankind? The coronavirus has really presented different reflections and also affected our daily life in varied forms, from work areas and ways, family unions and how important they are to everyone of us, to how nature can be so unforgiving if not cared for. Of major attention to me being how livelihoods and economies will be recovered, the post coronavirus world and how it will be with such huge exposures on the weak links around health care, global supply chains, vagrancy and global inequalities. It is indeed a tough world.


Conclusively, I think it all starts with critical thinking, knowing thyself as the greatest wisdom, and respecting each other for survival of humankind. For me, nature still provides best lessons for human beings.

Footnotes

(1) https://www.nation.co.ke/news/Kenyans-brace-brutality-as-police-enforce-curfew/1056-5507772-q0aeq8/index.html accessed 16th April 2020
(2)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1326439/ accessed on 16 April 2020
(3) Organized crime here is taken as a transnational, national, or local groupings of highly centralized enterprises run by criminals to engage in illegal activity.
(4) https://www.awf.org/wildlife-conservation/vervet-monkey accessed on 16 April 2020

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This blog aims to reflect the opinions, thoughts, and concerns of academics and researchers related to COVID-19. All views belong to authors and it does not represent the views of any organisation.