Notes on Rules of Conduct of Crime


Rules of Conduct of Crime

There is no evidence that various criminal organisations follow one particular code of behaviour. Cressey {The Annals, November, 1967: 163) has observed that no hard data is at all available on ‘the law’ of criminal organisations. Even if some groups have a code of conduct, it is unwritten.

Yet, on the basis of information collected from different criminal organisations, Cressey has suggested that the members of the organised gangs, rackets and syndicates generally work on the basis of the following directives (ibid.: 175-78; also see, Barlow, Hugh D., Introduction to Criminology, Little Brown and Co., Boston, 1978: 274):


i. Be loyal to the members of the organisation to maintain unity in the gang.

ii. Do not interfere with each other’s interests.

iii. Do not be an informer.

iv. Be rational and work as a team-member.


v. Do the assigned work quietly, safely and in a profitable manner.

vi. Keep your eyes and ears open and your mouth shut.

vii. Be a man of honour, and respect womanhood, and your elders.

viii. Don’t engage in battles if you can’t win.


Cressey points out that the conduct code of organised criminals is similar to the codes adopted by prisoners, professional thieves and other groups whose activities and conditions of existence bring them into confrontation with official authority and generate the need for ‘private’ government as a means of controlling the conduct of the members. Other authors have also made similar observations.

Salerno and Tompkins (1969: 105; also see, Barlow, op. cit., 74) have presented a more detailed code as the ‘law’ governing what they call the ‘crime confederation’. Among the unwritten rules and directives are: maintain secrecy; put the organisation before individual, consider other members’ families sacred, reveal nothing to your wife, do not strike another member, and do not disobey orders.

While these two authors collected information from organised crime informants and police intelligence, Ianni (Family Business, 1973: 150-55) got information through participant observation of several groups and watching members’ behaviour.

After observing, he sought regularities that had enough frequency to suggest that- the behaviour resulted from the pressures of shared social system rather than from idiosyncratic ideas and bahaviour.


The three basic rules of bahaviour he found were: primary loyalty to the organisation rather than to individuals; doing nothing which brings disgrace on the organisation; and not reporting or discussing organisation’s matters outside the group.

Some other codes which he found stressed were: don’t tell the police; don’t cheat your partner in the network, don’t is a coward; and try to “fit in” your attitudes and actions with the group.

The code adopted by any one criminal organisation reflects far more than the mere fact that it is a secret association engaged in regular criminal activities.

The factors which are likely to influence the conduct rules, which are adopted and preserved are: how and why the participants came together in the first place (bonding relationships or linkages), how long the organisation has been operating, how small or big is the organisation, the cultural heritage of its major participants, and the nature and range of its activities.

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