Journal of Quantitative Criminology

, Volume 22, Issue 2, pp 171–192 | Cite as

Understanding the Structure of a Large Heroin Distribution Network: A Quantitative Analysis of Qualitative Data

Original paper


An analysis is reported of 2,408 wiretap conversations gathered in the course of prosecuting a heroin dealing organization in New York City in the 1990s. The five-step analysis, which included a social network analysis of phone contacts, revealed a large, loosely structured group of 294 individuals, most of whom had very limited contacts with others in the group. The group’s active core comprised 38 individuals with extended contacts, little status differentiation and some task specialization. A smaller more tightly connected group of 22 individuals was somewhat independent of the remainder of the core and appeared to constitute a “communal business”. The existence was not confirmed of the large criminal conspiracy described by the prosecution that operated at all levels of trafficking and dealing, from wholesale distribution to street sales. Rather, it appeared that the 294 individuals comprised one segment of the heroin market in the city. However, the discrepancy could be due to the fact that the prosecution drew upon a wider set of information about the individuals concerned than provided by the wiretap data. The study supports recent analyses that see organized crimes, such as drug trafficking, as mostly the work of small groups of loosely linked entrepreneurs rather than large, highly structured criminal syndicates.


Network analysis Wiretap data Organized crime Drug trafficking Mid level drug dealing Heroin distribution network 



This research was primarily supported by a grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (1K21DA00242). Viewpoints in this paper do not necessarily represent the official positions of the U.S. Government, National Institute on Drug Abuse or John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Earlier versions of the paper were presented at a NIDA Drug Abuse Workshop, October 2004, Bethesda, MD and the 11th Environmental Criminology and Crime Analysis Seminar held at University of Cincinnati in June 2003. The author acknowledges the assistance of Ms. Haley Kobilinsky with coding and wishes to thank Prof. Ronald V. Clarke of Rutgers University and Dr. Bruce Johnson of National Development Research Institutes, Inc, New York City for their advice and support. She also thanks Zachary Weiss, Assistant District Attorney, White Plains NY, for facilitating this analysis of court data. Finally, the author wishes to acknowledge the insightful comments made by the anonymous reviewers.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyJohn Jay College of Criminal JusticeNew YorkUSA

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