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Several attempts have been made by criminologists to construct typologies of crimes and criminals without universal acceptance. One thing that is certain is that there are different types of crimes and criminals in every society. In this unit, we would discuss the legal classification of crimes, the organised and the unorganised crimes, the white-collar and the blue-collar crimes, juvenile delinquencies as well as the professional and non-professional crimes.


At the end of this unit, you should be able to:

  1.  state the different types of crimes 
  2.  state the dimensions of the crimes 
  3.  examine the classification of criminals 


3.1 Types of Crimes

According to criminologists, crime is ‘normal’ in all societies. It serves certain functions and may even help to keep a society orderly. They also established that there are different types of criminals in every society. With this in mind, attempt will be made to diagnose and classified crime in the society in various categories. A working vocabulary of the types of criminals is a necessary part of sociological intellectual equipment and it is of paramount importance when discussing the issues of crime problems. The dimension of the typologies would be examined through (i) the legal classifications of crimes, (ii) the organised and unorganised crimes, (iii) white-collar and blue-collar crimes (iv) professional and non-professional crimes and (v) Juvenile delinquencies.

3.1.1 Legal Classification of Crimes

The legal classifications of crimes vary from nation to nation, society to society, as does the definition of crime. Even with a legal system, crimes may be classified in different ways. However, this unit focuses on three main categories of crimes namely:
(a) crimes against a person
(b) crimes against property
(c) crimes against public order
(d) miscellaneous crimes

The crimes against a person include such deviant acts as murder, assault, and rape. The crimes against property are forgery, burglary, arson, vandalism and violent stealing. Drug addicts and narcotics are interpreted as crime against the public order. Crimes may also be divided into two large groups based on the severity of the punishment meted out, i.e. (1) felony and (2) misdemeanour. At other times, writers adopt a three-fold classification into felony, misdemeanour and simple offences.

  1. A felony is a crime that may be punishable by death or imprisonment for three years or more. Examples of felony are treason, murder. 
  2. A misdemeanor is any crime punishable with imprisonment for less than three years but more than six months; example is cheating. A simple offence attracts imprisonment for six months or less e.g. common assault 


Discuss the legal classifications of crimes.

3.1.2 Organised Crimes and Unorganised Crimes

Criminologists make a distinction between a crime that is organised and a crime that is carried out on an individual or small group bases even though committed by professional criminals. Unorganised crimes include much of the type of deviant acts, as does organised crime; i.e.
both organised and unorganised crimes activities seem to operate in the same level. The differences emanate from the fact that the unorganised crime is done by individual or group of members who do not work together for prolong criminal activities. Examples are some activities like pick pockets and theft which cannot be organised on an elaborate scale and they remain largely on the province or domain of unorganised crimes. The types of crime which are most common in carrying in an organised scale include gambling, doping, trafficking, racketeering, etc.

An organised crime is so important as to deserve some elaboration at this point. The most important feature of organised crime is the Feudal pattern of organisation. This type of organisation is characterised by a clear-cut hierarchy of power. Each person in a lower level gives undivided loyalty and service to the person in the immediate power position above him. The organisation is held together by powerful leaders who use coercive techniques including physical violence to enforce an under-world code of conducts. Individuals who engage in an organised crime bind themselves together in distinct type of social groups.

  1.  An Organised Criminal Gang is an association of youths or Adult who are bound together by intimate types of friendship and loyalty. Youth Gangs differ from Criminal Gangs in the important respect that the latter is organised especially for crime. The youth gangs may indulge in violence and other types of criminal activities but sometimes they are motivated by adventure and thrills rather than profits. All gangs are characterised by strict discipline with each member having to subordinate his personal interest to the group’s interest. Those who threaten the success and safety of the groups are violently treated. Examples of gang activities are: (a) highjacking, (b) armed robbery on a large scale, such as banks and armoured-trucks, Auto mobile theft including the systematic stealing and disposal of auto-parts, and (c) kidnapping (holding someone for ransom). 
  2. A second type of group which engages in an organised crime is the criminal syndicate. The operation in a syndicate is a sharp contrast to that of the gangs. The latter is mobile, violent and engages in sensational crimes (forgery on a large scale). But the syndicate is best characterised as the stable business organisation whose only violence is likely to be directed from or against the competitors, e.g. mafia group, smugglers, etc. Syndicate still controls gambling and narcotics. 

Certain characteristics distinguish the syndicate from other groups in organised crime. First, a criminal syndicate is definitely and primarily a business organisation. Second, it depends on an apathetic public which not only permit the deviant behaviour but implicitly demand the services. Thus, the syndicate developed through ruthless competition which may involve the destruction of other competitors. For instance, in 2006, it was alleged that a syndicate paid some amount of money to the press to publish false news that the “INDOMIE INSTANT NOODLES” (a fast food) – is poisonous and had killed many people. In a swift reaction, the NAFDAC (National Agency for Food,Drug Administration and Control) shut down the company and its products. Though, after thorough investigations, it was found to be false.

The third type of organised crime is known as racketeering. This indicates an organised scheme whose aim is to extort money illegally by (a) threats or (b) intimidation. In contrast to gangs and syndicates, the racketeers neither steal nor offer a service, rather they induce individuals to make periodic payment for nothing tangible than an alleged protection. Although legitimate businesses are by no means exempted; racketeering frequently takes the form of control in Labour Union. The Labour Union operates as those in control rather than the membership. The more powerful among the racketeer organisations, may control a whole industry or several industries in the city.

The fourth type of organised crimes is the political graft or corruption. Many elective and appointive officers of various levels of government are associated with the expenditure of large sums of money and with various degree of authoritative power. Political corruption takes many forms, e.g. rigging of election, misuse of public fund, the performance of free-services for fees, contract kick-backs, etc.
It is extremely difficult to control this type of organised crime because “the hands of the law are the hands of the corrupt” (Ferdinand, 1966). In other words, it means that the makers and the executors of the law are themselves corrupt.


Mention the main types of crimes that occur in organised and unorganised patterns.

3.1.3 White-Collar and Blue-Collar Crimes

(a) White-Collar Crime A white-collar crime is a non-violent crime usually involving cheating, or dishonesty in commercial matters. Examples are fraud, embezzlement, bribery and insider trading. The analysis of white-collar crime in the American culture is associated with professor Edwin A. Sutherland, who regarded white-collar crime as acts committed by persons in the upper socio-economic level; an American paradigm in accordance with their normal business practices. Bernes and Tecters help us to distinguish between crimes and white-collar crimes. If a banker shoots his wife’s lover, that is culpable homicide, not a white-collar crime. If he violates the law in connection with his business, he is liable for a white-collar crime.
If a person, who possesses some degree of good reputation, sells shoddy goods, he/she commits a white-collar crime. But if a group of persons, unknown to the victims, sell the same type of shoddy goods, the group commits a crime, not white-collar crime. This latter example is that of a bogus stock operation by criminal syndicates in get-rich schemes. White-collar crimes are unethical business practices amongst the respectable groups. Such crimes follow the social stratification pattern to a large extent; they are committed by those in the middle or upper social class. They are the groups who explore their occupation or professions for property, who occupy high-level positions and who have access to the criminal opportunities that are available to most workers. For example, among corporate executives, white-collar crimes sometimes take the form of embezzlement, fraud; the key accountants who by reason of their privileged positions keep track of and control a firm’s finances may be able to transfer funds from their company into their own accounts, and to conceal these transactions for a long time.

This type of crime is not regarded as a criminal activity in the technical sense because no statute has been violated. This is why white-collar crimes committed by the more affluent members of the society are not reflected in the Crime Reports. Thus, it presents its own peculiar problems of detection, and treatment. Two important types of white-collar crimes may be identified:

  1. fraudulent activities including such things as false advertisements, short-weights, inferior materials and systematic over-charging 
  2.  violation of local and federal laws such as patent infringement, illegal labour practices such as using unskilled personnel to do the work of a professionals, price-fixing during shortage period.

(b) Blue-Collar CrimesA blue-collar crime is so designated because it also occurs in connection to occupational pursuit although at the common or lower level of the labour. Here, it is not usually the customer or client who is always the victim but the employee.
An example is the policeman who demands for a bribe at the check-point. In the ministry, you would be told to offer a bribe for an application form which is supposed to be free. It is a warped attitude of the society, resulting from the empirical applicability of the unstructured economy of our society, i.e. the wider social conditions or social structures of the political economy.


Differentiate between: 

  1. White-collar, 
  2.  Blue -collar crime and 
  3.  Crime 

3.1.4 Professional and Non-Professional Crimes

There is a general agreement among criminologists that some crimes are professionals. This class is broad and includes big-time criminals as well as petty criminals, confidence men, armed robbers, pick-pockets, smugglers, car-thieves, merchandise thieves (at Seaports and Airports), and those who receive and dispose of stolen property. All professional criminals have one common characteristic.

They do not engage in crime by chance or as a result of emotional stress but as a deliberate and rational way to wealth and good life. That is, they are full-time criminals and they depend on it for their livelihood. Professional criminals are the least likely to get caught because they plan their activities very carefully. Very often, they present a false model of themselves by pretending to be engaged in one of the conventional pursuits such as buying, selling and exporting which is only an insignificant portion of their activities. Most time, they have made previous arrangement to protect themselves in such a way that they receive minimum punishment if caught. They seldomly engage in act of violence. When convicted, they are often regarded as model prisoners and usually paroled in the shortest possible time because of their connections, that they are more or less friendly with the police.

The outlook of the professional criminals was likened to that of the professional soldiers, they take risks. They enjoy high-status in the criminal underworld as “tough guys” or “hard nuts” who never wanted to associate with any amateur and always very caution not to associate deeply with women and non-members of the criminal underworld for fear of betrayal and loss of the source of their livelihood. They are likely to be mobile because of their activities. Wherever location they find themselves, the first contacts are members of the criminal underworld.

The non-professional offenders are offenders who have not developed their criminal roles to high degree. Examples include (1) occasional property offenders. (2) The habitual offenders who continually commit crimes. They are predisposed to crime due to poor education, trauma from poverty, the school and the immunity at an early age. They commit such offences as driving, shop-lifting, disorderly conduct, etc. (3) The situational criminals who commit crimes under a pressure of other circumstances but who otherwise have no criminal inclination. Example is a murder committed by husband or wife who catches their respective spouses in compromising situation or nature, due to pressure on their hostile marriage and home.


Differentiate between professional and non-professional crimes. What are the characteristics of each?

3.1.5 Juvenile Delinquencies

Juvenile delinquency is a type of offence committed by juveniles. They are minor offences that may or may not be regarded as crime; at least one major exception is vandalism. It was only at the nineteenth century that crimes committed by children were given the distinctive label “Juvenile delinquency”. Before then, children charged with crimes were prosecuted in criminal courts, though their youth might cause judges to impose less severe punishments if they were convicted. Under English common law, children under the age of seven who committed crimes were not subject to the criminal law. Between the ages of seven and thirteen, children could be held responsible for their crimes, depending on their individual capacities.

The major offences of juvenile delinquencies apart from vandalism are as follows: (1) habitual truancy from school
(2) vagrancy (running away from home)
(3) incorrigibility (cannot be controlled by parents). These threeoffences are called “status offences “. They are illegal only when committed by children
(4) stealing
(5) auto-thief (car-thief usually for joy rides).
Vandalism is a deliberate destruction of private and public properties. Typically, acts of vandalism include the breaking of windows in schools, destroying school records, mutilating school property such as desks and records, removing street and high way signs, slashing tyre, destroying flowers and shrubs, Tampering with the seals and contents of Trucks and railways, etc.


In this unit, we have examined the criminologist’s topologies of crimes and criminals in every society. The three major kinds of crimes we emphasised are:

  1.  crimes in the street; It is a direct act against persons or properties. It includes professional and non-professional criminals whose aim is to get money, prestige, status and recognition 
  2.  crimes in the suites; they are white-collar (occupational) and organised crimes committed by business persons, politicians and professionals of respectability and high social status 
  3.  crimes without victims; they are committed by those who violate society’s morals and mores. 


We have discussed the typologies of crime and criminals. We also examined the characteristics of each method of operations and the dimensions of their technical involvement in carrying out their actions.


  1.  What do you understand by the legal classifications of crimes? 
  2.  Differentiate between organised and unorganised crimes. Give example. 


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