March 9, 2020


Vesper’s spring event hosted Detective First Grade NYPD Robert “Bobby” Callus, a former Police Officer with extensive experience from successfully fighting organized crime in New York. His opening words captured the audience:

– You only need to study the history of the decline of New York city from the 1970’s through the mid-1990’s to understand that the path Sweden is on is remarkably similar.

Callus went on, stressing the importance of making early investments in the judicial system and the law enforcement resources, before violent crime gets further out of control. He pointed at the number of shootings and explosions in Sweden today as extreme and unacceptable:

– Even by New York-standards those numbers are crazy, you have to deal with these criminal organizations now. When they become too powerful, they will inevitably cause low-level corruption in your society.

Mr. Robert “Bobby” Callus, Detective First Grade NYPD (ret.)

Bribes, poverty and violent crime
To understand the complex problem of organized crime, Callus gave examples from his experience in New York. For instance, by controlling the labor unions, organized crime can control which construction companies will receive their material on time. That way they can give an advantage to those who pay their bribes. Those who resisted must then add the time and cost to their production. In the construction industry this can drive up the cost of a building by hundreds of millions of dollars for an entire project. When the cost of doing business is fraudulently inflated, market value for workers’ salaries remain stagnant or may even decline:

– You get poverty and poverty drives violent crime. Poverty increases the need for social services. Increased social services reduces funding and resources for law enforcement, Callus concluded.

The similarity of New Yorkers and Swedes
Callus said that the political climate among of many New Yorkers in the 1980’s was not unlike that of current Sweden. At that time many NYC people rejected the notion of an aggressive policing strategy, and policy makers were not willing to invest in resources. But by the mid 90’s the people of NY had been beaten into submission and were begging for aggressive police action.

Strategy, policies and laws
In order to deter and disrupt a violent criminal organization all the elements of a strategy must be sustained, and Callus meant that effective laws must be put in place. He pointed at both laws and strategies:

  • The Federal Law- Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations act. (RICO) and the state version The Organized Crime Control act. (OCCA), hold the leadership of any criminal enterprise severely accountable for the acts of its subordinates.
  • The Asset Forfeiture laws that allow for the seizure of any assets acquired illegitimately, upon arrest.
  • Establish an organized crime unit, fully capable with full resources for running sophisticated intelligence collection and human deep cover operations.
  • Resist picking low hanging fruit – wait for the bigger picture to evolve.
  • Recruit a cadre of professional informants.
  • Recruit language specialists.
  • Hold the peripheral people accountable; accountants and lawyers who enabled the concealment of finances or otherwise engaged in and supporting the schemes.
  • Build more prisons, you will need them to keep the criminals off the streets.

New York methods
So, how did New York manage to successfully curb organized crime in the city? Here is how Callus described some of their most effective methods:

  • When a violent incident occurs in a gang-controlled area or by a known gang member, flood that zone. Assign a task force of uniformed police officers to secure to the turf where the offending gang is known to operate. The goal is to shut down the illegal business being conducted by that gang.
  • Enact a “Zero tolerance policy” in the flooded zone. Stop and interview anyone who does not live on that street. Word will quickly spread that business is closed and this will also force the gang members off the street. These actions will generate intel and deter as well as reduce the gangs cash flow. It sends the message to the gang leaders that violence will no longer be tolerated and it will cost them where it hurts; in their ability to make money.
  • Flooding the zone may also cause hasty reactions by the gang under pressure. This is also commonly known as “tickling the wire”. To capitalize on any effort to temporarily relocate the criminal operation, establish a covert surveillance in the affected area just prior to flooding the zone. The gangs’ movements in haste and under stress gives an opportunity to identify unknown gang members, vehicles and locations of weapons or narcotics.

Catch and release won’t work
Callus also stressed that without a sufficient judicial infrastructure the strategy will fail.  Catch and release will not work, violent actors must be remanded to jail during the adjudication process. This practice eliminates gang member from further violence and usually provides incentive for gang members to cooperate against the leadership.

Finally, he pointed to the fact that Swedes in some areas may have lost their peaceful daily life and that when gunfire and explosions becomes routine, life in Sweden has changed for the foreseeable future:

– This change has been forced on you; tolerance should be rejected. Don’t become a “slow boiled lobster” that gets accustomed to the changes, hold elected officials accountable and demand action, said Callus.