Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Crime 101 - Fences - Part 3

Last Tuesday and Thursday we began looking at Fences, and their place in the criminal underworld. At their most basic, a Fence is a person who buys stolen goods from a thief, generally with the intent of reselling them later on. This week, we're going to dig a bit more in depth into the world of fences, and cover some of the "how"s that were left lying around after last week's posts. If there are more questions, a third week may be dedicated to this element of the criminal underworld. Otherwise, after Thursday we will be moving on to another topic - as yet undetermined.

Making Contact
I'm going to start off with the two questions that were asked about how Fences work on Thursday (see, it pays to ask questions.) The first question is how would someone go about meeting a fence in a new city. The answer to this is as vague as it is simple. The ideal way to meet a fence is to be introduced to them through someone else. This can be done through a client, or through one of the thieves that supplies the fence with goods.

This is the ideal way, because it means you'll be met with a lot less suspicion at first. At least if the person who introduces you is trusted. Generally, how it works is the person will bring you around and introduce you. You get a feel for the person, maybe help out with a job or two, and then move from there. Fencing is very much a game of trust, and a fence's livelihood can depend on his/her ability to sniff out someone who is going to rat them out, so you really do want the leg up of an introduction. How you get that introduction is likely as easy as just putting your feelers out there. Surely you know one person who is a bit on the sketchier side. Someone who "has a guy" that helps him get those hot commodity items right at release day. There's a good chance that they, at least peripherally, know of a fence or know someone who knows one.

Now, for investigators finding the fences is easier than your average person on the street. After all, most of the established people on the force, especially in robbery, will already know where a lot of the goods go - even if they can't prove it. You can also just put things together from the people you pull in. This likely won't help you with proving the person is a fence, but at least you'll know where they are. From there, if you're willing to trade favors, you can even have a good source of info on your hands.

The other way to meet a fence? Be in a place where you have control of something the fence wants. The manager for a warehouse, or the buyer for a legitimate whole saler. These jobs put you in a place where the fence is going to want to cultivate and open you up to doing business. Let it be known you're willing to look the other way - for a price - when a truck takes a wrong turn, or a few boxes go missing, and you'll likely have someone making contact to do business very soon.

Position in the Underworld
The other question asked is where Fences are in the Underworld. Much like with the above, this is a weird and varied question. See, there are a lot of different types of fences. The four basic kinds are Professional Specialists, Professional Generalists, Part Timers, and Crew Fences (these terms are my own btw, not anything they've been officially dubbed by sociologists or police to the best of my knowledge). Of those four, you could really boil it down to two very basic kinds, Full Time and Part Time.

Full Time fences are likely to be a bit higher up there. They'll know a bit more, do a bit more, and have more connections. The game is their life and their livelihood, from which they have no real recourse. Part Timers on the other hand are essentially dabblers. They do a bit of fencing here and there, either not as their only source of income, or working for a specific crew of thieves only, and aside from that they don't make much noise.

Beyond this though, a specific level is hard to guess at. The underworld doesn't really have much in the way of official structuring. Sure, individual groups may, but the underworld as a whole doesn't. What it boils down to, primarily (and from how I understand it), is how much power you have. Power, in this case, is either your ability to get what you want without resistance, or -on a more individual level- the dependency the individual has on you. When it comes to the world of stealing, fences have a lot of power. The thieves are dependent on the fences, which gives the fences that power. The thief needs the money more than the fence needs the stolen goods, and that plays into the Fences favor.

Furthermore, Fences will work together to maintain this level of power. It is better for all fences to be above the thieves, and to not let the thieves play one off of the other. As such, when a thief starts to get a bit uppity or more bold, the fences will collaborate to bring the thief back in line. There isn't much a thief can do with a truck full of stolen cell phones if the Fences won't take them. Hell, the thief probably doesn't even have somewhere to store the goods if the fences aren't helping him out.

So, as far as the thieves are concerned, the fences are very high up. As far as a drug dealer is concerned? It doesn't much matter. Depending on the fence they could have more, or less, resources to call on. But those levels of power - the kind respected across boundaries - is very much more an individual thing.

What Fences Offer
So, I've talked a lot about the basics of what Fences do, and above a bit about how they keep control of thieves, but just what does a Fence offer to the thieves? See, despite the collaboration, there is still competition between fences, and keeping control of a particular thief is very much like keeping control of a particular supplier of goods. Sure, the thief may do jobs for the other fences on occasion, but as a fence, you generally want them coming to you first. At least with the goods you like to carry.

So, what do the fences offer? Well, the obvious one is money. However, paying too much for goods doesn't work, because it begins to upset the balance of power ratio. Traditionally, and harkening back to many years ago B.C. supposedly, the standard rate for a hot good is 1/3 the retail value. So, if something is worth $300, the thief gets $100 per unit. Going much above, or below, that and you cause problems. Especially if you do it long term.

Instead, Fences offer a few services. One is jobs, information on what is needed, what can pay, and what the fence is looking for. If a fence likes a Thief, and knows the Thief needs money - or is reliable as a worker - than they'll throw that thief a bit more work. They can't pay more necessarily, but they can give more work.

Another service is socialization. By socialization I mean the way sociologists use it, which is essentially training and teaching. This is more than just showing how to pick a lock, or how to gauge which items are worth taking. It also covers how to live the life, talk the talk, find work, and how the whole system works. This works out great for both the fence, and the young thief. The young thief gets shown the ropes, and taught how the system works - meaning they'll be able to work in the city a lot easier. The fence on the other hand gets to be the person who brings the thief up. This is sort of like investing. You help them out young, and reap the benefits as they mature.

A place to hang out is another thing offered. A lot of times where the fence works there is some sort of social space. A shop front, or something else. This gives the thieves something to do; somewhere to go, between work. You want the thieves hanging out at your place as a Fence, because it makes it easier to give them work and get things. It also makes it easier to get information from the thieves, and give it back.

Finally, at least for what I'm covering, fences can offer legal protection and bail money. Odds are, at some point in time any thief is going to be picked up at least once. When that happens, if they're a good and loyal worker, the fence can swing them some money to make bail, or help hire a lawyer for legal protection. This is the kind of move that can really cement loyalty - something the fence does want - as it shows that the relationship goes both ways. Honestly, think about it. Who are you going to be more loyal to? The guy who gave you some jobs, but wasn't around when you got pinched? Or the guy who helped get you a lawyer, and made sure you posted bail so you could keep working?

Still More...
This post is getting lengthy, so I'm going to end it here. There is probably still enough for another Tuesday on fences, just on further looking into the "types" of Fences and some other things alone. So, I'll leave it up to you guys. If you want me to move on, and perhaps come back to fences at a later time, let me know. If you want another week on Fences, let me know that too.

As always, if you have questions - or requests - let me know in the comments.

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