Research highlights new ways to tackle outlaw motorcycle gangs

Research news

15 April 2024

Key points: 

  • Deakin Criminology experts have examined the inner workings within and between rival outlaw motorcycle gang (OMCG) clubs.
  • The analysis reveals how senior members use lower ranked members to commit crimes, and how OMCG clubs work with rival clubs to carry out offences.
  • The research can provide a blueprint for law enforcement to target co-offending networks of gangs involved in organised crime.
  • Researchers will embark on a three-year Australian Research Council-funded project focused on the analysis and disruption of OMCG crime, working with police agencies across Australia.

Deakin University criminology research can provide clues for law enforcement about the relationship between outlaw motorcycle gang (OMCG) clubs and how to combat gang crime.

The research, led by Professor of Criminology David Bright, builds on previous research by Deakin and the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) that examined the inner workings within and between rival OMCG clubs.

Gangs teaming up and using lower-rank members

Previous studies of OMCG clubs have tended to focus on offending at the individual level, but do not address the question of how gangs collaborate together in crime, or the role that club structures and hierarchies play in setting up these collaborations,’ Professor Bright says.

‘Our research delves into the interactions between club members such as co-offending in criminal activities.’

The research reveals that office bearers – such as club presidents – act as brokers to organise collaboration between rival clubs, using lower ranked members to carry out offences on behalf of more senior members.

‘Lower ranked members are more likely to offend than office bearers. This supports previous research showing that leaders tend to maintain distance from direct criminal activities, so they aren’t at risk of arrest or conviction,’ Professor Bright says.

‘Our findings suggest that office bearers, rather than simply offending less, may play some role in directing or influencing the offending of other members from behind the scenes, while taking care not to become directly involved in crime and risk attracting the attention of law enforcement.’

‘We also found that when lower ranked club members engaged in co-offending with members from other OMCG clubs, they were more likely to co-offend with members of the same rank.’‘

New strategies for law enforcement

The fascinating insights come after extensive analyses of de-identified NSW police records.Professor Bright says law enforcement needs to examine and combat these criminal networks in its efforts to disrupt and prevent illegal activity.

‘Specifically, intelligence agencies and law enforcement agencies should collect data on co-offending within and across OMCG clubs and seek to disrupt connections between some of the key players.’

‘Our results suggest the focus of law enforcement should be on the co-offending networks involved in serious crime such as organised crime, rather than on specific clubs.’

Most OMCG members have histories of offending, including fighting, traffic violations, drug possession and disorderly conduct, as well as more serious violent and organised crime.OMCG clubs are sometimes portrayed as organised criminal groups.

Professor Bright says this is a contentious issue, both for criminology academics and law enforcement.

'There is often an assumption that all OMCG clubs are criminal or organised crime groups, but research tends to find that the reality is more nuanced. Some clubs do appear to operate as organised criminal groups, and some do not. Some OMCG members engage in crime, while others do not,’ he says.

‘This has direct implications for how these gangs are policed. Our work suggests that rather than focusing on all outlaw motorcycle clubs - and all bikies for that matter – police should focus on intelligence collection and focus disruption attempts on the members and clubs that are involved in serious crime.

Commencing in mid-2024, Professor Bright will embark on a three-year research project, funded by the Australian Research Council, focused on the analysis and disruption of OMCG crime across Australia. The project will also involve Deakin’s Professor Chad Whelan and includes research partnerships with police agencies across Australia. The project aims to improve our understanding of OMCG crime and policies and practices that reduce such crime and related social harms.

The research was published in the Journal of Quantitative Criminology.

About Professor David Bright
Professor David Bright

Professor David Bright is Professor of Criminology in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences and the Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation. He conducts research on criminal networks, organised crime, and illicit firearms markets.

  • Chief Investigator on five consecutive Australian Research Council (ARC) funded projects in addition to projects funded by industry and government worth over $3 million
  • Over 70 research publications.
  • Author of Organised Crime and Law Enforcement: A Network Perspective (Routledge, 2021; with Professor Chad Whelan), and editor of Illicit firearms markets and organised crime: Global, regional and local perspectives (forthcoming, Oxford University Press)
  • Research has appeared in high quality criminology and sociology journals, including Quantitative Criminology, Social Networks, and Global Crime.
  • Has experience teaching undergraduate and postgraduate criminology programs at UNSW, Flinders University, and Deakin University
  • Winner of Vice-Chancellor’s Innovation in Teaching Award, Flinders University, 2019
  • Appointed to the ARC College of Experts
  • Registered Forensic Psychologist

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Research shows that lower ranked outlaw motorcycle gang members are more likely to offend than more senior office bearers.

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Research shows that lower ranked outlaw motorcycle gang members are more likely to offend than more senior office bearers.

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