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About Mapping Criminal Organizations

Analysis of organized crime and criminal violence has been limited by a lack of high-quality data on key attributes of organized criminal groups, including their origins, structure, where they operate, and their alliances and rivalries with one another. The Mapping Criminal Organizations project (MCO) aims to fill this gap for Mexico and develop methods that can be replicated in other countries.

Defining and tracking organized criminal groups is an inevitably complex endeavor. MCO therefore combines methods and sources, from hand-coding data to scraping and processing entire archives using machine learning and natural language processing techniques, to collect and organize data at multiple levels. In its current stage, the project is producing five types of data:

  • State-month data on presence (minor, significant, major), all states, based on hand coding.

  • Municipality-year data on presence (minor, significant, major), some metropolitan areas, based on hand coding.

  • Municipality-year data on presence, all municipalities, based on machine-aided data collection and classification.

  • Group histories tracking the origin, composition, and evolution of criminal groups.

  • Group dyad data on relationship status (allied, enemy) by period.

These elements complement each other. A common core of qualitative research and documented decisions identifies a universe of groups and factions to track through time even as they change names, split and merge, and change affiliations. Hand-coded data helps train and validate our algorithm-based datasets. Automated methods help identify sources and priorities for our hand-coded work.

This project is supported by the Center for U.S.–Mexican Studies at UCSD’s School of  Global Policy and Strategy, the Empirical Studies of Conflict Project, and the Data-Driven Social Science Initiative at Princeton University. It has also received funding from the Mamdouha S. Bobst Center for Peace and Justice at Princeton University.

For access to the complete dataset, methodology, and updates on future releases, please sign up for the Mexico Violence Resource Project mailing list by clicking here.


Patrick Signoret


(Founder and Lead Investigator)


Dr. Patrick Signoret received his PhD from Princeton University in 2022. His research interests include public security, organized crime, development, and Latin American politics. His dissertation analyzes competing criminal organizations and state security forces to explain subnational variation in violence trends in Mexico, ultimately seeking to explain when and how order and peace arises in violent criminal contexts.

Marco Alcocer

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(Co-founder and Investigator)


Marco Alcocer is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Political Science at the University of California, San Diego. His research investigates how government crackdowns affect the activities, structure, and behaviors of criminal organizations, and how, in turn, criminal organizations seek to capture different levels of the government to influence policy and its implementation.

Cecilia Farfan-Mendez


(Field Data Collection Expert)


Dr. Cecilia Farfán-Méndez is head of security research programs at the Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies at the University of California, San Diego. Her research examines when and why drug trafficking organizations pursue additional criminal enterprises, the methods used in money laundering, and their different propensities for violence.

Fernanda Sobrino


(Machine Learning Expert)


Dr. Fernanda Sobrino is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy. Her research focuses on development, crime, and building novel data sets on hard to measure phenomena.

Michael Lettieri

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(Data Analyst)


Dr. Michael Lettieri is Senior Fellow for Human Rights at the Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies at the University of California, San Diego and Managing Editor of the Mexico Violence Resource Project. He contributes data visualization and analysis to Mapping Criminal Organizations in Mexico.

Advisors and Collaborators

  • Brian Phillips

  • Víctor Manuel Sánchez Valdés

Research Assistants

  • Diego Mendoza Mora (2019–2021)

  • Marisol Torres Arroyo (2019–2021)

  • Mónica Torres Zamora (2019)

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