Crime and Criminal Justice Research Findings No. 33
The Police and Public in Scotland:
An analysis of data from the British and
Scottish Crime Surveys 1982-1996
Chris Hale and Steve Uglow, Kent Criminal Justice Centre, University of Kent
This research examines trends between 1982 and 1996 in Scotland in the public's perception of the police and of the services that they provide. It draws on data from: the Scottish responses to the 1982 and 1988 British Crime Surveys (BCS) and the 1993 and 1996 Scottish Crime Surveys (SCS).
- The probability of reporting an SCS comparable crime (i.e. crimes reported to the SCS which are directly comparable with police recorded crime categories) increased from 1981 to 1987 to 1992. There was a slight decrease in reporting probabilities between 1992 and 1995, but this was not statistically significant.
- Multi-variate analysis reveals that much of the increase in reporting over the period was due to an increase in the perceived seriousness of crimes by victims. This may be due to a real change in the seriousness of crimes, or lower tolerance levels among the general public, or a combination of the two.
- There remained high victim satisfaction with the way that the police dealt with reported crimes, but when changes in offence and victim characteristics were taken into account, satisfaction actually fell between 1992 and 1995. A factor affecting satisfaction is the success of the investigation. However, police behaviour (interest, effort and politeness) is the dominant factor in determining the relationship between them and victims.
- Socio-demographic factors were relevant in predicting a respondent's likely satisfaction or dissatisfaction with local policing services. However the level of satisfaction was also closely related to: visibility (people who had recently seen an officer on foot in their locality were more likely to be satisfied); contact (people who had been stopped by the police when in a vehicle or on foot in the last year, or who had been the victim of a crime, were less likely to be satisfied).
- Satisfaction levels as measured by the surveys only give a partial picture. The public might be generally satisfied with the service received yet have other unmet expectations. Further research should explore whether there is a gap between the service provided and public expectations of policing.
Aims and Objectives
Four aspects of police-public interaction were examined by the study:
- the decision to report a crime
- the victim's satisfaction with the police handling of the case where notified
- police stops of motor vehicles
- public satisfaction with the service provided by their local police
The aims of the study were to:
- identify trends in these aspects
- explore factors affecting these trends
- draw out any implications of the findings relevant to policy development
- make recommendations for policing questions in future sweeps of the SCS
This research differs from earlier studies in two important respects. Firstly, rather than focusing on a single sweep of the surveys, data were pooled from different sweeps to examine trends across time. Secondly, multivariate techniques were applied to the data allowing a more sophisticated analysis. Earlier work has at most considered bivariate relationships but in order to test these rigorously it is necessary to control simultaneously for other theoretically relevant factors. The full report of the study contains details of the methods and results of the multivariate analyses.
As far as possible, data from all four sweeps of the survey were included in the analysis. This provided a large data set, but had the limitation that not all questions were asked in each sweep. For the 'decision to report a crime' it was possible to pool data from all four sweeps. However, when analysing the remaining three aspects, only the data from 1988, 1993 and 1996 were used since to include the 1982 data would have severely limited the range of common questions. Examining data from the three most recent sweeps yielded a relatively rich source of comparable data.
Key findings should be read in the context that the incidence of crime declined markedly between 1981 and 1995 1 (household offences declined by 15%, personal offences by 32%) and the pattern of crime remained relatively static in the period (apart from a 40% increase in car crime and a similar decrease in personal theft).
The probability of reporting an SCS comparable crime (i.e. crimes reported to the SCS which are directly comparable to police recorded crime categories) increased from 1981 to 1987 to 1992. There was a slight decrease in reporting probabilities between 1992 and 1995, but this was not statistically significant.
Despite this overall increase, multivariate analysis shows that the probability of reporting offences with similar characteristics decreased between 1981 and 1987, remained relatively constant between 1987 and 1992 and decreased further between 1992 and 1995 (although again this was not statistically significant).
The most likely explanation for this apparent contradiction is that there has been some change in the characteristics of either the offences or the victims. The study identified the seriousness of the offence and of its consequences for the respondent as the major factors which influence reporting rates. This suggests that much of the increase in reporting over the period is due to an increase in the perceived seriousness of crimes by victims. This may be the result of a real change in crime seriousness or a lowering of the public's threshold of tolerance or some combination of the two.
Victims' Satisfaction with the Police
Simply looking at trends shows no statistically significant change in victims' satisfaction with the way the police handled reported incidents between the years 1987, 1992 and 1995. However, multivariate analysis shows that while the probability of victims being satisfied remained the same between 1987 and 1992, it declined between 1992 and 1995.
Looking at victim satisfaction over the last three sweeps of the survey (which excludes the questions on police handling of the report - in terms of interest, effort and politeness - as these were not asked in 1988) reveals different satisfaction levels between respondents with different socio-demographic profiles. In particular, other things being equal, women, those aged 65 and over and those on incomes over £30,000 p.a. were more satisfied, whereas those who rented their homes in the public sector were less satisfied.
There were also differences in victim satisfaction resulting from the characteristics of the offence (e.g. respondents were less likely to be satisfied if the offender had been inside the home or if the offence had had an emotional impact). In terms of the police response, victims were more likely to be satisfied if the police found out who committed the offence and less likely to be satisfied where they felt that the police had not kept them well informed.
Looking at only the two most recent surveys, satisfaction can be explained solely in terms of perceptions of the police handling of the report and whether or not they found out who committed the offence. The other two categories of explanatory factors (socio-demographics and offence characteristics) became statistically insignificant. Assuming reasonable efforts are made to solve the crime this suggests that good communication skills (in terms of politeness and interest) determine the quality of the relationship between them and the victim.
Public Satisfaction with Local Policing
Although public confidence in the police declined in England and Wales through the 1980s (Skogan 1994), the level of satisfaction with Scottish local policing remained high. After controlling for other factors, the level of satisfaction increased between 1988 and 1993. However, it declined between the 1993 and 1996 surveys.
A significant factor in determining satisfaction was whether respondents recalled seeing a foot-patrol locally within the last two weeks. Those respondents who had not seen a patrol were less likely to be satisfied with local police services. Another important factor was whether respondents had been stopped by the police in the last year, either in a vehicle or on foot. Those who had been were less likely to be satisfied with their local police. Those respondents who had been a victim of crime were also less likely to be satisfied.
Other things being equal, satisfaction increased with age and income. It also varied with gender - women were more likely to be satisfied than men. The unemployed and part-time workers were less likely to be satisfied. In comparison with home owners, those who rented in the public sector were likely to be less satisfied whereas those who rented privately were more likely to be satisfied.
Implications for Policing Policy and Research
On the positive side, the incidence of crime declined and the reporting rate in Scotland remained higher than in England and Wales and indeed than in Europe as a whole. However, against that, the possible trend towards more serious crime (whether perceived or real) and the decreasing likelihood of reporting by victims must be of some concern.
This suggests that research might usefully analyse existing and future sweeps of SCS data to identify those offences which tend to exhibit more serious characteristics and what factors respondents see as significant in assessing 'seriousness'. Information from such research would be of practical value in developing local policing plans and targeting resources.
There remained high satisfaction with the way that the police dealt with crime reports, but there was a fall in satisfaction rates between 1992 and 1995. The key factors affecting satisfaction were the success of the investigation and the police handling of the report. This would seem to indicate:
- the need to explore further victims' expectations of the police when they report an offence. They might be generally satisfied with the service received and yet have other unmet expectations. For example, victims of domestic violence might be satisfied with the seriousness with which their complaint is treated and with initial police action. However, they may well expect follow-through action and the surveys do not enable such expectations to be expressed. This is a matter which could be addressed by future Scottish Crime Surveys and local police user surveys.
- that a review of police training methods on handling and communication with victims, particularly the need to provide information about the progress of their case, might help to maintain current levels of victim satisfaction.
Public Satisfaction with Local Policing
Socio-demographic factors were relevant in predicting the respondent's likely satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the local police services.
However the level of satisfaction was also closely related to:
- visibility - people who had recently seen an officer on foot in their neighbourhood, were more likely to be satisfied;
- contact - people who had been in contact with the police (whether through crime reports, vehicle or pedestrian stops), were less likely to be satisfied with the provision of local policing services.
However, satisfaction levels as measured only give a partial picture. As with victims of crime, it is necessary to explore with the general public whether there is a gap between the services provided and their expectations of policing. These may only be identified by specific questions on those aspects of policing which respondents see as priorities in their local area. Again information of this nature would be of practical value in developing local policing plans and targeting resources. It is the main recommendation of this study that such positive questions should be considered for inclusion in future surveys.
Skogan (1994), Contacts Between the Police and Public (Home Office Research Study 134)
1 The SCS asks about victimisations in the previous calendar year. The 1982, 1988, 1993, and 1996 surveys therefore yield victimisation data relating to 1981, 1987, 1992 and 1995.
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