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The Scottish Crime Survey 1993: First Results - Research Findings

DescriptionBy asking people directly about experiences they can provide information which is not available from other sources and offer an important complement to information from statistics of crimes.
Official Print Publication Date
Website Publication DateJanuary 27, 1999
Crime and Criminal Justice Research Findings No.1 (1994)
The Scottish Crime Survey 1993: First Results
Simon Anderson and Susan Leitch
Publisher The Stationery Office
The 1993 Scottish Crime Survey (SCS) is the third in a series of national surveys that have been carried out in Scotland. Crime surveys are now a well established way of collecting information about the nature and extent of crimes experienced by individuals and households. By asking people directly about their experiences they can provide information which is not available from other sources and offer and important complement to information from statistics of crimes recorded by the police.
Main findings
  • Crimes estimated from the SCS rose by only 5% between 1981 and 1992 as against an increase of 52% in police statistics of comparable recorded crimes over the same period. Between 1987 and 1992 police figures rose by 28% compared with a slight fall in SCS estimates.
  • Since 1981, estimates of housebreaking and other acquisitive crimes covered by the survey have risen broadly in line with police statistics on recorded crime, but crimes involving violence have risen much more slowly and there has been a fall in the level of vandalism.
  • The difference in trends between the SCS and police figures appears to be largely the result of a rise in the proportion of survey incidents reported to the police -from 38% in 1981 to 44% in 1987 and 52% in 1992.
  • The SCS estimated that in 1992 just over 1 million crimes were committed against individuals and private households in Scotland. Over 70% of these were crimes against property.
  • For those types of crime that can be compared, only an estimated 39% of SCS crimes ended up in the police statistics on recorded crime.
  • For all types of crime in the SCS, rates of victimisation are lower in Scotland than those recorded in England and Wales by a separate survey in 1991.
  • Although survey crime rates have remained broadly stable over time, roughly 9 in 10 respondents saw crime as a problem in Scotland and there has been an increase since 1988 in the percentage who said they felt unsafe walking alone after dark.
  • Roughly 1 in 10 respondents reported that they or someone else in their household had received an offensive or obscene phone call since the beginning of 1992.
  • Levels of public satisfaction with police performance have remained generally stable, with 7 in 10 respondents describing it as 'very' or 'fairly' good. Roughly two-thirds of those who reported incidents to the police in 1992 said they were 'very' or 'fairly' satisfied with the way the police handled the matter.
This paper presents key findings from the 1993 Scottish Crime Survey (SCS), a large household survey of people's experiences and perceptions of crime, based on interviews with more than 5,000 people (aged 16 or over) throughout Scotland.
This is not the first time that such a survey has been carried out. In 1982 and 1988, Scotland participated in sweeps of the British Crime Survey (BCS), co-ordinated by the Research and Planning Unit of the Home Office. The main difference between the 1993 SCS and the earlier surveys lies in geographic coverage. Previously interviews were restricted to southern and central Scotland, but in 1993 the whole of mainland Scotland was covered, together with the larger islands. To allow meaningful comparisons With earlier surveys, all trend data in this paper are based on the subset of interviews carried out in the same areas of the country previously covered (n = 4261). 1
More definitive statements about the nature or extent of crime in Scotland (for example, in relation to England and Wales) are based on the full sample (n = 5030).
Throughout this paper, the term 'crime' is used to refer to any incident of victimisation recorded by the survey. No technical distinction is therefore made between 'crimes' and 'offences'.
Why crime surveys?
It is now widely recognised that surveys of this kind provide an important complement to the statistics compiled by the police. Not all crimes are reported to the police and, of those that are, not all are subsequently recorded.
By asking people directly about their experiences, crime surveys offer a fuller picture of the extent of and trends in certain types of victimisation. But as well as providing an alternative index of crime, surveys collect important information about the impact of victimisation, public perceptions of crime and policing and a range of related topics.
Limitations of the data
Valuable though surveys such as this are, it is important to be aware of their limitations. As a household-based survey of the adult population, the SCS does not collect information about crimes committed against public or corporate bodies, those not resident in households and those aged less than 16. Moreover; for those crimes covered, survey results are affected by the ability and willingness of respondents to remember incidents and report them accurately. The SCS results - like those of any sample survey - are also subject to sampling error and should therefore be seen not as exact measures but as broad indicators set within margins of error. Finally, although the survey has been carried out in essentially the same way over the three sweeps, it is possible that, since 1981, public perceptions of crime and victimisation have changed, with the result that fewer 'trivial' offences are now reported to survey interviewers.
The SCS does not claim, therefore, to measure the 'true' level of crime in Scotland. For some kinds of crime, however; it provides a better indicator of levels and trends in victimisation than do the police statistics on recorded crime.
How much crime?
The results of the 1993 SCS suggest that, across Scotland as a whole, just over 1 million crimes were committed against individuals and households during 1992. (This figure is arrived at by applying survey rates of victim sation to the total adult and household populations.)
As the following diagram shows, over 70% of the crimes recorded by the survey were committed against property and more than a third involved motor vehicles. 2
Crimes involving violence (robbery and assault) were relatively rare, accounting for 16% of the total. Serious assaults and robbery accounted for only 8% of SCS crime, although petty assaults made up another 8%.

Figure 1 Proportions of SCS offences in each aggregated crime category

Approximately 1 in 4 respondents had been the victim of at least one crime covered by the survey during 1992 and 1 in 20 had been victims on three or more occasions. Such risks are not evenly distributed, however. For example, those most at risk from violent street crime are young men, while those least at risk are the elderly. A full analysis of differential risks will be included in the forthcoming overview report on the survey.
Comparisons with police statistics
Because not all crimes are reported to the police and, of those that are, not all are subsequently recorded by them, there is a sizeable gap between SCS estimates of crime and those of the criminal statistics. This gap is sometimes referred to as the 'dark figure' of crime.
Only certain categories of crime are directly comparable between the SCS figures and the police statistics - namely, vandalism, housebreaking, theft of a motor vehicle, theft of a bicycle, robbery and assault. These categories are collectively referred to as the 'comparable sub-set' of crimes. The following graph shows, for each category, the proportion of SCS crimes which are recorded by the police. 3

Figure 2 Levels of recorded and unrecored crime, all Scotland 19992

For this group of crimes as a whole, only an estimated 39% of incidents reported to survey interviewers were recorded by the police. Nevertheless, this marks a reduction in the ratio of police figures to survey crime. In 1981, for every crime recorded in the police statistics there were 2.7 crimes that went unrecorded; this fell to 2.3 in 1987 and to 1.6 in 1992 for central and southern Scotland.
Reporting to the police
The main reason for this reduction in the size of the 'dark figure' overtime is that the rate of reporting to: the police has risen. Respondents who have been the victim of a crime are asked whether they reported the incident to the police. In 1981, 38% had done so. This has since risen to 44% in 1987 and 52% in 1992. 4 For the comparable subset, 56% of incidents were reported in 1992. 5
Across Scotland as a whole, the crimes most likely to be reported in 1992 were theft of a motor vehicle (98%), housebreaking (78%), bicycle theft (69%) and robbery (68%). crimes such as vandalism and minor theft were less likely to be reported. The main reasons given for non-reporting were that the incident was 'too trivial" or that 'the police could have done nothing'. The continuing rise in the level of reporting is perhaps made more surprising by the fact that a higher proportion of incidents were already reported to the police in Scotland than in England and Wales. As the figure below shows, while reporting in England and Wales has also risen, rates in Scotland have been consistently higher. 6

Figure 3 Percentage of crime survey incidents reported to the police: Scotland and England & Wales, 1981 - 1992

The reasons for this increase in reporting are not entirely clear. However, it may be that the spread of telephone ownership has played a part (in the United Kingdom as a whole the proportion of homes with telephones rose from 75% in 1981 to 89% in 1992). Moreover, a higher proportion of victims are now insured and this may also have affected reporting - insurance cover among victims of housebreaking, for example, rose from 50% in 1987 to 61% in 1992. 7
Is crime rising?
Since 1981, police statistics have indicated a steep rise in the level of crime in Scotland. However, the results of the 1993 SCS (and previous crime surveys) suggest a more complex picture. The graph below shows trends in crime for the comparable subset, with figures for 1981 indexed at 100. 8

Figure 4 Indexed trends in crime 1981 - 92

The total number of crimes recorded by the police rose by 52% between 1981 and 1992 and by 28% between 1987 and 1992. However, survey recorded crime showed a much shallower increase of just 5% between 1981 and 1992, and fell by 1% between 1987 and 1992. This difference appears to be largely a result of the increased reporting described above. The total number of SCS crimes which respondents had reported to the police showed a much sharper rise between 1981 and 1992 (45%), similar in magnitude to that of the police statistics.
The pattern in trends varied considerably between different types of crime, however, as Figure 5 shows.

Figure 5 Indexed trends in different offence groups

For acquisitive crime, survey estimates have risen broadly in line with police statistics on recorded crime since 1981 (indeed the crime survey actually shows a sharper rise). Survey estimates of incidents of violence rose between 1981 and 1987 but fell :back again slightly in 1992, while the police statistics continued to rise. Survey estimates of vandalism fell sharply between 1981 and 1987 and have fallen further in 1992. 9 The police statistics on recorded vandalism, by contrast, show a considerable increase for both time periods.
Since 1987, for the comparable subset, police statistics on recorded. crimes have risen by 28%, compared. to a slight fall in survey estimates. Increases in reporting for crimes involving violence and acquisitive crime (though not for vandalism) again mean that the profile of SCS crimes reported to the police is closer to that of the police statistics.

Trends in crime 1987-92


Grimes recorded by the police

Total survey crimes

Survey crimes reported to the police

Acquisitive crime27818
Source: adjusted Criminal Statistics; SCS 1993 (central and southern Scotland)
To summarise, the results of the SCS and earlier surveys suggest that, for those crimes and offences which are comparable, the increase in the police recorded crime statistics between 1981 and 1992 has not - with the exception of acquisitive crime - been matched by a corresponding increase in the actual number of crimes committed. There has, however, been a marked increase in the proportion of incidents reported to the police and this will have contributed to the upward trend in police recorded crime.
Comparisons with England & Wales
In 1981 crime survey victimisation rates in Scotland were found to be broadly comparable with those in England and Wales. By 1987, a considerable difference had emerged between the two jurisdictions, with Scotland exhibiting lower rates for most types of crime. If the results of the 1993 SCS are compared with those for the 1992 British Crime Survey in England and Wales, it appears that this gap has widened further and that Scottish victimisation rates are now lower for all categories of crime Some care is warranted in the interpretation of these results as minor differences in methodology and the timing of fieldwork may have depressed victimisation rates in Scotland slightly relative to those in England and Wales. However, this is unlikely to affect the general conclusion, given the very large overall difference involved.

Comparison of victimisation rates:
Scotland and England & Wales

Scotland 1992

England & Wales 1991




All vehicle thefts



Thefts from vehicles



Thefts of vehicles



Attempted vehicle thefts



Bicycle thefts



Thefts from the person*






Vehicle vandalism



Household vandalism









Other household thefts



Other personal thefts*









1. Source: BCS (England & Wales) 1992; SCS 1993 (all Scotland).
2. Rates are per 10,000 households, except *, which are per 10,000 adults aged 16+.
3. The broader geographic coverage of the survey in 1993 has contributed to the widening of the gap between Scotland and England and Wales, since the inclusion of Grampian and particularly the Highlands and Islands serves to depress victimisation rates relative to earlier years. it does, however, provide a truer picture of Scottish crime.
Public perceptions of the problem of crime
When asked about the seriousness of a range of social problems 'in Scotland today', a large majority (92%) identified crime as 'quite a serious' or an 'extremely serious' problem. Furthermore, 1 in 2 respondents said that they worried that they or someone close to them would become a victim of crime.
Although almost half the respondents felt there was less crime in the area they lived in than in other parts of Scotland (only 1 in 8 felt there to be more), as the following graph shows, large numbers of people - particularly women and the elderly - said they felt unsafe walking alone in their area after dark.

Figure 6 Percentage of respondents feeling 'a bit' or 'very' unsafe walking alone after dark

The proportions of respondents in central and southern Scotland feeling 'a bit' and 'very' unsafe have increased noticeably since the last survey in 1988 - from 21% and 8%, respectively, to 23% and 18%. However, this has not been accompanied by a corresponding increase in the proportion saying they are 'very' or 'fairly' worried about specific types of crime, such as housebreaking, 'mugging' or vandalism (figures not shown here).
Other forms of victimisation
Although it is sometimes argued that public anxiety about crime is out of proportion to the actual risks of victimisation measured in surveys such as the SCS, it should be remembered that feelings of insecurity - for example, about walking alone after dark - may also be affected by other kinds of unpleasant experiences, not all of which might be termed crimes. This is particularly true for women, 15% of whom reported that they had been 'annoyed, upset or frightened' since the beginning of the previous year by someone following them in the street, 'kerb crawling' them, 'flashing', or making abusive or offensive comments. Among women between the ages of 16 and 24, this figure rose to 33%. In 9 out of 10 of such cases, the 'offender' was male.
Approximately 1 in 10 of all respondents reported that they or someone else in their household had received an offensive or obscene telephone call since the beginning of the previous year.
Satisfaction with the police
Respondents were asked for their views on the general performance of the police in their locality. As the following table shows, in central and southern Scotland the results were similar to those in 1988, though fewer respondents rated police performance as 'very good' than had in 1982.

Views on police performance in area



Very good



Fairly good



Fairly poor



Very poor



Don't know



Source, OCS (Scotland) 1902, 1988; SCS 1993 (central and southern Scotland)
There is, however; a marked difference between age groups, with only 8% of those aged 16-24 rating police performance as 'very good', compared with 24% of those aged over 65.
Of those victims who had reported incidents to the police, roughly two-thirds said they were 'very' or 'fairly' satisfied with the way that the police handled the matter. Again, this proportion is virtually unchanged since 1987.


Central and southern Scotland

All Scotland


Figures in 000s
























Theft of motor vehicle






Bicycle theft






























Theft from motor vehicle






Other household theft 1






Theft from the person †






Other personal theft












1. Acquisitive crimes, housebreaking, theft of a motor vehicle and bicycle theft. This definition differs from that of the OCS in England and Wales: it excludes theft from a motor vehicle and theft from the person because separate Scottish police statistics are not available for these categories. Violence, petty and serious assault and robbery.
2. Survey estimates of crime in 1992 were derived by multiplying victimisation rates by the relevant multiplier for household and personal offences.
3 The category 'other household theft' includes attempted thefts of and from vehicles.
4. Police figures have been adjusted to improve comparability with the SCS - for example, crimes against those aged under 16 are excluded, as are incidents of vandalism against public or corporately owned property. The police statistics of recorded crime shown here are for Scotland as a whole.
† The apparent fall in theft from the person between 1901 and 1987 maybe the result of slight change in question wording between the two surveys.
* No comparable police statistics on recorded crime available.
The Scottish Crime Survey was based on face-to-face interviews throughout Scotland with a representative sample of 5,030 adults aged 16 and over. In addition, quetionnaires were completed by 495 young people between the ages of 12 and 15, the results from which are not present here. Interviews were carried out in March and April 1993 by representatives of the MVA Consultancy, a survey research organisation. Addresses for the survey were drawn at random from the postcode Address File. The survey had a response rate of 77%. Further methodological details can be found in the technical report on the survey.
A longer overview report on the results from the 1993 SCS will be published later this year. This will include more detailed results on a range of topics, including public satisfaction with the police, the impact of crime on both victims and non-victims, and self reported offending behaviour and drug use. Thereafter, the data from the survey will be deposited with the ERSC Data Archive at Swindon and it will become available for secondary analysis by academics, students and other interested parties.
1 This is necessary because lower rates of victimisation in Grampian and particularly the Highlands and Islands would otherwise tend to depress estimates of crime relative to earlier surveys.
2 The category 'vehicle thefts' is composed of thefts of and from motor vehicle (cars, vans and motor cycles), plus attempts. The category 'personal thefts' includes thefts from the person, plus other household theft.
3 Various adjustments have been made to the Criminal Statistics to maximise comparability with the SCS - for example, crimes committed against those under 16 are excluded, as is vandalism committed against public and corporately owned property.
4 Central and southern Scotland only - all Scotland = 51%
5 Central and southern Scotland only - all Scotland = 56%
6 The International Crime Survey provides further evidence that people in Scotland are more likely to report crime to police - indeed, the rate of reporting recorded in the first sweep of that survey in 1989 was higher than that recorded for any other country in either that or the subsequent sweep in 1992.
7 Central and southern Scotland only.
8 An indexed trend shows the ratio of the value of a number at a given time to its value at an earlier time (known as the time-base)
9 Because vandaism is one of the largest single categories covered by the SCS (accounting for 20% of all survey incidents), this fall has an important Knock on effect on estimates of total crime.