Presenting official statistics on recorded crime and related topics: consultation

The Scottish Crime Recording Board are asking how the official statistics on recorded crime and related topics should be presented.


1. Scottish Government statisticians produce a National Statistics bulletin once a year on crimes and offences recorded by the police in Scotland. The 2017-18 edition was published on the 25th September 2018[1].

2. Police recorded crime in Scotland has fallen over the past decade, with the Scottish Crime and Justice Survey[2] showing a similar trend for comparable crimes. Over this time there have been larger than average falls in some types of crime, such as vandalism or theft from a motor vehicle - whilst in contrast, the number of sexual crimes recorded by the police continues to grow.

3. The recording of crime by the police has also seen changes as a result of new legislation – and will likely continue to do so into the future. Examples include the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009[3], the Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm (Scotland) Act 2016[4] and more recently the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018[5].

4. It is within the context of this evolving nature of crime, and the legislation that underpins how it is categorised, that the Scottish Crime Recording Board would like to consult users on how these National Statistics are presented. This includes their views on some potential changes in approach.

5. The purpose of this engagement is to ensure recorded crime statistics remain of high value – through their relevance to those who use them, and their capacity to support understanding of the important issues relating to crime in Scotland (alongside other complementary sources of official statistics and research). This process is guided by the Code of Practice for Official Statistics[6], which underpins the production of high quality and trustworthy statistics, that support society's needs for information.

The Scottish Crime Recording Board

6. The role of the Scottish Crime Recording Board[7] (henceforth referred to as the Crime Board) is to ensure the production of recorded crime statistics is accurate and objective, taking into account the needs of both users and providers. It is chaired by the Justice Analytical Services division of the Scottish Government, with representation from Police Scotland, the British Transport Police, the Ministry of Defence Police, the Scottish Police Authority, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS) and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service.

Current approach

7. Contraventions of Scottish criminal law are divided for statistical purposes into crimes and offences. The term 'crime' is generally used for the more serious criminal acts; with others termed as 'offences'. This distinction is made only for statistical reporting purposes, and has no impact on how the police investigate reports of criminal activity. The 'seriousness' of a criminal act is generally related to the maximum sentence that can be imposed. This distinction has been consistently used in the Recorded Crime in Scotland bulletins since publication began in 1983 and, prior to this, in the Criminal statistics publications dating back to the 1920s.

8. A further distinction, although not absolute, is that those incidents defined as 'crimes' within the statistics tend to be based on reports of criminal activity to the police - from victims, witnesses or other parties. Those incidents defined as 'offences' tend to be more affected by police activity and operational decisions.

9. The National Statistics on recorded crime are currently split into the five groups shown below, with two further groups on recorded offences. Annex A presents this information, split by the seven groups, for the past 10 years (2008-09 to 2017-18). Annex B provides the full list of crime and offence types within each of these groups.

Recorded Crime:

  • Group 1: Non-sexual Crimes of Violence (including Homicide, Attempted murder & serious assault, Robbery and Other violence)
  • Group 2: Sexual Crimes (including Rape & attempted rape, Sexual assault, Crimes associated with prostitution and Other sexual crimes)
  • Group 3: Crimes of Dishonesty (including Housebreaking, Theft by opening a lockfast place, Theft from or theft of a motor vehicle, Shoplifting, Other theft, Fraud and Other dishonesty)
  • Group 4: Fire-raising, Vandalism etc. (including Fire-raising, Vandalism etc.)
  • Group 5: Other Crimes (including Crimes against public justice, Handling an offensive weapon, Drugs and Other)

Recorded Offences:

  • Group 6: Miscellaneous Offences (including Common assault, Breach of the peace, Drunk & disorderly, Urinating and Other)
  • Group 7: Motor Vehicle Offences (including Dangerous & careless driving, Driving under the influence, Speeding, Unlawful use of a vehicle, Vehicle defect offences, Seat belt offences, Mobile phone offences and Other)

Developing this consultation

10. In November 2014[8] HMICS recommended an exploration of whether the crime groupings used for statistical purposes remain relevant, taking into account the changing nature of crime and consideration of whether the crime groupings reflect the public's perception of crime.

11. The following year a consultation on Police Recorded Crime Statistics[9] asked users for their views on the broad system (outlined above) used to classify crimes and offences in statistical publications. As 'expert' or 'professional' users, respondents felt that the difference between crimes and offences was clear, and that the continuity of the current system was particularly important for making time series comparisons. It was also suggested that there is room for improvement in the 'non-sexual crimes of violence' category, particularly around serious and minor (common) assault.

12. After that earlier consultation, further improvements were made to the commentary and analyses that provide context to the statistics within the publication. This approach, alongside other work to inform users about the recording and quality assurance of police recorded crime data led to the re-designation of these statistics as National Statistics in 2016 (confirming they meet the highest standards of trustworthiness, quality and value[10]).

13. In tandem with that work, the Crime Board took on responsibility for addressing the HMICS recommendation, taking forward a range of actions which have culminated with the issuing of this consultation. This included commissioning and publishing new research into the nature of violence contained within police recorded common assaults[11] and a study into how crimes are categorised internationally (see Annex F). In addition to this, new research into police recorded crimes of robbery[12], some types of sexual crime[13] and drug possession[14] also provides useful context for the potential changes set out in this consultation.

Structure of this consultation

14. This consultation is split into three parts:

  • Part One outlines the purpose and supporting principles on how police recorded crimes and offences should be grouped and presented in the National Statistics, and the Crime Board would like your views on them. These aim to give the Board a formal set of criteria on which to base the presentation of crime statistics and judge any changes in approach, both as part of this consultation and in the future.
  • Part two proposes an alternative way through which the recorded crime statistics could be presented, using a refreshed set of groups. The main differences between the current grouping structure and this potential refresh are discussed and user views invited.
  • Part Three gives an opportunity to offer any other views you may have on the approach used to present these statistics. The aforementioned study into how crimes are categorised internationally found that no one standard approach predominates and with such a wide range of recorded crime and offence types, the Crime Board recognises you may have other suggestions not included in Part two. This section also discusses recording crime with a cyber-element (i.e. committed online) and how we might present information on this topic in future.

Impact on other statistical bulletins

15. The approach outlined in paragraph 9 for the grouping and presentation of police recorded crime statistics is also used in other publications on related topics – the largest of which is the National Statistics on Criminal Proceedings in Scotland[15]. This presents information on the outcome of court proceedings, including a detailed breakdown for each of the seven crime and offence groups. Similar information on the committing of crimes and offences is also provided in topic-based bulletins on specific areas of police or justice-related activity (for example police recorded Domestic Abuse or Reconvictions of Offenders).

16. To ensure the existing level of continuity between these different statistics is maintained, it is very likely that any changes made to how criminal activity is presented within the police recorded crime bulletin will also be fully reflected within the other statistical bulletins. Statisticians responsible for those other products have contributed to the production of this consultation, and would like to invite their own users to respond if they have any views.

17. In addition to the National Statistics on police recorded crime, Police Scotland publish a quarterly management information report[16]. These reports are produced to demonstrate Police Scotland's commitment to transparency and are based on crime and offence data drawn from their administrative systems, prior to its quality assurance for the National Statistics. Police Scotland plan to reflect any changes as a result of this consultation to the presentation of data within these reports.

Impact on other public bodies

18. Police Scotland is not the only body that records crimes in Scotland. Depending on the location of the incident, some crime may be dealt with and recorded by partner organisations like the British Transport Police or the Ministry of Defence Police. This information is presented within an Annex of the Recorded Crime Bulletin. Furthermore, crimes where the perpetrator was confirmed to be outwith Scotland when they targeted the victim (for example online crime) may instead be recorded by the jurisdiction where the perpetrator was based.



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