Offending patterns of those involved in serious organised crime

This study explores the key characteristics and offending behaviour of people involved in serious organised crime.

1. Executive Summary


This research study was undertaken to provide a greater understanding of the offending behaviour of people who are classified as organised criminals (known as 'nominals') by law enforcement agencies. This categorisation is based on police intelligence of organised criminals and the nature of their activities. It examined the range and nature of offending behaviour, the types of crimes that were committed, and their severity and potential impact. This was to understand in more detail the connections between different types of offending, and the implications of this for how organised crime is understood and addressed.

It was focussed on the following questions:

  • What are the demographics of Serious Organised Crime ( SOC) nominals (age, gender, employment status, location)?
  • How much offending is committed by SOC nominals and what types of crimes are they responsible for?
  • Do organised criminals undertake only SOC crimes or are there other forms of offending that occur?
  • Are there connections between specifically SOC-offending and other types of criminal offending such as antisocial behaviour, violence, property crime?
  • What do findings about offending profiles tell us about the nature of SOC offenders?


The method of analysis involved looking at all of the crimes that were reported for a 10% sample of people who were classified as organised criminals in a single financial year (2013-2014). Data were examined to enhance understanding of SOC in terms of those involved and the nature of their offending. The project used information about nominals from the Serious Organised Crime Group Mapping Project ( SOCGM) – an intelligence database used by law enforcement partners, and data on offending from Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service ( COPFS).

The intelligence data from the police includes only the people who have been prioritised as important from an operational point of view, and this is necessarily limited by the available resources and information that law enforcement agencies have. It therefore does not provide a complete account of all SOC offending in Scotland; not all crime is reported or documented by the police, and the nature of serious crime offending means that it is clearly not always apparent to law enforcement officers, or classified in this way. Also, intelligence may itself be driven by operational activity, and the intelligence picture is therefore uneven. This study therefore refers to SOC solely in terms of how it was documented within the intelligence base at the time (2013-14).

A ten per cent sample of those identified as being involved in SOC (490 from an overall database of 4892 individuals) was randomly selected. This sample was then checked against the COPFS database and where the individuals had offended in 2013-14, each charge was recorded and a brief description extracted from the police reports [1] . Details about the nature of the offending were then analysed and the findings presented in this report.

Key Findings

Just under half of the total sample (48%) were reported to Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service ( COPFS) for crimes in 2013-14. These 235 accused were charged for 799 crimes in 2013-14. To the extent that this sample reflects the nature of the overall population, this finding suggests that there may have been approximately 8,000 charges for the complete population of 4,892 nominals over the same period. Individuals within the sample were typically reported for 2 criminal charges (median figure) although the number of crimes for each person ranged from 1 to 26 [2] .

The average age of the accused was 34, with the highest proportion aged 21-30 (40%), followed by 31-40 (33%). A small minority were aged under 20 or over 61. Of those accused, the vast majority were men (only 11% of those accused were women). Men also recorded a higher number of offences overall than women.

At the time of the crime committed, the majority (54%) of those who were charged were recorded as unemployed [3] . Forty-three per cent were recorded as employed (a small minority were recorded as students or were retired). Examination of employment status revealed that offenders were represented in almost all of the major employment groups, and across a wide range of occupations. This may reflect the dynamics of SOC groups and support other analysis, e.g. according to recent Police Scotland Management Information data, an estimated 66% of SOCGs are involved in seemingly legitimate businesses [4] .

Examination of where the charges were made by local authority area showed that Glasgow had the highest number of charges accounting for just under a quarter (24%) of those recorded. This may be related to Glasgow being the largest population centre in Scotland and also to the fact that an estimated 67% of SOCGs remain located in the West of Scotland (compared with 22% in the East and 11% in the North) [5] . The next highest number of charges was in Fife, which recorded 16% of charges, followed by Edinburgh which recorded 14% of charges.

Combined, North and South Lanarkshire recorded 10% of charges, For a number of local authorities, no charges were recorded (including East Dunbartonshire, Eilean Siar etc.).

Further breakdown of charges by local authority area revealed different patterns in the types of charges across the three local authorities with the highest number of charges. Reasons for this are unclear, but these differences are likely to reflect police operational strategy and activity in different areas and local policing priorities.

Examination of the home postcodes for people who were charged provides insight into the relationship between SOC and different locations. For offender records where postcode was available, analysis showed that SOC offenders within the sample came from 25 local authorities across Scotland, the highest proportion of whom resided in Glasgow, followed by Edinburgh and Fife. These proportions are likely to reflect a combination of factors including the population concentration in these areas, SOC activity, as well as police operational activity. Broadly speaking these patterns reflect the location of charges by local authority, which suggests that offenders are particularly active in the local authorities where they reside [6] .

Examination of postcode data by the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation also suggests a correlation between involvement in SOC and inequality. A high proportion of those accused of criminal offending were recorded as residing in areas characterised by multiple deprivation, although some caution should be attached to this finding as it is may be reflective of police activity in certain areas, and the identification of groups and individuals who are more conspicuous. Nonetheless, a recent review of the literature recognized that while SOC exacerbates inequality, it is also a symptom of it, with a stronger presence in areas that are socially and economically disadvantaged [7] .

Charge data was broken down by crimes and offences employing the standard system of classification used in the recorded crime in Scotland bulletin series. "Crime" is generally used for the more serious criminal acts; the less serious are termed "offences". Examination of charges shows a slightly higher proportion of offence charges (52%) than crimes (48%) and reveals therefore that individuals involved in SOC are involved in a range of different criminal activities, just under half of which may generally be described as more serious in nature.

An important caveat to bear in mind in consideration of the charge data is that: while offenders were identified as having involvement in SOC, and some of the charges are likely to be related to SOC offending, it is not possible to establish with certainty whether these charges relate directly to SOC or not (with the exception of where a SOC aggravation was added in a small minority [2%] of cases). For example, charges of vandalism, breach of the peace and motor vehicle offences may be part of wider criminal offending behaviour (which may, or may not, be a part of core SOC group business), whereas crimes involving the supply of drugs, and fraud are more clearly associated with operational definitions of SOC and therefore likely to directly involve it directly. However, police often charge more minor offending as part of their strategic approach in order to disrupt and proactively deal with offenders/ SOCGs. Developing a better awareness of all the offending behaviour of those identified as being involved in SOC is relevant in understanding how to address it, and reduce associated societal harm.

Examination of offending data shows that, SOC nominals are typically involved in criminal activity across all crime categories, including vandalism, anti-social behaviour and motor vehicle crime, which suggests general offending (some of which may be indirectly connected to SOC), as well as potential specialist offending for this group. Motor vehicle offences (group 7) account for the highest proportion of all charges (30%) and involve a range of offending behaviours including unlawful use of a vehicle, seatbelt and mobile phone offences and speeding (constituting 71% of charges within this group). Just over a quarter of charges (26%) fall under group 5: 'other crimes' of which drug related charges constitute the highest number (82% of charges within this group). Indeed a quarter (25%) of those identified as involved in SOC activity who had offended in 2013-14 faced drug crime (either supply or misuse) charges.

Just over a fifth of charges (22%) are within group 6 'Miscellaneous offences'; the majority of which involve common assault and breach of the peace etc. A slightly smaller proportion of charges (18.6%) fall into category 3 – crimes of dishonesty – over half of which involve shoplifting and other theft.

Only a small minority of the overall crimes/offences fall into the first two categories, non-sexual crimes of violence and sexual crimes (1.4%).

Examination of recorded crime data for the same period to assess whether the offending patterns of those involved in SOC differ from the general offending population shows that a relatively high proportion of crimes for SOC offenders (26%) fall under group 5, 'other crimes' of which drug related charges constitute the highest number [8] . This is considerably higher than the proportion of crimes in group 5 for all recorded crime (8%) and is likely attributable to the higher proportion of drug related offences committed by serious organised criminals [9] . Otherwise, offending patterns are broadly comparable, albeit with higher proportions of charges recorded in the general offending population for group 6, 'miscellaneous offences' and group 7 'motor vehicle offences'.


Based on this evidence, and to the extent that these recorded crimes reflect the behaviour and activities of the people who were studied (as opposed to being a consequence of policing activity), this would suggest that the impact of the behaviour of organised criminals is not isolated to the crimes they commit, within a narrow definition of organised criminal offending. Indeed offending data suggests that there are likely to be a range of negative impacts and harms arising from the criminal activity of those identified as being involved in serious organised crime, including anti-social behaviour, common assault, driving offences etc. This involvement in a wide range of offending behaviour may have consequences for both how SOC problems, and wider community safety problems are understood, categorised, and managed, i.e. it may be important to adapt understandings of SOC to include impact at a community level, and its contribution to antisocial behaviour, as well as its effect on community cohesion, fear of crime, and the way in which it might exacerbate social and economic disadvantage. While the nature of offending ranges in degrees of seriousness, it is important to bear in mind the complexity of impacts, which can be broad. Indeed, the wider literature shows that wider societal harm can include more widespread effects, such as increasing and exacerbating societal unease and fear of crime, which may impact on a range of social behaviours in terms of influencing where people choose to live, work and socialise. It may also have adverse impacts on public services and local businesses in terms of financial revenue and reputation [10] .

Analysis of these records provide insight into the characteristics and offending behaviour of those involved in SOC, however, there are a number of limitations attached. Intelligence data from the police comprises those who have been prioritised as important from an operational point of view, information is therefore shaped by the resources available to law enforcement agencies. While helpful, the mapping system presents an incomplete account of all SOC offending in Scotland; as not all crime is reported or documented by the police. The covert nature of serious crime offending means that it may go under the radar of law enforcement agencies, or not be recognised as such. This analysis should therefore be understood in terms of how SOC was documented within the intelligence base at the time (2013-14). During this time, Police Scotland operated performance targets, one of which entailed the arrest of individuals involved in SOC. This may have led to the inclusion of a high proportion of lower-level nominals who are on the fringes of serious organised crime group activities, but it is also important to recognise that police might make decisions to charge people for more 'minor' crimes for the purposes of disruption and in the knowledge that they are involved in larger crimes. Relatedly, more serious SOC criminals are less likely to be caught for discrete individual offences, with less senior members of the group responsible for more routine and riskier forms of offending. Therefore those offenders who are more routinely identified and targeted by police may be over-represented within the sample.

Future research to build on this exploratory analysis would benefit from the incorporation of appropriately anonymised qualitative indicators drawn from police intelligence (such as offender's role in SOCG and their level of seniority within the group, areas of core criminality etc.). Additionally, longitudinal analysis of offenders data and stratification of the sample (as identified on the SOCG map) would allow understanding of offenders criminal career trajectories over time, and those involved in more prolific and serious offending. While this analysis focussed on those SOC nominals who had offended in 2013/14, it would also be beneficial to explore the records of those who were not reported for any offences to explore possible differences between the groups.


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