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.

3. Background

Serious organised crime – understood as being groups or individuals working together to maximise the benefits they derive from their criminal activity – has a significant negative impact on the social and economic wellbeing of Scottish communities. It involves a wide range of criminal activity (including drug crime, violence, a range of types of fraud, money laundering, immigration crime, human trafficking, organised theft, bogus workmen, counterfeit goods and cybercrime), all of which involve generating income at the expense of others. It is estimated that serious organised crime costs the Scottish economy up to £2 billion annually (Scottish Police Authority 2013 [11] ), and has a wide range of impacts on local communities beyond financial implications, ranging, from fear, environmental damage, and exploitation of vulnerable groups [12] .

Scotland's Serious Organised Crime Strategy (2015 [13] ) committed to conducting research on the prevalence of serious organised crime in Scotland and its impact on communities. This commitment was made to ensure an evidence-based understanding of the issue and to help develop an effective programme to counter it in order to achieve the Government's strategic vision of a 'safer, fairer and more prosperous country free from the harm caused by serious organised crime' [14] . This research used data provided by COPFS databases and Police Scotland's Serious Organised Crime Group Mapping Project [15] .

The SOC mapping project was established in 2008 and is a collaboration between partner law enforcement agencies across the UK and internationally. Intelligence is gathered on those involved in, or suspected to be involved in, criminal activities such as drugs, money laundering, violence, fraud and human trafficking. Data is collated every quarter from the thirteen local policing divisions across Police Scotland, HM Revenue and Customs ( HMRC) and Home Office Immigration Enforcement ( HOIE).

Groups are placed on to, or removed from mapping via the National Peer Review Group ( NPRG) which meets bi-monthly and is jointly chaired by DCS Organised Crime and Counter Terrorism and DCS Intelligence. The purpose of the NPRG is to provide tactical and operational governance for the management of SOC groups which feature on mapping to ensure that any changes to groups and their status is captured within the SOCG mapping process. The principle criteria for inclusion is the threat score attributed to the group which is identified by applying a threat score matrix to the information and intelligence held by the group. When a group qualifies for SOC mapping via NPRG, all those identified as part of the group (regardless of hierarchy or role within the OCG) are included.

The NPRG are responsible for the addition of new groups onto the mapping system, the archiving of disrupted groups (and therefore removal from the SOCG mapping database) and the transfer of groups (from the existing owner to another division/agency), this can include the merging of one group into another. All SOCG's are mapped across Scotland and allocated to a Lead Responsible Officer ( LRO) and a Lead Managing Officer ( LMO) who devise tactics to disrupt the group and its nominals.

Mapping data is primarily used for operational purposes within the complex system of policing and addressing serious organised crime rather than measurement or analysis. There are therefore limitations to the data which should be borne in mind. These are set out in further detail below.

Aims and Objectives

In seeking to understand more about the extent and nature of serious organised crime, the research aimed to explore the scale and nature of offending of the people who are involved in it, as identified by law enforcement agencies, in terms of who they are, the nature of their offending behaviour and level of seriousness, as well as the degree of harm and impact. One method of doing this is via the analysis of offenders recorded on the serious organised crime database. To this end the research specifically explored the key demographic characteristics of offenders in terms of age, gender, ethnicity and geographical location (local authority) as well as their socio-economic background based on employment status and the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation ( SIMD).

It also aimed to provide a more nuanced and detailed understanding of the wider offending behaviour of those involved in serious organised crime and its impacts on Scottish communities (in terms of the scale and type of offending/criminality), and ultimately contribute to the overall evidence-base which can used to develop more effective programmes to counter serious organised crime. It therefore examined all offending behaviour, i.e. including those that may not appear to be immediately related to SOC.

The specific questions addressed are as follows:

  • What are the demographics of 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 or are there other types of offending that occur?
  • Are there connections between specifically SOC-offending and other types of criminal offending such as anti-social behaviour, violence property crime?
  • What do findings about offending profiles tell us about the nature of SOC offenders?

While useful in terms of furthering knowledge in this area, there are also a number of limitations attached to the methodology, which are outlined below.


Police Scotland provided a list of the offending records of 4,892 individuals (nominals) on the Serious Organised Crime Mapping Project.

A ten per cent sample of these nominals (490 unique accused) were extracted using a random number generator. 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. There were 235 of the total sample (48%) who had committed at least one offence in 2013-14. These 235 accused were charged for 799 offences in 2013-14. Nominals within the sample typically committed 2 offences (median figure) although the number of offences committed by each person ranged from 1 to 26 [16] .

Based on the findings from the 10% sample, the confidence interval is +/- 4.2%. We are therefore able to estimate that between 43.8% and 52.2% of the nominals from the Serious organised Crime Mapping Project) had committed at least one offence in 2013-14. This equates to between 2142 and 2554 nominals.

All relevant information relating to each charge was noted, including details of the accused (age, gender, employment status, employment type) and the charge (crime / offence, date, time, location, locus, legislation, aggravations). Any identifying details were removed in the final report to ensure anonymity.

Limitations of the data

It is important to note here that mapping data is used as an operational tool within the complex system of policing and addressing serious organised crime, rather than for measurement or analysis. Moreover, the data is limited by the intelligence gathered: for example, the Police Foundation recently identified that only a small portion of incidents categorised as organised crime in England and Wales featured individuals who were recorded on the mapping system [17] . This means that numbers may be under-estimated, but also that the emergent characteristics and trends are shaped by the intelligence that is gathered and the underlying definitions and assumptions. However, it is the most robust data available for assessing the criminal offending behaviour of those identified as being involved in SOC. Another important caveat to bear in mind in consideration of the charge data and the impact on individuals and the wider community is that, while offenders were identified as having involvement in SOC, and the purpose of the study was to look at all offending, it was not possible to break down charges related specifically to SOC (because recording practices do not include this within charge descriptions (with the exception of where a SOC aggravation was added in a small minority of cases). For example, charges of vandalism, breach of the peace and motor vehicle offences may be part of wider criminal offending behaviour (possibly indirectly linked to SOC), whereas crimes involving the supply of drugs, and fraud are more clearly associated with SOC and therefore likely to directly involve it directly. It is also important to bear in mind 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, the SOC criminals operating at a more serious level of criminality may be likely to be caught for discrete individual offences, and the sample may therefore over-represent those offenders who are more routinely identified and charged by police. The patterns of offending also reflect the circumstances of the time, and the tactical and strategic priorities of law enforcement for this period. Police Scotland previously 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 more peripherally linked to serious organised crime group activities.

Despite these limitations, the insights mapping data bring combined with other research work in this area, help to build an overall picture of serious organised crime in Scotland and where it fits within a wider profile of criminal offending. [18]


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