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.

5. Details of the incidents

Charge types: crimes and offences

Of the 48% of the sub-sample who had committed at least one offence in 2013-14, those 235 accused were charged with 799 offences in 2013-14. The composition of these charges were explored on the basis that the 10% sample would provide insight into the total sample of nominal from the SOC mapping project. Based on the 10% sample size, the confidence interval is +/- 4.2%, therefore we are able to estimate that SOC offenders in the mapping project may have been responsible for approximately 8,000 charges nationally overall in the time period.

Information on the type of charges is broken down by crimes and offences employing the standard system of classification used in the recorded crime in Scotland bulletin series (see table 5). "Crime" is generally used for the more serious criminal acts; the less serious are termed "offences". However, this distinction is only made for statistical reporting and does not impact on the police investigation of criminal activity. The "seriousness" of the offence can be analysed or understood in relation to the maximum sentence that can be imposed. Although again, there are limitations related to this, including that how severe sentences are will reflect a range of factors and may not be attributed solely to the harm of the offence itself [38] . A further distinction worth noting, although there may be exceptions, is that the numbers of offences recorded by the police generally tends to be affected more by police activity and operational decisions than the numbers of crimes. Relatedly, practical considerations may influence the number of crimes/offences recorded, with those which are well-evidenced more likely to be taken forward to prosecution. It should also be noted that while the legislation cited was the primary source of reference to categorise crimes and charges, information from the police reports provided additional information.

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 of cases). For example, charges of vandalism, breach of the peace and motor vehicle offences may be part of wider criminal offending behaviour (and relate to proactive policing and attempts to disrupt activity), whereas crimes involving the supply of drugs, and fraud are more clearly associated with SOC and therefore likely to be directly related to SOC. That said, some offences which may seem unrelated to SOC may in fact be indirectly related. Examples include acquisitive crime to support a drug habit, or local violence and disorder that, while not directly related to SOC business, may be related to SOC nominals and a wider culture of violence often found in communities where SOC is prevalent.

Table 6 shows that there is a slightly higher proportion of offence charges (52%) than crime charges (48%). Within the crime charges, groups 3 and 5 'Crimes of dishonesty' and 'Other crimes' account for the highest number of charges. Within these two categories drug related charges (supply and misuse) have the highest number of charges with 171 (44% of all crime charges), shoplifting constitutes the second highest at 58 (15% of all crime charges) and other theft the third highest with 31 charges (8% of all crime charges).

In terms of group 6: 'Miscellaneous offences' and group 7: 'Motor vehicle offences', the table shows that the most common offences within these categories constituted breach of the peace (70 offence charges), common assault (60 offence charges) and unlawful use of a motor vehicle (64 charges). Collectively these offences account for a high number of offences, constituting half (50%) of the total offence charges.

Table 6: Number of charges by crime/offence category

Crime/Offence Group Category of charge No. of charges % of charges
Group 1: Non-sexual crimes of violence Homicide etc. 0
Attempted murder and serious assault 5
Robbery 2
Other 1
Total 8 1.%
Group 2: Sexual crimes Rape and attempted rape 0
Sexual assault 0
Crimes associated with prostitution 2
Other sexual crimes 1
Total 3 0.4%
Group 3: Crimes of dishonesty Housebreaking 21
Theft by opening a lockfast place ( OLP) 11
Theft from a motor vehicle ( OLP) 5
Theft of a motor vehicle 7
Shoplifting 58
Other theft 31
Fraud 9
Other dishonesty 7
Total 149 18.6%
Group 4: Fire-raising, vandalism etc. Fire-raising 0
Vandalism etc. Total 18 18 2%
Group 5: Other crimes Crimes against public justice 25
Handling offensive weapons 6
Drugs (of which 84 charges related to supply and 87 to misuse) Other 6 171 6
Total 208 26%
Group 6: Miscellaneous offences Common assault 60
Breach of the peace etc. 70
Drunkenness and other disorderly conduct 7
Urinating etc. 1
Other 38
Total 176 22%
Group 7: Motor vehicle offences Dangerous and careless driving 17
Driving under the influence 2
Speeding 31
Unlawful use of vehicle 64
Vehicle defect offences 7
Seat belt offences 37
Mobile phone offences 36
Other 43
Total 237 30%
Total 799 100%

Chart 2 provides comparison between the percentage of charges by crime/offence group against those identified as being involved in SOC with the total crimes recorded by the police in 2013-14 [39] in order to assess whether the offending patterns of those involved in SOC differ from the general offending population. This shows that overall, the types of offending committed by serious organised criminals is broadly comparable to the general offending population, with a few notable differences. The highest proportion of crimes for SOC offenders (26%) fall under group 5, 'other crimes' of which drug related charges constitute the highest number. This is considerably higher than the proportion of crimes in group 5 for all recorded crime (8%). The highest number of offences for SOC offenders are motor vehicle related (group 7), which account for just under a third (30%) of all charges and involve a range of offending behaviour, including unlawful use of a vehicle, seatbelt and mobile phone offences and speeding (constituting 71% of charges within this group). This pattern is also apparent for all recorded crime, with a slightly higher proportion in this category (38%). Just over a fifth of charges against SOC offenders (22%) are within group 6 'Miscellaneous offences', a majority of which involve common assault and breach of the peace etc. (68%). A slightly higher proportion (27%) of recorded crimes are miscellaneous offences. Just under a fifth of charges against SOC Offenders (18.6) fall into category 3 – crimes of dishonesty – over half of which involves shoplifting and other theft, which is broadly comparable with the figures for recorded crime.

Only a small minority of the overall crimes/offences committed by SOC offenders fall into the first two categories, non-sexual crimes of violence and sexual crimes (1.4%). Similarly small proportions are found for all recorded crime. A further minority of SOC offending falls under fire raising, vandalism etc. (2%), although figures for all recorded crime are slightly higher (7%).

Chart 2: % of charges by crime/offence group – SOC data and recorded crime 2013/14
Chart 2: % of charges by crime/offence group – SOC data and recorded crime 2013/14

Based on this evidence (and to the extent that these recorded crimes reflect the behaviour and activities of the offender population, as opposed to being a consequence of policing activity), it is clear that the offending of SOC nominals is varied and across the whole offending spectrum. This includes a high volume of 'lower level' crimes, which may impact substantially on local communities ( e.g. antisocial behaviour, vehicle crime, crimes against businesses, as well as drugs crimes). There are therefore likely to be a range of negative impacts and harms arising from the offending behaviour of those identified as being involved in serious organised crime.

Crimes in the first two categories: non-sexual crimes of violence and sexual crime; are comparatively low compared with other types of crimes and offences. However, it should also be recognised that a lot of serious violence associated with SOC is likely to be under-reported (for example violence used as punishment against SOC associates may be less likely to come to the attention of police than that directed towards the general population). Despite the relatively low level of recorded crime in the first two categories, the seriousness of these types of crimes and their physical and emotional impacts are likely to be significant, both in terms of individuals involved and the wider community (for example evidence from the Scottish Crime and Justice Survey showed that victims of violent crime were more likely to express strong negative emotions like shock (50%), fear (26%) or a loss of confidence (16%) than other types of crime) [40] . It is also important to recognise that the impact of crime may also be affected by factors other than the type of crime and perceived seriousness of the offence. Indeed a recent review on what works to support victims of crime highlighted how the degree of impact and ability to cope may also depend on demographic factors such as age, gender and ethnicity as well as socio-economic factors as well as the degree of support available from family and friends [41] .

In terms of the wider spectrum of violent behaviour, common assault charges constitute a relatively high proportion of the miscellaneous offences category (34%). Again, as opposed to violence committed for other reasons (and the relatively high number of charges for common assault may in fact be related to police operations and activities targeting this type of offending in certain areas), a review of the literature on SOC found that violence (including the fear of violence) is an integral part of the operation of SOC groups and can facilitate criminal activities. It can also help control elements of the criminal market and inhibit the reporting of SOC activity, and has a high impact on the wider community and public sector agencies such as health and justice services.

In terms of crimes of dishonesty, 60% of these crimes relate to shoplifting and other theft. When taken in isolation these charges may be considered low level, but can sometimes be part of wider rings of activity and therefore have a larger impact on businesses and the local economy.

The high proportion of drug crime charges (44% of all crime charges) is likely to reflect the fact that the supply and distribution of illegal drugs is a common activity for SOC groups. 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. A review of the literature on SOC found that an estimated 65% of Scottish SOC groups are thought to be involved in the supply and distribution of illegal drugs, and that the total societal and economic cost of illicit drug use in Scotland is considerable (estimated to be just under £3.5 billion in 2009).

Separating drug crime charges into those judged to be 'supplying' and those 'misusing' allows insight into the potentially more damaging (to the local community) offence of 'supplying', where the accused was in possession of large amounts of drugs or involved / suspected of being involved in the drugs trade, than 'misuse' which was related to smaller amounts of drugs more likely to be for personal use (and potentially less damaging to the local community). Examination of these charges showed that a slightly lower number were found to be related to supply than misuse (84 compared with 87). Recorded crime data for 2015-16 showed that there were 3,976 crimes recorded of 'possession of drugs with intent to supply'. There were also high numbers of crimes of drug possession (29,929) [42] . These figures demonstrate the vast scale of drug crime in Scotland and may suggest that the numbers of charges within the 2013/14 sample are in fact relatively small in relation to what is known about drug-related SOC activity. This may be related to some of the data limitations described at the outset of this report.

The high proportion of motor vehicle offences; 30% of the total number of charges is likely to be reflective of police activity and operational decisions more generally and is less likely to specifically relate to SOC activity. This explanation may also account for the relatively high proportion of breach of the peace charges which constitute 40% of the total number of offences contained within the miscellaneous offending category.

A recent review of the literature on SOC and its impacts warned against conceptualising SOC as the aggregate of individual crimes perpetrated against individuals. Rather, it highlighted the range of activities of groups and the complexity of impacts which can be broad, and affect many more people than those directly involved. Wider societal harms can include fear of crime as well as the loss of revenue for public services, and negative impacts on business, therefore a true assessment of harm has to account for impacts that go beyond a straightforward number of victims [43] . Indeed Innes argues that some crimes act as 'signals' alerting the public to the fact that there are problems in the community. Although a crime itself may be relatively minor, it may create social anxiety around the fact that things may get worse, particularly if 'signal' crimes are perceived as not being adequately dealt with. Thus even relatively minor offences can be seen to have a significant impact on community wellbeing [44] .

Aggravations added to charges

Aggravations were added to just under a third of the total number of charges (31%). Table 7 sets out the main aggravations. While the majority of charges had no aggravation added, the most common aggravation was offending whilst on bail, which was added to 186 charges, constituting just over a fifth (23%) of charges overall. A previous study analysing the use and impact of aggravated sentences for bail offenders provides some context for this finding, which found the overall rate of offending on bail across 7 courts was 29% in 2001 and that accused bailed for crimes of dishonesty (with a 40% rate of offending whilst on bail) were more likely to offend on bail than any other group. It also found that men were more likely to offend whilst on bail than women and that younger accused were more likely to offend on bail than older accused [45] .

A small percentage of aggravations were connected to serious organised crime (2% of the overall charges). The aggravation referred to is section 29 of the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010. An offence is aggravated by a connection with serious organised crime if the person committing the offence is motivated by the objective of committing or conspiring to commit serious organised crime. This aggravation could potentially apply to a wide variety of offences, across a whole range of criminal activities connected to organised crime. For example; driving offences, theft, drug offences, assaults (motivated by intimidation or "enforcement" action) and murder. The aggravation can be proved by a single source of evidence. This aggravation will be recorded in the criminal history record, highlighting the connection to serious organised crime [46] .

Domestic abuse aggravations were added to 4% of charges, while breach of undertaking aggravations were added to 1% of the overall charges. Undertakings are issued by the police and involve liberating the accused on an undertaking to attend court on a specified date (usually within one month of their release [47] ). Other offending aggravations were attached to less than 1% of charges.

Table 7: Aggravations added to charges

Aggravation type No. %
No aggravation 551 69%
Offending whilst on bail 186 23%
Domestic abuse 31 4%
Connected to SOC* 18 2%
Breach of undertaking 9 1%
Other offending ** 4 0.5%
Total** 799 100

*Includes duplicate aggravations (for example 3 included bail connected with SOC which was classified under 'connected to SOC')

** Other includes offence against a child, racially and religiously aggravated offending and prejudice relating to transgender identity.

Location of charges by local authority

Table 8 shows where the charges were made by local authority area in 2013/14. Glasgow had the highest number of charges accounting for just under a quarter (24%) of those recorded (194 in total). 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) [48] . The next highest number of charges was in Fife, which recorded 16% of charges (128 in total), followed by Edinburgh which recorded 14% of charges (110). Combined, North and South Lanarkshire recorded 10% of charges (78 in total), while other local authority areas accounted for 5% or less of the total charges (including Aberdeen city, Aberdeenshire, Angus, Dumfries and Galloway etc.). For a number of local authorities, no charges were recorded (including East Dunbartonshire, Eilean Siar etc.).

Table 8: Charges by local authority area 2013/14

Local authority No. %
Aberdeen city 27 3
Aberdeenshire 10 1
Angus 30 4
Argyll and Bute 3 0
Clackmannanshire 1 0
Dumfries & Galloway 20 2
Dundee city 24 3
East Ayrshire 18 2
East Dunbartonshire 0 0
East Lothian 13 2
East Renfrewshire 1 0
Edinburgh, City of 110 14
Eilean Siar 0 0
Falkirk 3 0
Fife 128 16
Glasgow 194 24
Highland 28 5
Inverclyde 4 0.5
Midlothian 7 1
Moray 7 1
North Ayrshire 3 0
North Lanarkshire 40 5
Orkney Islands 0 0
Perth & Kinross 4 0.5
Scottish Borders 0 0
Shetland Islands 0 0
Renfrewshire 17 2
South Ayrshire 15 2
South Lanarkshire 38 5
Stirling 21 3
West Dunbartonshire 16 2
West Lothian 17 2
Total 799 100%

Further breakdown of charges by local authority area reveals different patterns in the types of charges across the three local authorities with the highest number of charges. Chart 3 sets out the percentage of charges by the 7 key crime / offence groups broken down by Edinburgh, Fife and Glasgow local authorities. This shows that Fife has the highest proportion of 'crimes of dishonesty': 35% (mainly accounted for by charges for shoplifting and other theft - 26 of the total 45 charges in this category), whereas Glasgow has the highest proportion of 'other crimes (including drugs)': 30%. The majority of charges in Glasgow within this crime category relate to drugs with a higher number involving the misuse of drugs than supply (40 of the total 59 charges in this category are for drug supply/misuse). Glasgow also has the highest proportion of charges relating to motor vehicle offences (41%). Edinburgh has a slightly higher proportion of miscellaneous offences: 33%, largely accounted for by common assault and breach of the peace charges (26 of the total 36 charges in this category). As well as differences in the profile of offending, these differences may possibly reflect different police activity and operations in different areas and local policing priorities. These patterns also broadly reflect the residence of offenders by local authority, which suggests that offenders may be particularly active in the local authorities where they reside (see table 3 for further detail).

Chart 3 Percentage of charges by crime / offence group broken down Edinburgh, Fife and Glasgow local authorities
Chart 3 Percentage of charges by crime / offence group broken down Edinburgh, Fife and Glasgow local authorities

Locus of offence

Table 9 shows the locus of where the offences occurred. The most common location for the offences was on a road with 262 charges in 2013-14 (33% of total locus). This is likely to reflect the high number of motor vehicle offences. The second most common locus for offences was domestic dwelling with 248 charges in 2013-14 (31% of total locus). This is likely to be attributed to the high number of drug supplying and drug misuse crimes (see table 6). Just over a tenth (13%) were recorded as occurring in a place of business.

Table 9: Locus of offence

Locus No. %
Communication [49] 9 1
Domestic dwelling 248 31
Main street 69 9
Place of business 101 13
Police station 13 2
Prison/Court 21 3
Pub / club 8 1
Residential area 49 6
Road 262 33
Other [50] 19 2
Total 799 100

Day of the week and time

Chart 4 shows the days of the week that the charges occurred. The weekend days of Saturday and Sunday had the lowest number of charges. This is likely to be a reflection of proactive operational police activity with police arrests more likely to be spread through the week in comparison with night-time economy related crime.

Chart 4: Percentage of charges by day of the week
Chart 4: Percentage of charges by day of the week

Similarly, examination of the time offences occurred shows that midday – four pm was the peak time for charges to occur, with just under a quarter of charges (23%) happening at this time (table 10). Again this may be reflective of police operational activity.

Table 10: Time charge occurred

Time charge occurred No. %
00:00 – 3:59 79 10
04:00 – 07:59 34 4
08:00 - 11:59 149 19
12:00 - 15:59 183 23
16:00 - 19:59 123 15
20:00 - 23:59 123 15
Unavailable 108 14
Total 799 100


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