Recorded crime in Scotland 2017-2018

This bulletin presents statistics on crimes and offences recorded and cleared up by the police in Scotland, disaggregated by crime/offence group and by local authority.

2. Background

2.1. Statistics on recorded crimes and offences inform the Scottish Government’s Justice Vision and Priorities. Available via the following link:

2.2. These statistics are also used by a wide range of stakeholders. Further information on users and uses of the statistics is available in Annex 4 of this bulletin as well as in the User Guide to Recorded Crime Statistics in Scotland, available via the following link:

2.3. The ‘Recorded Crime in Scotland’ annual statistical bulletin forms part of a series of bulletins produced by the Scottish Government on the criminal justice system, which can be found at:

2.4. 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; the less serious are termed "offences". The distinction is made only for statistical reporting purposes and has no impact on how the police investigate reports of criminal activity. The "seriousness" of the offence 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 publication dating back to the 1920s.

A further distinction, although not absolute, 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.

Crimes relate to Groups 1 to 5: Offences relate to Groups 6 to 7:
  • Non-sexual crimes of violence,
  • Miscellaneous offences, and
  • Sexual crimes,
  • Motor vehicle offences.
  • Crimes of dishonesty,
  • Fire-raising, vandalism etc., and
  • Other crimes.

For further information on crime and offence groups, see Chapter 8.

2.5. In general, this statistical bulletin covers the ten year period from 2008-09 to 2017-18, the entirety of which is subject to the Scottish Crime Recording Standard (SCRS) introduced in 2004-05. The SCRS has helped maintain a consistent approach to recording crime and is maintained and developed by the Scottish Crime Recording Board. A copy of the manual can be accessed from the Board’s webpages:

2.6. Crimes are presented in this bulletin against the year in which they are recorded by the police. Not all crimes are reported to, and recorded by, the police immediately following their occurrence. As such each year’s figures on police recorded crime will include a proportion of crimes committed in earlier years. The basis on which we receive the data means we are generally unable to identify crimes committed in earlier years.

2.7. The Police Service of Scotland (referred to throughout this report as Police Scotland) is responsible for operational policing in Scotland and is held to account by the Scottish Police Authority. The Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012 changed the policing landscape in Scotland, replacing the previous eight police forces, the Scottish Police Services Authority and the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency from 1 April 2013.

2.8. The Scottish Crime and Justice Survey (SCJS) 2016/17 provides a complementary measure of crime to police recorded crime statistics. The survey provides information on the criminal justice system, people’s experience of civil justice problems and people’s perception of crime.

The SCJS also provides an estimate of the proportion of crimes not reported to the police. In 2016-17, it was estimated that 37% of crimes, as defined by the SCJS, were reported to the police.

The survey also provides estimates of progress for two national indicators in the Scottish Government’s National Performance Framework, namely:

  • Improve people's perceptions about the crime rate in their area; and
  • Reduce crime victimisation rates.

Further information on the National Performance Framework can be accessed via the following link:

Additional coverage on the SCJS is featured in the Data Comparisons segments throughout the bulletin, located toward the end of each crime or offence group section. A more detailed analysis on the comparisons between recorded crime and the SCJS is provided in Chapter 5.

2.9. There have been no major legislative changes throughout 2017-18 which impact on the comparability of the statistics.

Past legislative changes, and changes to classifications can be found in the User Guide to Recorded Crime Statistics in Scotland, available at:

2.10. A procedural change was made to how some crimes of handling an offensive weapon were recorded in 2017-18. This has had an impact on the comparability of the recorded crime statistics.

Following discussions between Justice delivery partners, the Scottish Crime Recording Board (SCRB) agreed a change in the recording of crimes of handling offensive weapons (including articles with a blade or point) in public places. 

Prior to 2017-18, statistics on handling offensive weapons in public places only include incidents where the perpetrator did not commit further crimes with the weapon. If they had, the specific crime of handling an offensive weapon was considered an aggravation of the crime it was used to commit (for example an aggravated assault) and would not have been included in the statistics. 

From the 1st April 2017, crimes of handling offensive weapons in public places are no longer treated as an aggravation where they are used to commit other crimes or offences against a person. As such both the crime of handling an offensive weapon in a public place and any crime or offence committed with it are now both included in the statistics. This change was made to improve consistency between the recording of these crimes and the criminal law. 

As a result of this change, just over four thousand (4,163) additional crimes of handling an offensive weapon were counted in 2017-18. These crimes do not represent a real increase in recorded crime as crimes of handling an offensive weapon were not included in earlier years where those weapons were used to commit other crimes or offences against a person.

Given this, the apparent 2% increase in the number of crimes recorded by the police in Scotland from 238,921 in 2016-17 to 244,504 in 2017-18 is not a reliable measure. A better measure of change between 2016-17 and 2017-18 is to exclude the additional crimes of handling an offensive weapon. When the additional crimes of handling an offensive weapon are excluded from 2017-18, total crimes recorded by the police increased by 1% compared to 2016-17.

This change will also have an impact on the comparability of recorded crime statistics for all other years prior to 2017-18, however the earlier the year selected (for example comparisons with 2008-09) the less influence this procedural change will have when set against the long term changes in total crime recorded by the police and other legislative and procedural changes made to the recording of crime during this period.

2.11. The Office for Statistics Regulation (at the time known as the UK Statistics Authority) published an assessment report on Recorded Crime in Scotland in July 2014. The report stated that the UKSA "cannot at present confer National Statistics status on these statistics". A range of actions have been taken forward by the Scottish Government and others to meet the UKSA requirements (with further information on this presented throughout the bulletin – including in Annex 2 on Data Quality). Following this work, the UKSA re-visited the designation of these statistics in September 2016 and concluded that the police recorded crime statistics can again be designated as National Statistics, which means that they meet the highest standards of trustworthiness, quality and public value.

The statistics on recorded crime clear up rates (Chapter 4) will remain published as Official Statistics (i.e. on the same basis as since 2013-14). HMICS will continue to consider the possibility of an audit of clear up data as they develop their programme for 2019-20, with a view to providing the public and other stakeholders with an assessment of their reliability. The Office for Statistics Regulation will re-visit the statistical designation of this information once an audit has been carried out and the Scottish Crime Recording Board has considered any implications for the quality of these data.

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