Recorded crime in Scotland: 2018-2019

Statistics on crimes and offences recorded and cleared up by the police in Scotland, split by crime or offence group and by local authority.

This document is part of a collection

5. Putting recorded crime in context – A comparison with the Scottish Crime and Justice Survey (SCJS)

The preceding sections of this bulletin contain information on the volume and types of crime recorded by the police in Scotland in 2018-19. As highlighted earlier in this report, crime in Scotland is also measured by the SCJS, a national survey with adults (aged 16 and over) living in private households, which asks respondents about their experiences of crime.

The SCJS and police recorded crime cover different populations and different timescales, and the SCJS does not cover the entire range of crimes and offences that the police are faced with. These and other differences mean that making direct comparisons between the two sources is not straightforward. However, the two sources present complementary information on crime occurring in Scotland, so it is therefore helpful and informative to look at these sources together[10]. This chapter will look at police recorded crime and SCJS findings in two ways:

  • National trends of overall crime captured by Police Recorded Crime and by the SCJS.
  • Comparable crime groups; a grouping of crimes specifically constructed to allow comparison between the SCJS and police recorded crime statistics for a set of crimes that are covered by both sources.

Overall trends - Police Recorded Crime and the SCJS, 2008-09 to 2018-19

Chart 19 highlights the scale of the difference between the number of crimes estimated by the SCJS and the level recorded by the police. There are a range of reasons for this difference, however the main factor is that the SCJS captures crimes that do not come to the attention of the police, and therefore are not included in recorded crime figures. Therefore while the SCJS is useful for estimating the likely range of crime in the underlying population (and the level of uncertainty around such estimates), the police recorded crime data highlights the level of crime with which the police are faced.

Chart 19: Overall number of crimes in Scotland - Police Recorded Crime and the SCJS, 2008-09 to 2018-19

Chart 19: Overall number of crimes in Scotland - Police Recorded Crime and the SCJS, 2008-09 to 2018-19

The 2017-18 SCJS estimated that of the 602,000 incidents of crime, 35% came to the attention of the police. In 2017-18, where crime was not reported to the police, the most common reasons SCJS respondents gave for not reporting crime were that the victim perceived the incident to be too trivial to involve the police (35%), or that the victim felt that the police could have done nothing (24%). Where crime was reported to the police it was mostly because the victim felt that it was the right thing to do (40%) or in the hope that offenders would be caught and punished (31%).

Figures from both sources (Chart 19) show a decreasing trend in the overall level of crime over the past decade, with a more stable position in recorded crime over the past two years. The SCJS 2017-18 estimates a 42% fall in crime compared to the 2008-09 survey and a 16% fall compared to 2016-17, whilst crimes recorded by the police in 2017-18 decreased by 35% compared to 2008-09 and increased by 1% compared to 2016-17 (if the additional crimes of handling an offensive weapon which were introduced that year were excluded).

5.1. Comparing SCJS estimates and Recorded Crime

As noted elsewhere in this report, recorded crime figures are grouped into five crime groups (Non-sexual crimes of violence, Sexual crimes, Crimes of dishonesty, Fire‑raising, vandalism etc. and Other crimes) and two offence groups (Miscellaneous offences and Motor vehicle offences). However the SCJS presents information in two broad crime categories: Property Crime and Violent Crime (outlined in Box 1 below).

Box 1: SCJS Crime Types

Property crime Violent crime
  • Vandalism (including motor vehicle and property vandalism)
  • All motor vehicle theft related incidents (including theft and attempted theft of and from a motor vehicle)
  • Housebreaking (termed burglary in England & Wales)
  • Other household thefts (including bicycle theft)
  • Personal theft (excluding robbery)
  • Assault (includes serious assault, attempted assault, minor assault with no-negligible and minor injury)
  • Robbery

There are a number of reasons that the SCJS crime categories do not match the recorded crime groups: principally this is because the SCJS is a victimisation survey and does not collect data on all of the crimes and offences that the police are faced with (e.g. homicide, crimes against business i.e. shoplifting, and motor vehicle offences). This means that making direct comparisons is not straightforward. Comparisons can be made by examining a broadly comparable subset of crimes which are covered by each source and can be consistently coded in the SCJS in the same way as the police would do. Comparisons are made in the following three broad crime groups:

  • Vandalism (other household crime including motor vehicle vandalism and property vandalism).
  • Acquisitive crime (including bicycle theft, housebreaking and theft of motor vehicles).
  • Violent crime (including serious assault, common assault and robbery).

The following section provides an overview of the level of crime and trends in the comparable subset from 2008-09 to 2017-18. Note that this data does not use the most recent year's recorded crime data in order to allow 'like-for-like' comparison with the SCJS.

This analysis has been extended further in the 2017-18 SCJS report, 'Bringing Together Scotland's Crime Statistics', available from:

5.1.1. Comparable Crime - Overall Comparison

Of the 602,000 crimes estimated by the 2017/18 SCJS, almost two-thirds (386,000) can be compared with police recorded crime (Table 4). The police recorded 130,418 crimes in this comparable crimes category. The extent of overall comparable crime in both the SCJS estimates and the recorded crime figures decreased between 2008-09 and 2017-18 (-47% and -40% respectively). The reduction in estimated SCJS comparable crime from 731,000 in 2008-09 to 386,000 in 2017-18 is a statistically significant change.

Table 4: Comparable crime group estimates (2008-09 to 2017-18)

2008-09 2016-17 2017-18 % change 2008-09 to 2017-189 % change 2016-17 to 2017-189
Comparable Recorded Crime 215,901 131,566 130,418 -40% -1%
Comparable SCJS Crime 731,000 448,000 386,000 -47% No change
Recorded Acquisitive Crime 27,527 18,295 17,867 -35% -2%
SCJS Acquisitive Crime 64,000 51,000 51,000 No change No change
Recorded Violent Crime 82,855 63,246 63,835 -23% 1%
SCJS Violent Crime 317,000 231,000 172,000 -46% No change
Recorded Vandalism 105,519 50,025 48,716 -54% -3%
SCJS Vandalism 350,000 166,000 163,000 -54% No change

9. SCJS changes are specified when statistically significant.

5.1.2. Comparable Crime - by Comparable Crime Sub-groups

This section summarises findings for the comparable crime sub-groups: Acquisitive crime, Violent crime and Vandalism.

Acquisitive Crime

The acquisitive comparable crime group includes bicycle theft, housebreaking and theft of a motor vehicle. In 2017-18, the SCJS estimated that there were 51,000 Acquisitive crimes (+/- 13,000, meaning that the true number of Acquisitive crimes in the underying population is estimated to be between 38,000 and 65,000[11]).

Recorded Acquisitive crime fell by 35% between 2008-09 and 2017-18 and by 2% between 2016-17 and 2017-18. No statistically significant changes were identified in SCJS acquisitive crime across either of these time periods, however this is likely in part due to the smaller sample sizes involved.

Violent crime

Violent comparable crime includes serious assault, common assault and robbery. In 2017-18 the SCJS estimated that there were 172,000 violent crimes (+/- 47,000, meaning that the true number of violent crimes in the underlying population is estimated to be between 125,000 and 219,000, while the police recorded 63,835 violent crimes.

Table 4 shows that the two sources of comparable violent crime data both show large decreases over the longer term, but broadly stable figures since 2016-17. Between 2008-09 and 2017-18, both SCJS estimates and recorded crime violent crime figures have shown a decrease (by 46% and 23% respectively)[12]. Since 2016-17, recorded violent crime has increased by 1%, while the SCJS has found no change in violent crime.


The vandalism comparable group includes motor vehicle vandalism and property vandalism. In 2017-18, the SCJS estimated that there were 163,000 instances of vandalism (+/- 29,000, meaning that the true number of vandalism crimes in the underlying population is estimated to be between 134,000 and 192,000[13]). The police recorded 48,716 vandalism incidents in 2017-18.

There is strong consistency between the SCJS and police recorded crime in trends in comparable crimes of vandalism between 2008-09 and 2017-18 – with both showing decreases of 54% over this period. Since 2016-17, there has been no change in the SCJS estimate of vandalism, while crimes of vandalism recorded by the police have fallen by 3%.

5.2. Conclusion

This chapter has brought together the two main sources of crime statistics in Scotland: the Scottish Crime and Justice Survey and Police Recorded Crime statistics. Although each source has a different purpose, by comparing them where possible we can provide a more accurate picture of current crime levels in Scotland.

The latest results from both sources point towards a downward trend over the long term in overall comparable crime, with a more stable pattern over the shorter term.

Table 5: Strengths and limitations of Police Recorded Crime and the SCJS

Recorded Crime Scottish Crime and Justice Survey
Where do the data come from? Administrative police records Face to face interviews with residents from a nationally representative sample of the household population
Basis for inclusion Crimes recorded by the police in Scotland, governed by the Scottish Crime Recording Standard and Counting Rules. Trained coders determine whether experiences of victimisation in the last 12 months constitute a crime and assign an offence code.
Frequency Collected by financial year. Statistics released in an annual publication. Continuous survey with results currently published biennially.
  • Covers the full range of crimes and offences.
  • Provides data at a local level (and can be used for performance monitoring).
  • A good measure of rarer, more serious crimes that are well reported.
  • Good measure of long-term trends.
  • Good measure of trends since 2008-09.
  • Captures information about crimes that are not reported to the police (including sensitive issues such as domestic abuse or drug use).
  • Provides information on multiple and repeat victimisation (up to 5 incidents in a series).
  • Analyses risk for different demographic groups and victim-offender relationships.
  • Provides attitudinal data (e.g. fear of crime or attitudes towards the criminal justice system).
  • Partially reliant on the public reporting crime.
  • Reporting rates may vary by the type of crime (e.g. crimes more likely to be reported include serious crime and crimes such as housebreaking where recording is required for insurance purposes).
  • Trends can be affected by legislation; public reporting practices; police recording practices.
  • Does not cover all crimes (e.g. homicide or crimes without a direct victim to interview such as speeding).
  • Does not cover the entire population (e.g. children, homeless people or people living in communal accommodation).
  • Unable to produce robust data at lower level geographies.
  • Difficult to measure/detect changes between survey sweeps for rarer forms of crime (such as more serious offences).
  • Subject to quantifiable/non-quantifiable error.
What other data are collected?
  • Additional data on homicides, racist incidents, domestic abuse incidents and firearm offences.
  • Public perceptions about crime.
  • Worry about crime and the perceived likelihood of being a victim.
  • Confidence in the police and the criminal justice system.
  • Prevalence estimates on 'sensitive' topics (partner abuse, sexual victimisation, stalking and drug use).



Back to top