Recorded Crime in Scotland, 2020-2021

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 bulletin also includes a new chapter which presents an estimate of how many cyber-crimes were recorded in Scotland during 2019-20 and 2020-21.

This document is part of a collection

4. Official Statistics on clear up rates

This section presents statistics on recorded crime clear up rates in Scotland during 2020-21. Whereas the rest of this bulletin presents recorded crime statistics that have been produced as National Statistics (following the then UKSA’s decision to re-designate this information as National Statistics in 2016) – these clear up rate statistics remain published as Official Statistics.

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 the data.

The definition of ‘cleared up’ is noted below. This definition came into force with effect from 1 April 1996.

A crime or offence is regarded as cleared up where there exists a sufficiency of evidence under Scots law, to justify consideration of criminal proceedings notwithstanding that a report is not submitted to the procurator fiscal because either:

(i) by standing agreement with the procurator fiscal, the police warn the accused due to the minor nature of the offence, or

(ii) reporting is inappropriate due to the non-age of the accused, death of the accused or other similar circumstances.

For some types of crime or offence the case is cleared up immediately because the offender is ‘caught in the act’, e.g. motor vehicle offences. In Scots law, the confession of an accused person to a crime would not in general be sufficient to allow a prosecution to be taken, as corroborative evidence is required. Thus, a case cannot be regarded as ‘cleared up’ on the basis of a confession alone. In some cases there is sufficient evidence but a prosecution cannot be brought, for example, because the accused has left the country. In such cases, the offender is said to have been traced and the crime is regarded as cleared up. The other terms in the definition describe the various actions that must be taken by the police against offenders.

Clear up rates are calculated as follows:

number of crimes cleared up in year y ÷ total number of crimes recorded in year y × 100 ÷ 1

Clear up rates presented are rounded to one decimal place.

Crimes or offences recorded by the police as cleared up in one financial year, year y, may have been committed and therefore recorded in a previous year, e.g. year y-1. This means that the number of crimes or offences cleared up are being expressed as a percentage of a different set of crimes or offences, and as such clear up rates in excess of 100% can arise in a given year.

As the number of crimes cleared up in a year may include crimes recorded in a previous year, this is not a perfect measure of crimes cleared up, particularly since this method can result in clear up rates of over 100%. The best method would be to take the number of crimes recorded and the subset of those which have been cleared up by the police. However due to the aggregate way in which the data is currently obtained, it is not possible to do this at present. Going forward, we will investigate any improvement that could be made to the measurement of clear up rates, and will consult with users on any possible change.

Clear up rates for the Motor vehicle offences group are not included in the bulletin since many of these crimes are offences for which the offender is ‘caught in the act’.

A new system of recorded warnings – known as the Recorded Police Warning (RPW) scheme, was introduced by Police Scotland on 11th January 2016. The scheme allows police officers to make greater use of their discretion when dealing with minor crimes and offences, and replaces the Formal Adult Warning system. Some crimes and offences in this 2020-21 bulletin (as with previous bulletins) will have been dealt with by a RPW.

This scheme should not impact on clear up rate statistics as a RPW can only be issued where there is sufficient evidence to report a matter to the Crown (and hence meet the criteria for a ‘cleared-up’ crime or offence). To date there has been no evidence of any impact of RPWs on clear up rate statistics.

Total recorded crime

The clear up rate for total recorded crime increased by 4.8 percentage points (based on unrounded figures) from 51.5% in 2019-20 to 56.3% in 2020-21. This increase is the largest one year change on record, and likely reflects the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on the types of crime recorded. The number of Crimes of dishonesty and Fire-raising, vandalism etc., which have relatively lower clear up rates, fell much more in 2020-21 than Non-sexual crimes of violence and Sexual Crimes, which have relatively higher clear up rates. Further to this, the volume of Other Crimes recorded in 2020-21 (which traditionally have the highest clear up rates) increased by 10%.

Prior to 2020-21, clear up rates had been relatively stable over the last decade following a generally upward trend since 1976, the first year for which comparable clear up rates are available, as shown by Chart 19 below (Table 3).

There now follows an analysis of clear up rates by crime group. It should be noted that rates of over 100% can occur when crimes are cleared up in a different reporting period to the year in which they were recorded.

Chart 19: Clear up rates for crimes recorded by the police by crime group, 1976 1 to 1994 then 1995-96 to 2020-21
Line chart showing police clear-up rates from 1976 to 1994 and from 1995-96 to 2020-21 across Total crime and the five groups. Total crime has generally risen from 30% to 50%. Other crimes has the highest clear-up rate, but overall declines from almost 100% to around 90%. Sexual crimes has varied between around 60% to 80%, initially rising and then falling. Non-sexual crimes of violence has increased from around 40% to 70%. Crimes of dishonesty has broadly risen from around 30% to 40%. Fire-raising, vandalism etc. has the lowest clear-up rates, between 20% and 30%, but also broadly rises.

1 Comparable clear up rates for the present crime groups are not available prior to 1976.

Non-sexual crimes of violence

The clear up rate for Non-sexual crimes of violence increased by 0.7 percentage points from 71.7% in 2019-20 to 72.4% in 2020-21.

Between 2019-20 and 2020-21, clear up rates for Homicide etc. decreased by 0.3 percentage points from 98.3% to 98.0%. Clear up rates for Attempted murder and serious assault increased over the same period, from 77.2% to 79.9%. Clear up rates for Robbery increased by 8.9 percentage points from 70.5% to 79.4%, whilst clear up rates for Other violence fell by 8.6 percentage points from 60.6% to 52.0%. Clear up rates for crimes under the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018 increased by 4.2 percentage points from 68.9% in 2019-20 to 73.1% in 2020-21, the first year for which there is a comparison.

Sexual crimes

The clear up rate for Sexual crimes increased by 2.2 percentage points in 2020-21, from 56.3% to 58.4%. (Note: the difference is calculated prior to rounding.)

Clear up rates for Rape and attempted rape increased by 6.0 percentage points, from 53.1% to 59.1%. The rate for Sexual assault rose 5.0 percentage points from 55.3% to 60.3%. Clear up rates for Other sexual crimes and Crimes associated with prostitution both decreased, from 58.0% to 57.0% and from 76.2% to 60.7% respectively.

Crimes of dishonesty

The clear up rate for Crimes of dishonesty increased by 0.8 percentage points in 2020-21, from 37.1% to 37.9%. Despite slight fluctuation year to year, this clear up rate has remained relatively stable over the ten year period since 2011-12.

Clear up rates increased for all categories except Shoplifting and Fraud, which experienced decreases of 0.6 and 5.7 percentage points respectively.

Fire-raising, vandalism etc.

The clear up rate for Fire-raising, vandalism etc. increased by 4.9 percentage points in 2020-21, from 26.6% to 31.5%. Crimes of Fire-raising, vandalism etc. consistently have the lowest clear up rate of the five crime groups, although there have been consistent increases since 2014-15.

The clear up rate for Fire-raising increased by 3.0 percentage points between 2019-20 and 2020-21, while the rate for Vandalism etc. increased by 5.1 percentage points.

Other crimes

Clear up rates for Other crimes were previously closer to 100% since these consist of many crimes for which someone is ‘caught in the act’, however there was a consistent decrease in clear up rates between 2013-14 and 2018-19. The clear up rate for Other crimes has increased over the past two years, including an increase of 1.3 percentage points in 2020-21, from 90.9% to 92.2%.

All categories within Other crimes experienced an increase between 2019-20 and 2020-21.

Coronavirus restrictions crimes

Police Scotland have used a bespoke data collection to capture information on the number of new crimes recorded under coronavirus related legislation and as a result it has not been possible to obtain information on the number of Coronavirus restrictions crimes which have been cleared up. These crimes are therefore not included in the clear up rate analysis. It is likely that the vast majority of these crimes were cleared up since many of these crimes are offences for which the offender is ‘caught in the act’ (similar to Motor vehicle offences).



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