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

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 2020-21. As highlighted earlier in this report, crime in Scotland is also measured by the SCJS, a national survey of adults (aged 16 and over) living in private households, which asks respondents about their experiences and perceptions 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[9]. 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.

Scottish Victimisation Telephone Survey

Due to the COVID-19 global pandemic, all Scottish Government face-to-face interviewing, including the SCJS, was suspended on 17th March 2020. Whilst the suspension came before the end of the 2019-20 fieldwork year, SCJS results of comparable quality to earlier years were still produced ( Due to the ongoing length of the suspension, we were unable to produce results for the subsequent 2020-21 fieldwork year. A telephone-based survey was launched on the 11th September 2020 to fill some of this evidence gap, with findings available at:

The time period covered by the data on experiences of crime included in this report extends over 13 months (from the start of September 2019 to the end of September 2020). Due to various differences in the methodologies used, this is not a like-for-like replacement for the SCJS, nevertheless it does provide some additional information about the extent of crime during the interim period.

Key findings of the Scottish Victimisation Telephone Survey

The SVTS estimates that overall there were 445,000 crimes experienced by adults in Scotland between the start of September 2019 and the end of September 2020.

It is estimated that crime fell significantly after the start of the UK's first national lockdown. Incidents of crime were classified as having occurred before or after the UK's first national lockdown on the 23rd March 2020 (two periods of almost equal length). There was an estimated fall in crime of approximately 35% over this time period.

Around two-in-five (41%) crimes came to the attention of the police. It is estimated that 38% of property crime and 46% of violent crime came to the attention of the police.

Comparable crime

Of the 445,000 crimes estimated by the SVTS, a little over two-thirds (68%, 300,000) can be compared with police recorded crimes (three broadly comparable sub-groups: violent crime, acquisitive crime, and vandalism).

Whereas comparable police recorded crime fell by 5% after the UK's first national lockdown, the SVTS found no significant difference in the number of comparable crimes experienced by adults over a similar period. This suggests that any changes that may have occurred in comparable crime across Scotland during this period, were insufficient to be identified by the SVTS.

Overall trends - Police Recorded Crime and the SCJS, 2008-09 to 2019-20

Chart 20 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. 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 20: Overall number of crimes in Scotland - Police Recorded Crime and the SCJS, 2008-09 to 2020-21*
Line chart showing overall number of crimes in Scotland has broadly declined from 2008-09 to 2020-21, whether using the Scottish Crime and Justice Survey or recorded crime.

* The red bars show the upper and lower estimates.

The 2019-20 SCJS estimated that of the 563,000 incidents of crime (related to property or violence), 40% came to the attention of the police. In 2019-20, 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 (32%), or that the victim felt that the police could have done nothing (32%). Where crime was reported to the police it was mostly because the victim felt that it was the right thing to do (52%) or in the hope that offenders would be caught and punished (34%).

Figures from both sources (Chart 20) show a decreasing trend in the overall level of crime over the past decade. The survey finds the volume of crime in Scotland, including incidents not reported to the police, has fallen by 46% over the last decade or so – from an estimated 1,045,000 incidents in 2008-09 to 563,000 in 2019-20. The amount of overall crime has remained stable compared to the last survey in 2018-19.

Similarly, crimes recorded by the police in 2019-20 decreased by 35% compared to 2008-09 and remained stable compared to 2018-19.

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 Figure 2 below).

Figure 2: SCJS Crime Types

Property 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)

Violent crime

  • 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 2019-20. 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 2019-20 SCJS report, ‘Bringing Together Scotland's Crime Statistics’, available from:

Comparable Crime - Overall Comparison

Of the 563,000 crimes estimated by the 2019-20 SCJS, around two-thirds (379,000) can be compared with police recorded crimes (Figure 4). The police recorded 124,496 crimes and offences in the comparable sub-set, representing approximately one third (33%) of the number of crimes in the SCJS comparable sub-set. The extent of overall comparable crime in both the SCJS estimates and the recorded crime figures decreased between 2008-09 and 2019-20 (by 48% and 42% respectively). The reduction in estimated SCJS comparable crime from 731,000 in 2008-09 to 379,000 in 2019-20 is a statistically significant change.

Figure 3: Comparable crime group estimates, 2008-09 to 2019-20
2008-09 2018-19 2019-20 % change 2008-09 to 2019-209 % change 2018-19 to 2019-209
Comparable Recorded Crime 215,901 125,953 124,496 -42% -1%
Comparable SCJS Crime 731,000 366,000 379,000 -48% No change
Acquisitive crime
Recorded Acquisitive Crime 27,527 16,644 15,919 -42% -4%
SCJS Acquisitive Crime 64,000 46,000 46,000 -28% No change
Violent crime
Recorded Violent Crime 82,855 63,771 63,417 -23% -1%
SCJS Violent Crime 317,000 165,000 194,000 -39% No change
Recorded Vandalism 105,519 45,538 45,160 -57% -1%
SCJS Vandalism 350,000 155,000 139,000 -60% No change

9 SCJS changes are specified when statistically significant.

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 2019-20, the SCJS estimated that there were 46,000 acquisitive crimes (+/- 11,000, meaning that the true number of acquisitive crimes experienced by the population is estimated to be between 35,000 and 57,000[10]). The police recorded 15,919 acquisitive crimes in 2019-20.

Both SCJS estimates and recorded acquisitive crime figures decreased between 2008-09 and 2019-20 (by 28% and 42% respectively). Since 2018-19 police recorded acquisitive crime has decreased by 4%, while the SCJS found no change in acquisitive crime. This is likely to be due in part to the smaller sample sizes involved, which means it can be more challenging to identify significant changes between adjacent survey years.

Violent crime

Violent comparable crime includes serious assault, minor assault[11] and robbery. In 2019-20 the SCJS estimated that there were 194,000 violent crimes[12] (+/- 47,000, meaning that the true number of violent crimes experienced by the population is estimated to be between 147,000 and 242,000), while the police recorded 63,417 violent crimes.

Figure 3 shows that the two sources of comparable violent crime data both show large decreases over the longer term, but broadly stable figures since 2018-19. Between 2008-09 and 2019-20, both SCJS estimates and police recorded violent crime figures have shown a decrease (by 39% and 23% respectively). Since 2018-19, comparable police recorded violent crime has shown a small decrease (-1%), while the SCJS has found no change in violent crime.


The vandalism comparable crime group includes motor vehicle vandalism and property vandalism. In 2019-20, the SCJS estimated that there were 139,000 instances of vandalism (+/- 23,000, meaning that the true number of vandalism crimes experienced by the population is estimated to be between 117,000 and 162,000). (Note: these are rounded figures.) The police recorded 45,160 vandalism crimes in 2019-20.

The trends in comparable crimes of vandalism across both the SCJS and police recorded crime between 2008-09 and 2019-20 are very similar – with the SCJS showing a decrease of 60% and police recorded crime showing a decrease of 57%. Since 2018-19, there has been no change in the SCJS estimate of vandalism, while crimes of vandalism recorded by the police have fallen by 1%.


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.

Figure 4: 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. Survey conducted annually for each financial year with reference period extending over 25 months. Results previously published biennially, now annually.
  • 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).
  • Less able 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).
  • Estimates subject to a degree of error (confidence intervals).
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).



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