7. Public perceptions of crime and safety
In addition to measuring the extent and prevalence of crime, the SCJS also enables us to understand public perceptions of crime and safety, including how these have changed over time. This chapter presents key findings from 2017/18.
How did the public think the crime rate in their local area had changed in recent years?
One of the indicators in the Scottish Government’s National Performance Framework is the public’s perception of the crime rate in their area. The SCJS is used to evidence this indicator which tracks the proportion of adults who believe that the crime rate has stayed the same or reduced in the past two years in their local area. The baseline year for the indicator is 2006.
In 2017/18, just under three-quarters of adults felt that the local crime rate stayed the same or reduced in the previous two years – up from 2006 but down slightly since the last SCJS in 2016/17.
73% of SCJS respondents in 2017/18 said that the crime rate in their local area had decreased or stayed the same over the last couple of years. The proportion holding this view has increased over the last decade or so from 65% in 2006 and 69% in 2008/09. However, looking more recently, the figure has fallen from 76% in 2016/17 as shown in Figure 7.1 below.
As in previous years, the majority of the ‘less or same’ group is accounted for by people who thought the crime rate had stayed the same (63%). This proportion has increased from 60% in 2008/09. On the other hand, in 2017/18 just under one-in-ten (9%) thought the crime rate had decreased, unchanged since 2008/09. Therefore the improvement in this measure over the years has been driven by more people believing the crime rate in their local has stayed the same.
The proportion of adults who thought the local crime rate had increased in the previous two years has fallen from around one-in-three (32%) in 2006, and just over one-in-four (28%) in 2008/09, to just over one-in-five (22%) in 2017/18. However, despite the positive longer term trend, this figure has increased since the last SCJS in 2016/17 (19%).
Figure 7.1: Proportion of adults holding view on changes in the local crime rate in the last two years
Base: All adults who have lived in local area for two years or more (4,770); Variable: QS2AREA
Whilst views on the local crime rate were generally positive amongst population sub-groups in 2017/18, females and victims of crime were less likely to believe it had stayed the same or fallen than comparator groups.
The SCJS enables us to explore how views on the local crime rate varied by demographic and geographic characteristics. In 2017/18, most adults (generally around 70% or more) across a range of population groups considered the rate to have stayed the same or reduced in the previous two years, although some groups were comparatively more likely to hold this view. For instance, a greater proportion of men felt this way (76% compared to 69% of women). Victims of crime were also less likely than non-victims to have provided this response (62% compared to 74% respectively) – although the majority still felt the crime rate was unchanged or had fallen.
Looking at trends over time reveals improvements in perceptions since 2008/09 across a range of population groups, including for example both males and females, people living in the most deprived areas and elsewhere, and amongst victims of crime and non-victims.
However, in line with the national average, some groups did see the proportion believing the crime rate had stayed the same or fallen decrease between 2016/17 and 2017/18. For example, the percentage of females providing this response fell from 73% to 69%. Full breakdowns and time-series analyses are provided in Annex table A1.11.
Did public perceptions on the national crime rate and the local crime rate differ?
Consistent with findings in previous years, adults were more likely to think the national crime rate had increased than the level of crime locally.
Respondents were also asked about how they thought the crime rate had changed in Scotland as a whole in the previous two years. Consistent with previous survey sweeps, the 2017/18 SCJS found that adults were more likely to think the national crime rate had increased in recent years compared to the local crime rate, as shown in Figure 7.2. This difference is mainly driven by fewer people believing the national crime rate has stayed the same.
Figure 7.2: Perceptions of changes in the crime rate locally and nationally in the previous two years
Base: Local crime rate: All adults who have lived in local area for two years or more (4,770); National crime rate: All adults (5,480); Variables: QS2AREA; QS2AREAS
Perceptions on the national crime rate have improved since 2009/10.
Since 2009/10, the proportion of adults believing the national crime rate stayed the same or reduced in the previous two years has increased from 40% in 2009/10 to 48% in 2017/18. However, this has fallen from 50% in 2016/17.
Adults were also less likely to say the crime rate was increasing in 2017/18 (41%) than they were in 2009/10 (52%), however this proportion has increased over ther shorter term too – from 34% in 2014/15 and 37% in 2016/17. It will be important to monitor these results into the future to assess how public perceptions develop and whether the more recent changes mark a change in the longer-term positive trajectory.
Table 7.1: Public perceptions on how the national crime rate has changed
|Percentage of adults holding view on change in crime rate nationally since two years ago:||2017/18||Change since 2009/10||Change since 2016/17|
|A lot more / a little more||41%||↓ from 52%||↑ from 37%|
|About the same||40%||↑ from 36%||No change|
|A lot less / a little less||7%||↑ from 4%||↓ from 11%|
|Number of respondents||5,480||16,040||5,570|
How common were different crimes perceived to be?
Most adults did not think a range of crimes were common in their local area, and most crime types were thought to have become less prevalent over the last decade.
As well as being asked about perceived changes in the local and national crime rates, respondents were asked how common they thought a range of crimes and behaviours were in their area. For example, respondents were asked how prevalent they thought drug dealing and abuse, anti-social behaviour, violent incidents and a range of property related crimes were.
Overall, the majority of people did not think each individual issue was a common occurrence in their area. Consistent with SCJS findings in recent years, drug dealing and drug abuse was considered to be the most prevalent problem in 2017/18 (from those asked about), noted as being very or fairly common by 37% of adults. Around one-in-eight (12%) thought violence between groups of individuals or gangs was common, with a tenth of adults (10%) believing that people being physically assaulted or attacked in the street or another public place was a very or fairly common issue in their area. Fewer than one-in-twenty (4%) thought people being sexually assaulted was a prevalent issue in 2017/18.
Annex table A1.23 provides detailed results on the perceived commonality of each issue over time. It shows that, for issues where relevant comparator data is available, in 2017/18 most issues were seen to be less common than they were in 2008/09, but figures have been stable since the last SCJS in 2016/17. For example, the proportion of people who thought that physical assaults and attacks in the street or other public places were common almost halved between 2008/09 and 2017/18 (falling from 19% to 10% over this period). Likewise, 22% of adults thought people carrying knives was common in 2009/10, but this has fallen to 12% over the last decade, whilst the perception of people behaving in an anti-social mamer in public has fallen from 46% in 2008/09 to 29% in 2017/18.
How safe did the public feel in 2017/18?
To aid understanding about public perceptions of safety and fears about crime, SCJS respondents were asked how safe they felt when walking alone in their local area after dark. This question has also been used elsewhere, such as in the Crime Survey for England and Wales, to explore similar issues.
The proportion of adults feeling safe in their local area and around their home at night has increased in the last decade.
In 2017/18, the vast majority of adults in Scotland (77%) said they felt very or fairly safe walking alone in their local area after dark. The proportion of adults feeling safe has increased from 66% in 2008/09 and is unchanged from 2016/17, as shown in Figure 7.3. The most recently published figures for England and Wales showed a similar proportion of adults (75%) felt safe walking alone at night.
Figure 7.3: Proportion of adults who felt safe/unsafe walking alone in the local area after dark
Base: All adults - SCJS 2008/09 (16,000); 2009/10 (16,040); 2010/11 (13,010); 2012/13 (12,050); 2014/15 (11,470); 2016/17 (5,570); 2017/18 (5,480) Variable: QSFDARK
Respondents were also asked how safe they felt when alone in their home at night as an alternative measure of perceptions of safety. In 2017/18, 96% of adults said they felt very or fairly safe alone in their home at night, an increase from 93% in 2008/09 but down marginally from 97% in 2016/17.
Feelings of safety have improved across most population groups in recent years, although some groups continue to feel comparatively less safe.
Whilst the majority of adults in all groups felt safe walking alone in their local areas after dark in 2017/18, the proportions did vary amongst different demographic and geographic categories. For instance, as shown in Table 7.2, females, those living in the 15% most deprived areas of Scotland, older adults and victims of crime were less likely to report feeling safe in 2017/18 than comparator groups. However, feelings of safety have improved across all groups considered below since 2008/09.
Table 7.2: Feelings of safety when walking alone in the local area after dark by demographic and area characteristics
|Percentage of adults who felt very or fairly safe walking alone after dark||2017/18||Change since 2008/09||Change since 2016/17|
|Male||89%||↑ from 79%||No change|
|Female||66%||↑ from 55%||No change|
|Aged 16-24||83%||↑ from 71%||No change|
|Aged 25-44||80%||↑ from 73%||No change|
|Aged 45-59||77%||↑ from 70%||No change|
|Aged 60+||70%||↑ from 52%||No change|
|15% most deprived areas||63%||↑ from 52%||No change|
|Rest of Scotland||79%||↑ from 69%||No change|
|Victim of crime||68%||↑ from 61%||No change|
|Non-victim||78%||↑ from 68%||No change|
Base: All adults - SCJS 2008/09 (16,000); 2009/10 (16,040); 2010/11 (13,010); 2012/13 (12,050); 2014/15 (11,470); 2016/17 (5,570); 2017/18 (5,480). Variable: QSFDARK.
Looking at feelings of safety when home alone, although more than nine-in-ten adults across all demographic and geographic categories reported feeling safe, again some differences exist amongst the population. For example, 92% of those living in the 15% most deprived areas reported feeling safe in their home alone, in comparison to 96% of adults living elsewhere in Scotland.
How concerned were the public about specific crimes in 2017/18?
As well as measuring the perceived prevalence of different crimes and general feelings of safety, the SCJS also captures data on how worried the public are about specific types of crime and how likely they think they are to experience them. Whilst the analysis below summarises key findings from the questions on these topics, the results should be interpreted with caution as the impact of ‘worry’ and the perceived likelihood of victimisation will vary from one individual to another. Moreover, it is important to note that even if someone claims they are not worried about a particular crime or do not think they are likely to be a victim, it does not necessarily mean they believe that they are at no risk.
Fraud remained the crime the public were most commonly worried about in 2017/18, although generally concern about different crime types has fallen in the last decade.
In line with findings in previous years, in 2017/18 the crimes (from those asked about) which the public were most likely to say they were very or fairly worried about were fraud related issues. More specifically, 51% of adults said they were worried about someone using their credit or bank details to obtain money, goods or services, whilst 43% were worried about their identity being stolen. By comparison, just under a fifth (18%) were worried about being physically assaulted or attacked in the street or other public place, whilst around a tenth (11%) were concerned about being sexually assulted.
Figure 7.4: Proportion of adults worried about experiencing each issue
Base: Questions on vehicle theft/damage only asked of those who have access to or own vehicle (4,130); all other questions asked of all adults (5,480); Variables: QWORR_04 – QWORR_14
Annex table A1.24 presents the results on worry about different crimes over time. It highlights that the proportion of adults who were very or fairly worried about experiencing each specific issue was lower in 2017/18 than the 2008/09 baseline, but all measures have been stable since the last SCJS in 2016/17.
For example, whilst remaining the issue most commonly worried about, the proportion who were very or fairly worried about their credit or bank details being used for fraudulent purposes has fallen from 56% in 2008/09.
Whilst half of all adults did not think they were likely to experience any crime in the next year, around three-in-ten thought they were likely to be victims of banking or credit fraud.
SCJS respondents were also asked which of the issues, if any, they thought they were likely to experience in the next 12 months. 52% of adults did not think they were likely to experience any of the crimes covered in the next 12 months, up from 48% in 2008/09.
In line with worry about fraud, the crime type which adults thought they were most likely to experience was someone using their bank or card details to obtain money, goods or services, which 26% thought would happen to them in the next year. This proportion has increased from 14% in 2008/09.
To put the perceptions about the likelihood of experiencing fraud into context, one-in-ten (11%) thought their car would be damaged by vandals, around one-in-twenty (6%) thought they would be physically assaulted in the street or other public place, whilst one-in-fifty (2%) thought it was likely that they would be sexually assaulted.
Annex table A1.25 presents these results over time. It shows that whilst concern about fraud and identity theft have increased since 2008/09, lower proportions of adults now believe it is likely that their home will be damaged by vandals, they will be mugged or robbed, or that they will experience violence in a public place.
Across a range of crime types, the actual victimisation rate in 2017/18 was notably lower than the proportion of adults who think they are likely to experience the issue.
Figure 7.5 compares the proportion who thought they were likely to experience each issue in the next 12 months, against the estimated victimisation rate for that crime type in 2017/18. It shows that generally a larger proportion of adults thought they were likely to experience each crime than the proportion who were actually victims of such incidents in 2017/18.
For example, 5.8% thought it was likely that they would be attacked in the street in the next year, yet the prevalence rate for all assaults (including those which happened in public places, but also elsewhere) in 2017/18 was 2.2%.
Figure 7.5: Perceived likelihood of victimisation in next year in context of 2017/18 victimisation rate
Base: All adults (5,480); Variables: QHAPP; PREVHOUSEBREAK; PREVMOTOVVAND; PREVASSAULT; PREVATTTHEFTMV; PREVROB; PREVTHEFTOFMV; PREVPROPVAND.
What was the impact of concerns about crime?
Most adults said their concerns about crime have not prevented them from doing things they have wanted to do.
Following on from exploring worry about and perceptions of crime, it is helpful to consider the impact of such feelings on individual behaviour to in order to help put findings in context. Of those who reported being worried about experiencing some sort of crime, two-thirds (66%) reported that it did not (‘at all’) prevent them from doing things they would otherwise want to do. A quarter (26%) of adults who worried about being a victim of crime said they were prevented from doing things ‘a little’, whilst 5% said it affected them ‘quite a lot’. Only 2% said that it affected them doing things ‘a great deal’ in 2017/18.
Almost three-quarters of adults reported taking some sort of action in 2017/18 to reduce their risk of being a victim of crime.
Figure 7.6 highlights some of the precautions that SCJS respondents reported having done or having in place in the last year to try to reduce the risk of becoming a victim of crime. The majority of adults (72%) reported adopting at least one preventative action in 2017/18, with 28% saying they took none of the actions highlighted.
As in previous years, the most common behaviours adopted by adults were concealing valuables to make them less visible (reported by 39%) and not leaving their home empty or leaving a light on (reported by 36%).
Figure 7.6: Actions taken to reduce the risk of experiencing crime in the last year
Base: All adults (1,380); Variable: QDONE