Serious Organised Crime: 2017-2018 research outputs

Report collating the findings from the Scottish Government's multi-project phased research programme on Serious Organised Crime (SOC) in Scotland, which was delivered during 2017 to 2018.

The Research Outputs

Community Experiences of Serious Organised Crime in Scotland

In 2017 the Scottish Government commissioned a study to explore community experiences of SOC in Scotland. The study sought to provide qualitative research on the lived experiences of people who have an awareness of SOC in their communities and may have been affected by it. The research was led by the University of Glasgow and the University of Stirling, with further input from the University of Abertay and the University of the West of Scotland. The Scottish Community Development Centre was also an active partner in the research.

The study sought to answer the following questions:

  • What are the relationships that exist between SOC and communities in Scotland?
  • What are the experiences and perceptions of residents, stakeholders and organisations of the scope and nature of SOC within their local area?
  • How does SOC impact on community wellbeing, and to what extent can the harms associated with SOC be mitigated?

The research involved in-depth qualitative research, to understand both direct and indirect forms of harm. Three case study areas were selected, within which interviews, focus groups and observations were undertaken with residents, schools, local businesses, community organisations, and third sector and statutory organisations providing local services. Focus groups were also conducted in the Scottish prison estate and interviews were conducted with national stakeholders.

Public Perceptions of Organised Crime in Scotland

This study involved a module of questions on the Ipsos MORI Scotland Public Opinion Monitor; a quarterly survey carried out among a representative sample of around 1,000 adults (aged 16+) in Scotland. A total of 1,088 respondents were interviewed between 27 November and 5 December 2017. Respondents were asked about both their awareness of organised crime and their experience of organised crime.

Specifically, respondents were asked about their perceptions of:

  • The illegal activities associated with organised crime
  • The perceived seriousness and impact of organised crime
  • Who has responsibility for tackling organised crime
  • The effectiveness of the police in tackling organised crime

Respondents were also asked about their experiences of:

  • Organised crime in the last 3 years, including as a victim and witness
  • Reporting organised crime

This survey repeated questions which were included on the Ipsos MORI Scotland Public Opinion Monitor in 2013, allowing comparisons to be made between years. As well as highlighting findings that were consistent from 2013 to 2017, the 2017 results provided new insights into the ways that people had been affected by SOC, and the relative proportions of those affected.

Serious Organised Crime in Scotland: A Summary of the Evidence

Published in 2017, this report reviewed the existing evidence base on SOC. The review was based on academic articles, government reports and surveys, primarily from Scotland, England and Wales but also a number of European Union (EU) countries. In addition, the report drew on the 2016 edition of the Scottish Multi-Agency Strategic Threat Assessment, an annually published resource which brings together Scottish specific data on SOC from a wide range of agencies, including Police Scotland.

From the outset, the review emphasised that at the time of writing, there is a lack of evidence on SOC in Scotland, not least because of the inherent difficulties in detecting and measuring this type of crime. Nonetheless, in drawing from a wide range of sources, the review is able to provide an overview of available evidence on SOC, and contribute to developing understanding of the phenomenon in the Scottish context.

In particular, findings were presented on:

  • The extent of SOC in Scotland
  • An overview of SOC groups
  • The prevalence and impacts of SOC in Scotland
  • Public perceptions of SOC

The review also highlighted some key gaps in knowledge, with suggestions for developing the evidence base on SOC in Scotland. In particular, the review suggested that further research should seek to explore the reasons why people become involved in SOC; the working of SOC groups (e.g. how SOC groups operate in Scotland and how they are structured); the impacts and harms of particular criminal activities associated with SOC (e.g. cybercrime and fraud); and public perceptions and experiences of SOC (using qualitative methods).

Offending Patterns of those involved in Serious Organised Crime

In 2017, a further study was undertaken to enhance understanding of SOC in Scotland. This research was carried out to provide a greater understanding of the offending behaviour of people who are classified as organised criminals (known as 'nominals') by law enforcement agencies.

The project used information about nominals from the Serious Organised Crime Group Mapping Project (SOCGM) - an intelligence database used by law enforcement partners in Scotland, and data on offending from the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS).

The method of analysis involved looking at all of the crimes that were reported for a 10% sample of people who were classified as nominals in a single financial year (2013-2014). Data were examined to enhance understanding of SOC in terms of those involved and the nature of their offending.

Specific research questions included:

  • What are the demographics of SOC nominals (age, gender, employment status, location)?
  • How much offending is committed by SOC nominals and what types of crimes are they responsible for?
  • Do organised criminals undertake only SOC crimes or are there other forms of offending that occur?
  • Are there connections between specifically SOC-offending and other types of criminal offending such as anti-social behaviour, violence, property crime?
  • What do findings about offending profiles tell us about the nature of SOC offenders?

This study suffered from limitations, mainly as a result of the nature of law enforcement intelligence about organised crime, but still provides an important insight into the characteristics and offending behaviour of those involved in SOC in Scotland.

Further research to build on the exploratory analysis presented is suggested. In particular, it is noted that future research would benefit from the incorporation of appropriately anonymised qualitative indicators drawn from police intelligence (such as an offender's role in SOC and their level of seniority within the group, areas of core criminality etc.).

Additionally, the study suggests that longitudinal analysis of an offender's data and stratification of the sample would allow greater understanding of an offenders' criminal career trajectories over time, and those involved in more prolific and serious offending. Finally, it is noted that it may be beneficial to explore the records of those not reported for any offences to determine possible differences between the groups.



Back to top