User Guide to Recorded Crime Statistics in Scotland

Provides detailed information on the Recorded Crime in Scotland statistical bulletin series. It is designed to be a useful reference guide with explanatory notes regarding issues and classifications which are crucial to the production and presentation of crime statistics in Scotland.

21. Scottish Crime and Justice Survey

There are two principal sources of crime statistics in Scotland, namely police recorded crime, published in the Recorded Crime in Scotland bulletin, and the Scottish Crime and Justice Survey (SCJS), a national survey which asks respondents about their experiences of crime. Each source has strengths and limitations, but together they provide a more comprehensive picture of crime and help to measure the extent and impact of crime in Scotland.

The SCJS is a national survey, obtaining responses from around 6,000 adults (aged 16 and over) living in private households.

The main aims of the SCJS are to:

  • Enable the Scottish population to tell us about their experiences of, and attitudes to, a range of issues related to crime, policing and the justice system, including crime not reported to the police
  • Provide a valid and reliable measure of adults' experience of crime, including services provided to victims of crime
  • Examine trends over time in the number and nature of crimes in Scotland, providing a complementary measure of crime compared with police recorded crime statistics
  • Examine the varying risk and characteristics of crime for different groups of adults in the population

Respondents are selected at random from the Postal Address File and participation in the survey is entirely voluntary. The survey is based on face-to-face interviews and respondents are also asked to answer a separate self-completion module on more sensitive issues, including illicit drug use, partner abuse, sexual victimisation, and stalking and harassment.

The estimated number of crimes from crime surveys is higher than the level of crime recorded by the police. This shows that, for many reasons, not all crime comes to the attention of the police. Therefore, a key strength of the SCJS is its ability to capture crimes that are not reported to, and therefore not recorded by, the police. The information provided by such surveys complements the information compiled by Police Scotland, as well as exploring other issues such as the impact of crime on victims, public anxieties and reactions to crime and attitudes towards the police and other parts of the criminal justice system.

21.1 Comparing police recorded crime and the SCJS

Table 21.1 presents an overview of recorded crime and the SCJS, highlighting the strengths and limitations of each source as well as the additional information offered by each. Neither source alone is able to provide the full picture of crime in Scotland. Instead, they are complementary, together providing a more comprehensive representation of crime in Scotland.

Table 21.1: Recorded Crime in Scotland and SCJS compared

Where do the data come from?
Recorded Crime in Scotland

Administrative police records

Scottish Crime and Justice Survey

Face-to-face interviews with residents from a nationally representative sample of the household population

Basis for inclusion
Recorded Crime in Scotland

Crimes recorded by the police in Scotland, governed by the Scottish Crime Recording Standard and Counting Rules

Scottish Crime and Justice Survey

Trained coders determine whether experiences of victimisation in the last 12 months constitute a crime and assign an offence code

Recorded Crime in Scotland

Collected by financial year. Statistics released in an annual publication

Scottish Crime and Justice Survey

Survey conducted annually for each financial year with reference period extending around 25 months. Results previously published biennially, now annually

Recorded Crime in Scotland
  • 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
Scottish Crime and Justice Survey
  • 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)
  • Analyses crime for different demographic groups and victim-offender relationships
  • Provides information on multiple and repeat victimisation (up to 5 incidents in a series).
  • Provides attitudinal data (e.g. fear of crime or attitudes towards the criminal justice system)
Recorded Crime in Scotland
  • Partially reliant on the public reporting crime
  • Reporting rates may vary by the type of crime (e.g. serious crime is more likely to be reported or housebreaking if a crime number is required for insurance purposes)
  • Trends can be affected by legislation; public reporting practices; police recording practices
Scottish Crime and Justice Survey
  • Does not cover all crimes (e.g. homicide or crimes without a specific victim, 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 trends between survey years, especially in rarer forms of crime (such as more serious offences)
  • Estimates are subject to a degree of error (confidence intervals)
What other data are collected?
Recorded Crime in Scotland
  • Additional statistical bulletins published, including on homicides, firearm offences and domestic abuse incidents
Scottish Crime and Justice Survey
  • 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). Reported on biennially

The differences outlined in Table 21.1 should be noted when considering how to use results derived from each source of crime statistics.

For example, police recorded crime results cover a wider range of crimes than the SCJS, and recorded crime data should be used for more local-level crime analysis or where it is important to consider:

  • crimes against victims who are under 16 years of age, living in group residences/institutions, or without a fixed address
  • crimes without a single identifiable victim
  • crimes against commercial or public sector bodies

Recorded crime statistics are largely dependent on the public reporting crimes to the police and, as a result, provide a good measure of crimes that are well reported to the police. A key strength of the SCJS, however, is its ability to capture crimes that are not reported to, and therefore not recorded by, the police.

The SCJS provides information on the characteristics of victims and offenders, such as their age and gender. Information is also collected on their views and attitudes on policing and the wider criminal justice system.

Differences between the two data sources create challenges in making direct comparisons, particularly when assessing trends in crime over time. For example, due to changes in the survey methodology, consistent data is currently only available for the survey since 2008-09, so recorded crime data should be used when considering crime over a longer time period.

Further information on the comparability of the two data sources can be accessed online.



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