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.

6. Scottish Crime Recording Standard and Counting Rules

On 1 April 2004, the Scottish Crime Recording Standard (SCRS) was introduced throughout Scotland. The SCRS was produced by the Scottish Crime Registrars’ Group and agreed by the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland (ACPOS), following research that identified the need to develop a more victim-oriented approach to crime recording (as developed in England & Wales and other countries internationally). This followed on from the National Crime Recording Standard (NCRS), which was introduced in England and Wales in April 2002.

The collective responsibility for maintaining and setting the SCRS lies with the key agencies that produce the statistics, working together on a collaborative basis. They do this primarily through the Scottish Crime Recording Board (SCRB) – for further information, please see the SCRB chapter.

Any reference to ‘crime’ in the SCRS, and in this section, also refers to offences under statute. Crimes and offences are grouped under recognised categories for statistical proposes, with more serious criminal behaviour generally defined as a crime, and less serious as an offence (based on the sentence a perpetrator can expect). For further information, please see the Classification of crimes and offences chapter.

The aim of the SCRS is:

To provide a more victim orientated approach that serves the needs of our communities, and ensures uniformity in crime recording practices throughout Scotland.

The following principles apply:

  • All reports of incidents, whether crime related or not, will result in the creation of an incident report which is auditable;
  • Following initial registration, an incident will be recorded as a crime in all cases if:
    • the circumstances amount to a crime defined by Scots Law or an offence under statute, determined by Police Scotland based on their knowledge of the law and counting rules; and
    • there is no credible evidence to the contrary;

Once recorded, a crime will remain recorded unless there is credible evidence to disprove that a crime had occurred. For further information on this please see the section on No Crime Records.

The ultimate responsibility for ensuring compliance with the SCRS lies with the Chief Constable of Police Scotland, overseen by the Crime Registrars through their audit programme and discharged by Crime Managers on a daily basis. All crime records are subject to the rules set out in the SCRS which are under constant review. Updates to the Counting Rules will normally be effective from 1 April each year.

All crimes must be recorded as soon as reasonably practicable and within a period of 72 hours from the time the incident is first notified. In most cases, this will result in details of the reported crime being submitted to the crime system prior to termination of duty. If no crime is recorded within 72 hours, the reason for the delay must be fully explained and justified within the incident log. In exceptional circumstances, a maximum of 7 days is permitted to take into account situations outwith Police Scotland control.

The SCRS is published on the Scottish Government website.

The crimes and offences data included in the following statistical bulletins published by the Scottish Government are recorded according to the SCRS:

6.1 Recording a crime

An incident will be recorded as a crime if,

  • the circumstances amount to a crime defined by Scots Law or an offence under statute; and
  • there is no credible evidence to the contrary.

The degree to which Police Scotland investigate an initial report from a victim, or person reasonably assumed to be acting on behalf of the victim, to establish whether a crime has occurred or not, will vary with the circumstances of the report. Such investigation may range from questioning over the telephone when the initial report is made, to fuller investigation of the circumstances surrounding the allegation. However, it is envisaged that such further investigations to facilitate the crime recording decision would be the exception, not the norm.

Where officers can identify the persons involved from an image and, on the balance of probabilities, the officer believes that a crime has occurred, an investigation should be considered. If enquiry establishes that a crime has occurred, a crime report should be raised.

Where a crime type has been amended on a crime record, particularly if a crime is being upgraded or downgraded, the rationale must be noted on the crime report to justify the decision made, thereby providing an audit trail.

Where there is uncertainty, the Crime Registrar will determine whether a crime should be recorded and/or the appropriate crime classification.

6.2 Circumstances where a crime may not be recorded

6.2.1 Where no crime has occurred

If an apparent crime related incident proves not to involve criminality, the incident record disposal will clearly depict the circumstances dispelling criminality. If, following the creation of a crime report, subsequent investigation proves that no crime occurred, the crime report will be marked accordingly. A full description of steps taken and the reason behind the change in status will be detailed in the crime report.

Exceptions to this are:

  • where duplicate or multiple crime or incident records have been raised, cross-referencing to the master record is necessary;
  • when investigation has established that the crime occurred outside Police Scotland’s jurisdiction.

6.2.2 Recording on other systems (including conditional offers, self-generated reports, etc.)

The exceptions to the Principles are where standing agreement with the Procurator Fiscal or the Children’s Reporter exists precluding the requirement to raise a crime record; for example, Conditional Offers or Fixed Penalty Notices in relation to moving Road Traffic Offences, where these are not always recorded on a crime recording system, although are recorded on an auditable system for statistical purposes.

All incidents coming to the attention of the police will be registered by the creation of a report, which is auditable. This practice ensures that Police Scotland has all available information to hand when determining possible crimes, and will allow an audit trail to be created for future audit and inspection purposes. Where a report is recorded as a crime initially and does not require immediate police response (e.g. self-generated reports), it is not always necessary for an incident record to be created. However, where the report is not initially recorded as a crime, an auditable incident record should be registered (whether on the Incident System or some other accessible and auditable means).

Self-generated reports are reports generated by Police Scotland themselves and are identified through Police Scotland undertaking proactive policing measures, but can also be brought to the attention of Police Scotland by members of the public. In such circumstances the complainer is likely to be recorded as ‘Procurator Fiscal’.

6.2.3 Unable to confirm details of initial report

Where a complainer reports an incident which initially indicates a crime may have occurred, and where reasonable enquiry has been made to contact the complainer in order to obtain the details of the alleged crime but without success, no crime report need be created. However, the incident must be endorsed with a record of the attempts made.

Where a complainer reports an incident which initially indicates a crime may have occurred and where sufficient detail has been recorded on the incident, a crime report must be raised, even though the police have been unable to contact the complainer to obtain further information.

6.2.4 No victim, witness etc. traced

Where there are grounds to suspect that a crime may have taken place but no victim (or person reasonably assumed to be acting on behalf of the victim) can immediately be found or identified, the matter should be recorded as an incident until such time as confirmation of a crime can be ascertained. Where a crime report is not being raised, the auditable incident record must be fully updated to explain the circumstances.

6.2.5 Public order incident

In the case of a public order incident where, on the arrival of the police, there is no continuing disorder and no specific intended victim, the incident will not be routinely recorded as a crime. Reasonable enquiries should be undertaken to identify specific victims and secure any supporting evidence that would enable further police action in terms of arrest or summons. Where enquiries fail to identify any victim or produce supporting evidence, the incident will remain recorded as an incident only. Where police arrive at a scene and witness disorder, they will deal with the matter appropriately, and where crime is apparent, record the crime(s) as required. Where there is no specific intended victim, and where an officer warns an offender to stop the unlawful behaviour and the offender heeds the warning, and no further action is taken, no crime report is required.

6.2.6 Visual recording systems (e.g. CCTV)

Where officers can identify the persons involved from an image or it is appropriate to carry out further enquiry to identify the persons and, on the balance of probabilities, the officer believes that a crime has occurred, an investigation should be considered and a crime recorded. Where the basis for recording the crime is based solely on visual recording evidence, it is important that the provenance of the recording can be established. It is not the intention of the SCRS to record as crimes all incidents that could be construed as crimes when viewed remotely. For example, where, as a result of events, police officers attend the scene of a disturbance but all parties have left, this should be recorded as an incident only rather than as a recorded crime.

6.2.7 Anonymous reports

Anonymous reports of crime must be supported by corroborative evidence prior to the creation of a crime report. Where a victim’s details are withheld from the police, the circumstances reported will normally be recorded as an incident only until such times as victim details are made known.

6.3 Crime recording flowchart

Figure 6.3 shows the decision-making process that Police Scotland undertakes from when an incident is first reported until its final classification, be that remain as an incident, be classified as a crime or an offence, or be classified as no crime.

Figure 6.3: Crime recording flowchart
Report of any incident:
 1. Create a Command & Control incident record (Where appropriate), then go to 2.
 2. Q: Is it a crime as defined by Scots Law?
  a. If No to crime, then Leave as incident.
  b. If Yes to crime, then go to 3.
 3. Q: Can the victim or representative be traced?
  a. If No to traced, then Further reasonable enquiries** to establish if crime committed and go to 6.
  b. If Yes to traced, then go to 4.
 4. Q: Does victim or representative* confirm as a crime?
  a. If No to crime, then Further reasonable enquiries** to establish if crime committed and go to 6.
  b. If Yes to crime, then go to 5.
 5. Q: Is there any evidence to the contrary?
  a. If No to contrary, then Record as a crime and go to 9.
  b. If Yes to contrary, then Further reasonable enquiries** to establish if crime committed and go to 6.
 6. Q: Is there supporting evidence that on the balance of probability a crime has occurred?
  a. If No to occurred, then Leave as incident.
  b. If Yes to occurred, then go to 7.
 7. Q: Is the application of police discretionary powers appropriate?
  a. If No to appropriate, then go to 8.
  b. If Yes to appropriate, then Leave as incident.
 8. Q: Do the counting rules direct that a crime record be raised?
  a. If No to raised, then Leave as incident.
  b. If Yes to raised, then Record as a crime and go to 9.
 9. Q: Any subsequence evidence to the contrary?
  a. If No to contrary, then Remains recorded as a crime and go to 10.
  b. If Yes to contrary, then Re-classify as No Crime.
 10. Crime investigation and disposal.

6.4 Counting Rules

The SCRB advise how crimes and offences should be recorded for statistical purposes, otherwise known as the Counting Rules. The Counting Rules provide a national standard for the recording and counting of crimes and offences recorded by Police Scotland, known as 'recorded crime'.

During an HMICS Inspection on the SCRS in 2007, a recommendation was made that the Counting Rules should be reviewed. In consultation with Crime Registrars, it was agreed that the Counting Rules should be more in line with the SCRS, i.e. more victim focused. To this end, changes were made to a number of areas in relation to the Counting Rules as of 1 April 2008, and this should be borne in mind when comparing/reviewing crime records and statistics prior to this date. For further information on the Counting rules and how they should be applied please see Section L of the SCRS.

6.5 England and Wales – National Crime Recording Standard and Home Office Counting Rules for Recorded Crime

In England and Wales, the recording of crime statistics are based on the National Crime Recording Standard (NCRS) and Home Office Counting Rules for Recorded Crime (HOCR). The NCRS was introduced nationally in England and Wales on 1 April 2002 with the aim of promoting greater consistency between police forces in the recording of crime and to take a more victim oriented approach to crime recording.

Like the SCRS, its Scottish counterpart, the NCRS aims to give consistency in crime recording. The main principles of the NCRS for England and Wales are similar to the SCRS with regard to when a crime should be recorded. However there are various differences between the respective Counting Rules, in that they specify different approaches for counting the number of crimes that should be recorded as a result of a single incident. Crimes recorded in England and Wales tend to be incident based with the Principle Crime Rule of the HOCR stating:

If the sequence of crimes in an incident, or a complex crime, contains more than one type of crime, then count the most serious crime.

This is in contrast to the SCRS and Counting Rules, under which each of the individual crimes or offences would be separately recorded in most cases. For example, an incident where an intruder breaks into a home and assaults the sole occupant would be recorded as two crimes in Scotland, while in England and Wales it would be recorded as one crime.

There are rules relating to subsuming crimes in Scotland, but these relate mainly to crimes of dishonesty and damage to property, where all crimes occur at the same time, at the same locus and to the same victim. For example, when a house is broken into, property stolen and other property within the house damaged. For further information on the subsuming of crimes in Scotland please see Section D of the SCRS.

In addition, there is the Finished Incident Rule in the HOCR which does not apply in Scotland. The Finished Incident Rule states:

An incident comprising a sequence of crimes between the same offender (or group of offenders) and the same victim should be counted as one crime if reported to the police all at once.

In Scotland, similar rules exist for the recording of historical crime, such as sexual crimes or violent crime, where a number of crimes are made known to Police Scotland at the same time. However in Scotland, where individual dates and times are known or where a different locus is identified, separate crimes will be recorded.

All crimes are recorded by the police in England and Wales, but they are split into two categories: notifiable and non-notifiable crimes, with the HOCR applying to notifiable crimes. Only those crimes that are notifiable are submitted to the Home Office in statistical returns and then in turn published by ONS in their quarterly Statistical bulletin Crime in England and Wales.

Notifiable crimes include all crimes that could possibly be tried by jury (these include some less serious crimes, such as minor theft that would not usually be dealt with this way) plus a few additional closely-related summary offences dealt with by magistrates, such as assault without injury.

Non-notifiable crimes are crimes dealt with exclusively by a magistrates’ court or by the police issuing a Penalty Notice for Disorder or a Fixed Penalty Notice. Along with non-notifiable offences dealt with by the police (such as speeding), these include many offences that may be dealt with by other agencies, for example, prosecutions by TV Licensing or vehicle registration offences by the DVLA.

All crimes and offences recorded by Police Scotland are submitted to the Scottish Government in their statistical return and published in the Recorded Crime in Scotland bulletin. It should be noted that in Scotland crimes and offences are grouped under recognised categories for statistical purposes as defined by the SCRB, whereas no such distinction is made in England and Wales.

Further information is available in the Comparability across the UK chapter.



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