Crime and Offence Levels

Recorded crimes and offences in Scotland

For further information about crime in Scotland, please see the Scottish Crime and Justice Survey pages.


The level of crime is an important indicator of the success of a government’s overall policies, criminal, social and economic. Whilst it is not possible to measure the actual level of crime because many crimes are not reported to the police, it is usual to regard the number of crimes recorded by the police as a reasonable indicator of the level of crime [1]. The term ‘crime’ is generally used for more serious incidents, the less serious are termed ‘offences’.

Recorded crime in Scotland, which had been relatively stable since the start of the millennium has shown a marked decrease over the last 3 years [2]. Last year there was a 10% decrease (377,433 to 338,028). This follows an 8% reduction in recorded crime in 2007/08 followed by a further 2% reduction in 2008/09. In total a 19.4% fall in recorded crime over 3 years. This is a significant reduction and crime is now at its lowest level since 1980.

For the latest figures on recorded crime in Scotland, please see Recorded Crime in Scotland 2010-2011 published by the Scottish Government in September 2011.

Crimes involving violence cause the most concern and the most harm. Overall, the number of non-sexual crimes of violence recorded by the police decreased by 11% last year to 11,201.  Over the three year period 2006/07 to 2009/10 this amounted to a 20.5% reduction in violent crime. The number of serious assaults etc.[3] also fell by 14% last year (to 5,700) and decreased by 24% over the last 3 years.  Robberies showed an even larger reduction of 16% last year (to 2,496) and a huge 30% reduction over the last 3 years.  Other non-sexual crimes of violence remained fairly static, with a 1% decrease last year, but with no significant change over the last 3 year period.

Crimes of indecency rose by 2% last year (6,331 to 6,458 in 2009/10), with all categories showing a slight increase. Recorded cases of rape and attempted rape rose by 3% to 996 in 2009/10, although there had been progress with a 14% reduction over the previous two years.

The statistics on crimes of dishonesty are also interesting. These crimes have consistently declined since their peak in 1991 (430,153) to the current level of 153,256 (2009/10) a 64% fall over 19 years. Crimes of dishonesty, which gradually rose to a peak in 1991, have fallen to numbers not seen since in available records going back to 1976. They are now 40% less than they were then. Since 1991 housebreaking has fallen by a massive 80%, with a 7% drop last year. Similarly theft by opening a lock-fast place (OLP) decreased 27% last year, and thefts from motor vehicles (OLP) fell by 25%. Since 1991 such thefts (which were then listed under one heading) has fallen by 85%.  Shoplifting fell by 5% last year.

Theft of motor vehicles, which fell by 19% to 9,304 in 2009/10, was at its lowest figure for many decades.

Handling an offensive weapon fell by 22% last year. Drug crimes, which peaked in 2005/06, went down by 7% in 2009/10.

Vandalism also fell by 15% in 2009/10 to levels experienced before 2001/02.


The number of offences – the term used mainly for actions connected with motoring, low-level assaults and breach of the peace – increased by 1% last year to 563,735 recorded offences, largely due to a substantial increase in the number of other miscellaneous offences recorded, in particular consumption of alcohol in designated places.

Crime figures by police force area

Figure 2: Table showing crimes recorded by police force area and changes between 2006/7 and 2009/10

Crimes by police force area

When broken down by police force area, the figures show all eight forces recorded decreases in crime. Central turned in the largest reduction, of 14% over the year, with Fife reducing recorded crime by 31% over the 3 year period 2006/07 to 2009/10.

Figure 3: Number of crimes recorded by the police, rate per 10,000 population for selected crimes, by council area, 2009-10 (highest and lowest areas)

Recorded crime rate per 100,000 by council area

During 2009/10 the average level of recorded crime in Scotland was 651 per 10,000 population, down 16% from 730 in 2008/09. Only two force areas exceeded this: Strathclyde with 725 and Lothian and Borders with 692.

Figure 4: Rates of non-sexual crimes of violence per 10,000 population for council areas above national average, 2009/10

Rates of non sexual crimes of violence by council area

In 2009/10 the average number of crimes recorded by the police per 10,000 population for non-sexual crimes of violence was 22 (two fewer than last year). The table sets out the 7 council areas which were higher than the national average.

Sources other than police records

The police statistics measure how many incidents come to their attention. However, many incidents are not reported and another way of estimating the amount of criminal activity is by asking the public what they have experienced.

The Scottish Crime and Victimisation survey used to be carried out at regular intervals and the last, for 2005/06 was published in September 2007[4].  However, since 2008/09 a new style of Survey has been undertaken [5]. The second such survey, the 2009/10 Scottish Crime and Justice Survey: Main Findings [6], published in November 2010 was based on 16,000 face-to-face interviews with adults (aged 16 or over) throughout Scotland. The Scottish Crime and Justice Survey (SCJS) aims to be a large-scale annual survey measuring people’s experience and perceptions of crime in Scotland.

The Survey Main Findings suggest that:

  • Crime has decreased by just under 10% (from 1,045,00 in 2008/09) to 945,000 crimes [7] in 2009/10. (This is in line with the 10% reduction in Recorded Crime in Scotland as recorded by the police).
  • The risk of being a victim of crime in Scotland fell to 19.3.% (from 20.4% in 2008/09). This is 2.2% lower than in England and Wales, but violent crime in Scotland is 28% of the total, compared with 22% south of the border.
  • 37% of all crime was reported to the police.

The survey found that:

  • 72 % were property crimes (679,000)
  • 32%  vandalism
  • 16% other household theft, including bicycle theft
  • 14% personal theft (excluding robbery)
  • 7% motor vehicle theft
  • 3% housebreaking
  • 28% were violent crimes of assault or robbery (266,000):
  • 26% assault (including 2% serious assault)
  • 2% robbery
  • In violent crime, victims said that 62% of offenders were under the influence of alcohol and 26% under the influence of drugs. 30% of victims had also consumed alcohol immediately before the incident.
  • Males aged 16-24 were at the greatest risk of being a victim of crime.
  • Victims reported that offender(s) had something they used or threatened to use as a weapon in 30% of violent crime. In 42% of these cases the victim reported that the offender(s) had a knife. This represents 3% of all crime (as measured by SCJS).
  • Card fraud had been experienced by 4.3% of adults and identity theft by 0.6%, in the preceding 12 months. However just over half of adults worried about card or bank fraud (57%) and identity theft (50%), though 17% thought that fraudulent use of their credit or bank details, or identity theft (12%), might occur in the next 12 months.

The overall risk of being a victim of crime is lower in 2009/10 than in 2008/09. The risk of crime (measured as the proportion of adults who were the victim of crime) was 19.3% in 2009/10. This is lower than the 2008/09 figure of 20.4% [8].

Figure 5: Proportion of Scottish Crime Survey respondents who were a victim of 1 or more crimes as measured by the survey 1992 to 2009/10

Scottish crime survey victimisation graph

Source:,   (copied); data from Scottish Crime Surveys.  “National Indicator: Reduce overall crime victimisation rates by 2 percentage points by 2011”.

[1] Recorded crime covers only those incidents reported to the police or coming to police attention in some way. Many incidents occur every day that could be defined as crimes (such as teenagers fighting each other). Whether they are so defined, and then reported, and then recorded by the police as crimes, depends on a wide range of factors. However, the more serious an incident is, the more likely it is that it will be reported and recorded.
[2] Recorded Crime in Scotland, 2009/10. Statistical Bulletin, Crime and Justice Series, Scottish Government, Edinburgh, 7 September 2010.
[3] ‘Serious assault etc.’ includes: murder, attempted murder, culpable homicide and serious assault.
[4] Matthew Brown & Keith Bolling, BMRB Social Research. “2006 Scottish Crime and Victimisation Survey: Main Findings”. Scottish Government Social Research. Edinburgh, October 2007.
[5] 2008/09 Scottish Crime and Justice Survey: First Findings.(2009) Pat MacLeod, Leon Page, Andrea Kinver and Aibek Iliasov, TNS-BMRB; Mandy Littlewood and Rachel Williams. Scottish Government Social Research, published in October 2009.
[6] 2009/10 Scottish Crime and Justice Survey: Main Findings.(2010) Leon Page, Pat MacLeod, Andrea Kinver, Aibek Iliasov and Patricia Yoon, TNS-BMRB. Scottish Government Social Research, published in November 2010.
[7] 67% of crimes, as measured by the SCJS in 2009/10, were classified as comparable with police recorded crime. Full details are provided in Annexes 2 to 5 of the Survey.
[8] This data is used to inform the Scottish Government National Indicator (SGNI) of the target to “Reduce overall crime victimisation rates by 2 percentage points by 2011”. The base line data is set at 20.4% for the year 2008/09.

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