04:45pm Sunday 15 December 2019

Crime falling? Yes, but it's also evolving

Professor Susan McVie and her colleagues at the ESRC-funded Applied Quantitative Methods Network (AQMeN), based at the University of Edinburgh, are trying to understand where and why crime is changing in Scotland. They have looked at what types of crime have dropped nationally, and compared that to other demographic or economic changes that have taken place across the country.

Data collected by the police reveals that the types of crime that have fallen most dramatically are property crimes, particularly house breaking and vehicle theft. Violent crime has also dropped, including serious assaults and homicide; however, there has been some increase in lower level, petty violence.

Researchers believe the drop in property and violent crimes may be linked.

“Household and property crimes are thought to act as ‘debut’ crimes into more serious acts of violence,” says Professor Susan McVie.

“With fewer people committing these debut crimes, it is possible that there may be fewer people getting involved in violent crime as a result of that.”

Fewer young people are committing crimes than ever before, with the peak age of conviction in Scotland going from the late teens a decade ago, to the late 20s now. It is not known exactly why this is happening, but Professor McVie and her team suspect that better prevention measures put in place to protect households and properties from crimes may be deterring youngsters. Dramatic changes in the way that the youth justice system operates in Scotland could also be responsible, with children kept out of the justice system for as long as possible.

The study has also revealed a change in the profile of victimisation in Scotland. Although there has been a big reduction in one-off victims of crime, those who experience the most chronic forms of repeated victimisation have not enjoyed a similar reprieve.

“When we look at people who are being repeatedly victimised – particularly those who have experienced persistent personal and violent crime – we just haven’t seen the drops we would hope for,” says Professor Susan McVie.

“If we want to bring crime levels down further we need to tackle the inequality between those who are victims, and those who aren’t,” she added.

Despite the falling crime rates, most people in Scotland still think that crime levels are not changing in their local area. The researchers think this may be explained by analysis of crime trends at a local level. They found that, although many local areas had experienced a fall in crime, very few had experienced a large crime drop. In other words, high crime communities tend to continue to be high crime communities, relative to other areas, even though the overall crime level is lower.

“While we’ve seen quite a big drop in crime overall, we have not seen very high crime areas becoming very low crime areas. So those areas that were considered to be most problematic before the drop continue to be the most problematic now. That may be why people don’t feel there has been a big change in crime in their local area,” says Professor McVie.

“In other words, there is still a high degree of inequality between high and low crime areas which has not been addressed by the policing strategies and other factors that have caused the overall drop in crime. So there’s no room for complacency, as there is still a way to go in terms of bringing down crime, especially in areas that are blighted by high crime rates,” she adds.

The research will be presented at an event as part of this year’s ESRC Festival of Social Science, in Edinburgh on 4 November.

For further information contact:

ESRC Press Office

Notes for editors

  1. Event: The Changing Nature of Crime in Scotland
    Location: Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation, High School Yards, Edinburgh, EH1 1LZ
    Date: 4 November 2014, 9.00-13.00
  2. The 12th annual Festival of Social Science takes place from 1-8 November 2014 with over 200 free events nationwide. Run by the Economic and Social Research Council, the Festival provides an opportunity for anyone to meet with some of the country’s leading social scientists and discover, discuss and debate the role that research plays in everyday life. With a whole range of creative and engaging events there’s something for everyone including businesses, charities, schools and government agencies. See the full programme of events and join the discussion on Twitter using #esrcfestival.
  3. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) funds research into the big social and economic questions facing us today. We also develop and train the UK’s future social scientists. Our research informs public policies and helps make businesses, voluntary bodies and other organisations more effective. Most importantly, it makes a real difference to all our lives. The ESRC is an independent organisation, established by Royal Charter in 1965, and funded mainly by the Government. In 2015 the ESRC celebrates its 50th anniversary.

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