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Publication - Research Publication

Offending patterns of those involved in serious organised crime

Published: 8 Dec 2017
Part of:
Law and order, Research

This study explores the key characteristics and offending behaviour of people involved in serious organised crime.

39 page PDF


39 page PDF


Offending patterns of those involved in serious organised crime
6. Conclusions/Summary of Key Findings

39 page PDF


6. Conclusions/Summary of Key Findings

This research study was undertaken to provide a greater understanding of the offending behaviour of people who are classified as organised criminals. It examined the range and nature of offending behaviour, the types of crimes that were committed and their severity. This was to understand in more detail the connections between different types of offending, and the implications of this for how organised crime is understood and addressed.

Under half of the total sample (48%) were reported to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service ( COPFS) for crimes in 2013-14. This constituted 235 accused who were charged for 799 crimes in 2013/14. Based on estimates for the overall population this finding suggests that there may have been somewhere in the region of 8,000 charges for the complete population of 4,892 nominals over the same period. Individuals within the sample were typically reported for 2 criminal charges (median figure) although the number of crimes for each person ranged from 1 to 26.

The majority of offenders were aged 21-30 (40%) followed by (33%) A small minority were aged under 20 or over 61. Of those accused, the vast majority were men (only 11% of those accused were women). Men recorded a higher number of offences overall.

At the time of the crime committed, the majority (54%) of those who were charged were recorded as unemployed and forty-three per cent were recorded as employed. Offenders were represented in almost all of the major employment groups, and were represented across a wide range of occupations. This may reflect the dynamics of SOC groups and support other analysis, e.g. according to recent Police Scotland Management Information data, an estimated 66% of SOCGs are involved in seemingly legitimate businesses.

Examination of charges by local authority area showed that Glasgow had the highest number of charges accounting for just under a quarter (24%) of those recorded. This may be related to Glasgow being the largest population centre in Scotland and also to the fact that an estimated 67% of SOCGs remain located in the West of Scotland (compared with 22% in the East and 11% in the North) [51] . The next highest number of charges was in Fife, which recorded 16% of charges, followed by Edinburgh which recorded 14% of charges.

Further breakdown of charges by local authority area revealed different patterns in the types of charges across the three local authorities with the highest number of charges. Reasons for this is unclear, but these differences are likely to reflect police operational strategy and activity in different areas and local policing priorities.

Examination of the home postcodes for people who were charged provides insight into the relationship between SOC and location. For offender records where postcode was available, analysis showed that SOC offenders within the sample came from 25 local authorities across Scotland, the highest proportion of whom resided in Glasgow, followed by Edinburgh and Fife. These proportions are likely to reflect a combination of factors including the population concentration in these areas, SOC activity, as well as police operational activity. Broadly speaking these patterns reflect the location of charges by local authority, which may suggest that offenders are particularly active in the local authorities where they reside.

Examination of postcode data by the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation also suggests a correlation between involvement in SOC and inequality. A high proportion of those accused of criminal offending were recorded as residing in areas characterised by multiple deprivation, although some caution should be attached to this finding as it is may be reflective of police activity in certain areas, and the identification of groups and individuals who are more conspicuous. Nonetheless, a recent review of the literature recognized that while SOC exacerbates inequality, it is also a symptom of it, with a stronger presence in areas that are socially and economically disadvantaged [52] .

Charge data was broken down by crimes and offences employing the standard system of classification used in the recorded crime in Scotland bulletin series. "Crime" is generally used for the more serious criminal acts; the less serious are termed "offences". Examination of charges shows a slightly higher proportion of offence charges (52%) than crimes (48%) and reveals therefore that individuals involved in SOC are involved in a range of different criminal activities, just under half of which may generally be described as more serious in nature.

An important caveat to bear in mind in consideration of the charge data is that: while offenders were identified as having involvement in SOC, and the purpose of the study was to look at all offending, it was not possible to break down charges related specifically to SOC (because recording practices do not include this within charge descriptions) with the exception of where a SOC aggravation was added in a small minority (2%) of cases. For example, charges of vandalism, breach of the peace and motor vehicle offences may be part of wider criminal offending behaviour (and relate to proactive policing and attempts to disrupt activity), whereas crimes involving the supply of drugs, and fraud are more clearly associated with operational definitions of SOC and therefore likely to involve it directly. However, developing a better awareness of all the offending behaviour of those identified as being involved in SOC is relevant in understanding how to address it, and reduce associated societal harm.

Examination of offending data shows that, SOC nominals are typically involved in criminal activity across all crime categories, including vandalism, anti-social behaviour and motor vehicle crime, which suggests general offending as well as potential specialist offending for this group. Motor vehicle offences (group 7) account for the highest proportion of all charges (30%) and involve a range of offending behaviours including unlawful use of a vehicle, seatbelt and mobile phone offences and speeding (constituting 71% of charges within this group). Just over a quarter of charges (26%) fall under group 5: 'other crimes' of which drug related charges constitute the highest number (82% of charges within this group). Indeed a quarter (25%) of those identified as involved in SOC activity who had offended in 2013-14 faced drug crime (either supply or misuse) charges.

Just over a fifth of charges (22%) are within group 6 'Miscellaneous offences'; the majority of which involve common assault and breach of the peace etc. A slightly smaller proportion of charges (18.6%) fall into category 3 – crimes of dishonesty – over half of which involve shoplifting and other theft.

Only a small minority of the overall crimes/offences fall into the first (and most serious) two categories, non-sexual crimes of violence and sexual crimes (1.4%).

Comparison with recorded crime data for the same period was also conducted, to assess whether the offending patterns of those involved in SOC differ from the general offending population. This revealed that a high proportion of crimes for SOC offenders (26%) fall under group 5, 'other crimes' of which drug related charges constitute the highest number. This is considerably higher than the proportion of crimes in group 5 for all recorded crime (8%) and is likely to be attributable to the higher proportion of drug related offences committed by serious organised criminals [53] . Indeed, an estimated 65% of Scottish SOC groups are thought to be involved in the supply and distribution of illegal drugs [54] . Otherwise, offending patterns are broadly comparable, albeit with higher proportions of charges recorded in the general offending population for group 6, 'miscellaneous offences' and group 7 'motor vehicle offences'.

Based on this evidence, and to the extent that these recorded crimes reflect the behaviour and activities of the people who were studied (as opposed to being a consequence of policing activity), then this suggests that the impact of the behaviour of organised criminals is not isolated to the crimes they commit within a narrow definition of organised criminal offending. Indeed, offending data suggests that there are likely to be a range of negative impacts and harms arising from the criminal activity of those identified as being involved in serious organised crime, including anti-social behaviour, common assault, driving offences etc. This involvement in a wide range of offending behaviour may have consequences for both how SOC problems, and wider community safety problems are managed. While the nature of offending ranges in degrees of seriousness, it is important to bear in mind the complexity of impacts, which can be broad. The wider literature suggests that societal harm can include more widespread effects, such as increasing and exacerbating societal unease and fear of crime, which may impact on a range of social behaviours in terms of influencing where people choose to live, work and socialise. It may also have adverse impacts on public services and local businesses in terms of financial revenue and reputation [55] .

While analysis of these records provide some insight into the characteristics and offending behaviour of those involved in SOC, it is clear that there are a number of limitations attached. The intelligence data from the police comprises those who have been prioritised as important from an operational point of view, this means that information is limited by the available resources and information available to law enforcement agencies. The mapping system therefore does not provide a complete account of all SOC offending in Scotland; as not all crime is reported or documented by the police. In addition, the covert nature of serious organised crime offending means that it may not always be apparent to law enforcement officers, or in fact classified in this way. This analysis should therefore be understood in terms of how SOC was documented within the intelligence base at the time (2013-14), during which Police Scotland operated performance targets, one of which entailed the arrest of individuals involved in SOC. This may have led to the inclusion of a high proportion of lower-level nominals who are more peripherally linked to serious organised crime group activities, but it is also important to recognise that police might make decisions to charge people for more 'minor' crimes for the purposes of disruption and in the knowledge that they are involved in larger crimes. Relatedly, more serious SOC criminals are less likely to be caught for discrete individual offences, with less senior members of the group responsible for more routine and riskier forms of offending. The sample may therefore over-represent those offenders who are more routinely identified and targeted by police.

Future research in this area may benefit from the incorporation of appropriately anonymised qualitative indicators drawn from police intelligence (such as offender's role in SOCG and whether they are considered low, mid or high level operatives within the group, areas of core criminality etc.). In addition, longitudinal analysis of data and stratification of the sample (as identified on the SOCG map) would allow better understanding of offenders criminal career trajectories over time and those involved in more prolific/serious offending. Finally, while this analysis has focussed on those SOC nominals who had offended in 2013/14, it would also be beneficial to explore the records of those who were not reported for any offences in the sampled year to explore possible differences between the two groups.