7. Public perceptions of crime and safety
In addition to measuring the extent and prevalence of crime, the SCJS also enables us to understand public perceptions of crime and safety, including how these have changed over time. This chapter presents key findings from 2016/17.
How did the public think the crime rate in their local area had changed in recent years?
One of the key indicators in the Scottish Government's National Performance Framework, ' Scotland Performs', is the public's perception of the crime rate in their area. The SCJS is used to evidence this indicator which tracks the proportion of adults who believe that the crime rate has stayed the same or reduced  in the past two years in their local area. The baseline year for the indicator is 2006.
Three-quarters of adults believe that the local crime rate has stayed the same or reduced in the last two years  .
The proportion holding this view has increased from the 65% in 2006, although the indicator has stabilised around the 75% level since 2012/13, as shown in Figure 7.1. In 2016/17 65% of adults said the local crime rate had stayed the same, whilst 10% said it had fallen.
Figure 7.1: Proportion of adults who believed local crime
rate had stayed the same or reduced in previous two years
Base: All adults who have lived in local area for two years or more (4,830); Variable: QS2AREA
Examining changes in perceptions over time in more detail reveals that the proportion of adults who thought the local crime rate had increased in the previous two years has fallen from around one-in-three (32%) in 2006, and just over one-in-four (28%) in 2008/09, to fewer than one-in-five (19%) in 2016/17.
Views on the local crime rate in 2016/17 were fairly positive across all key demographic and geographic groups, although some relative differences were evident amongst comparator groups.
The SCJS enables us to explore how views on the local crime rate varied by demographic and geographic characteristics. In 2016/17, most adults (generally around 70% or more) across a range of groups considered the rate to have stayed the same or reduced in the previous two years, although some groups were comparatively more likely to hold this view. For instance, a greater proportion of men felt this way (79% compared to 73% of women), whilst victims of crime were also generally less likely to have provided this response (69% compared to 76% of non-victims).
Looking at trends over time reveals improvements in perceptions since 2008/09 across a range of population groups, including for example both males and females, people living in the most deprived areas and elsewhere, and amongst victims of crime and non-victims. In line with the national average, perceptions have shown no change since 2014/15 across the majority of groups, although the proportion of victims of crime who thought the local crime rate had stayed the same or reduced did increase from 63% in 2014/15 to 69% in 2016/17. The breakdowns and time-series analyses are provided in Annex table A1.11.
Did public perceptions on the national crime rate and the local crime differ?
Consistent with findings in previous years, adults were more likely to think the national crime rate had increased than the level of crime locally.
Respondents were also asked about how they thought the crime rate had changed in Scotland as a whole in the previous two years. Consistent with previous survey sweeps, the 2016/17 SCJS found that adults were more likely to think the national crime rate had increased in recent years compared to the local crime rate, as shown in Figure 7.2.
Figure 7.2: Perceptions of changes in the crime rate
locally and nationally in the previous two years
Base: Local crime rate: All adults who have lived in local area for two years or more (4,830); National crime rate: All adults (5,570); Variables: QS2AREA; QS2AREAS
Perceptions on the national crime rate have improved since 2009/10.
Since 2009/10  , the proportion of adults believing the national crime rate stayed the same or reduced in the previous two years has increased (from 40% in 2009/10 to 50% in 2016/17). Adults were also less likely to say the crime rate was increasing in 2016/17 (37%) than they were in 2009/10 (52%), however this proportion has increased from 2014/15 (34%), as outlined in Table 7.1. It will be important to monitor these results into the future to assess how public perceptions develop and whether the longer-term positive trend continues.
Table 7.1: Public perceptions on how the national crime rate has changed
|Percentage of adults holding view on change in crime rate nationally since two years ago:||2016/17||Change since 2009/10||Change since 2014/15|
|A lot more / a little more||37%||⇩ from 52%||⇧ from 34%|
|About the same||40%||⇧ from 36%||No change|
|A lot less / a little less||11%||⇧ from 4%||⇩ from 15%|
|Number of respondents||5,570||16,040||11,470|
How common were different crimes perceived to be?
The majority of people did not think a range of crimes were common in their local area in 2016/17, and many issues were considered to be less prevalent than they were in 2008/09.
As well as being asked about perceived changes in the local and national crime rates, respondents were asked how common they thought a range of crimes and behaviours were in their area. For example, respondents were asked how prevalent they thought drug dealing and abuse, anti-social behaviour, violent incidents and a range of property related crimes were.
Overall, the majority of people did not think each individual issue was a common occurrence in their area. Consistent with SCJS findings in recent years, drug dealing and drug abuse was considered to be the most prevalent problem in 2016/17 (from those asked about), noted as being very or fairly common by just over a third of respondents (36%). One in ten (10%) thought violence between groups of individuals or gangs was common, with the same proportion also believing that people being physically assaulted or attacked in the street or another public place was very or fairly common issue in their area. Fewer than one in twenty (3%) thought people being sexually assaulted was a prevalent issue in 2016/17 in their area.
Annex table A1.21 provides detailed results on the proportion of adults who thought each issue was very or fairly common in their area in 2016/17 and how figures have changed over time. It shows that, for issues where relevant comparator data is available, in 2016/17 most issues were perceived as being less prevalent than they were in 2008/09. For example, the proportion of people who thought that physical assaults and attacks in the street or other public places were common almost halved between 2008/09 and 2016/17 (falling from 19% to 10% over this period).
Since 2014/15, the proportion of adults who thought each issue was common has shown no change or fallen.
How safe did the public feel in 2016/17?
To aid understanding about public perceptions of safety and fears about crime SCJS respondents were asked how safe they felt when walking alone in their local area after dark. This question has also been used elsewhere, such as in the Crime Survey for England and Wales, to explore similar issues.
People were more likely to report feeling safe in their local area and around their home at night in 2016/17 than they were in 2008/09.
In 2016/17, the vast majority of adults in Scotland (77%) said they felt very or fairly safe walking alone in their local area after dark. The proportion of adults feeling safe has increased from 66% in 2008/09, and 74% in 2014/15, as shown in Figure 7.3. The latest results mean that feelings of safety are at the highest level ever measured by the SCJS  . The most recently published figures for England and Wales  showed a similar proportion of adults (75%) felt safe walking alone at night.
Figure 7.3: Proportion of adults who felt safe/unsafe
walking alone in the local area after dark
Base: All adults - SCJS 2008/09 (16,000); 2009/10 (16,040); 2010/11 (13,010); 2012/13 (12,050); 2014/15 (11,470); 2016/17 (5,570). Variable: QSFDARK
Feelings of safety have improved across most population groups in recent years, yet some relative differences in perceptions remain between comparator groups.
Whilst the majority of adults in all groups felt safe walking alone in their local areas after dark in 2016/17, the proportions did vary notably amongst different demographic and geographic categories. For instance, as shown in Table 7.2, females, those living in the 15% most deprived areas of Scotland, and victims of crime were less likely to report feeling safe in 2016/17 than comparator groups. However, feelings of safety have improved across all groups considered below since 2008/09  .
Table 7.2: Feelings of safety when walking alone in the local area after dark by demographic and area characteristics
|Percentage of adults who felt very or fairly safe walking alone after dark||2016/17||Change since 2008/09||Change since 2014/15|
|Male||89%||⇧ from 79%||⇧ from 86%|
|Female||67%||⇧ from 55%||⇧ from 64%|
|Aged 16-24||79%||⇧ from 71%||No change|
|Aged 25-44||83%||⇧ from 73%||⇧ from 78%|
|Aged 45-59||79%||⇧ from 70%||No change|
|Aged 60+||70%||⇧ from 52%||⇧ from 66%|
|15% most deprived areas||63%||⇧ from 52%||No change|
|Rest of Scotland||80%||⇧ from 69%||⇧ from 76%|
|Victim of crime||70%||⇧ from 61%||No change|
|Non-victim||79%||⇧ from 68%||⇧ from 76%|
Base: Full sample - SCJS 2008/09 (16,000); 2009/10 (16,040); 2010/11 (13,010); 2012/13 (12,050); 2014/15 (11,470); 2016/17 (5,570). Variable: QSFDARK.
Respondents were also asked how safe they felt when alone in their home at night as an alternative measure of feelings of safety. In 2016/17, 97% of adults said they felt very or fairly safe alone in their home at night, an increase from 93% in 2008/09 and 94% in 2014/15.
Although more than nine-in-ten adults across all demographic and geographic categories reported feeling safe and improvements have been seen across many groups since 2008/09, again some differences exist amongst the population. For example, 93% of those living in the 15% most deprived areas reported feeling safe in their home alone, in comparison to 97% of adults living elsewhere in Scotland.
How concerned were the public about specifics types of crime in 2016/17?
As well as measuring the perceived prevalence of different crimes and general feelings of safety, the SCJS also captures data on how worried the public are about specific types of crime and how likely they think they are to experience them. Whilst the analysis below summarises key findings from the questions on these topics, the results should be interpreted with caution as the impact of 'worry' and perceptions of likelihood will vary from one individual to another. Moreover, it is important to note that even if someone claims they are not worried about a crime or do not think they are likely to be a victim, it does not necessarily mean they believe that they are at no risk.
Fraud remained the crime the public were most commonly worried about in 2016/17, although the proportion of adults concerned about fraud and a range of other issues has reduced since 2008/09.
In line with findings in previous years, in 2016/17 the crimes (from those asked about) which the public were most likely to say they were very or fairly worried about were fraud  related issues. More specifically, 52% of adults said they were worried about someone using their credit or bank details to obtain money, goods or services, whilst 43% were worried about their identity being stolen. Fraudulent use of bank details was the only issue which more than half of all adults were worried about in 2016/17, although sizeable minorities remain worried about the range of other issues, as shown in Figure 7.4. For example, by way of comparison, just under a fifth (19%) were worried about being physically assaulted or attacked in the street or other public place, whilst around a tenth (11%) were concerned about being sexually assaulted.
Figure 7.4: Proportion of adults worried about experiencing
Base: Questions on vehicles theft/damage only asked of those who have access to or own vehicle (4,120); all other questions asked of all adults (5,570); Variables: QWORR_04 – QWORR_14
Annex table A1.22 presents the results on worry about different crimes over time and highlights significant changes where these have been detected. It highlights that the proportion of adults who were very or fairly worried about experiencing each specific crime was lower in 2016/17 than the 2008/09 baseline, with worry about the majority of measures also having fallen since the last SCJS in 2014/15.
For example, whilst remaining the issue most commonly worried about, the proportion who were very or fairly worried about their credit or bank details being used for fraudulent purposes has fallen from 56% in 2008/09 to 52% in 2016/17. The proportion of adults worried about being mugged or robbed has fallen from around one-in-three in 2008/09 (31%), and one-in-four in 2014/15 (24%), to one-in-five in 2016/17 (20%).
Whilst half of all adults did not think they were likely to experience any crime in the next year, around three-in-ten thought they were likely to be victims of banking or credit fraud.
SCJS respondents were also asked which of the issues, if any, they thought they were likely to experience in the next 12 months. 50% of adults did not think they were likely to experience any of the crimes covered in the next 12 months. This figure has fallen from 55% in 2014/15, but is not significantly different from the 48% who felt this way in 2008/09.
In line with worry about fraud, the crime type which the largest proportion of adults thought they were likely to experience was someone using their bank or card details to obtain money, goods or services, which 28% thought would happen to them in the next year. This proportion has increased from 14% in 2008/09 and 17% in 2014/15. Taken together with the level of worry about fraud, and notwithstanding the fact that the proportion worried has decreased since 2008/09, the SCJS results suggest that fraud continues to be an issue of concern for the public.
To put the perceptions about the likelihood of experiencing fraud into context, one-in-ten (10%) thought their car would be damaged by vandals, around one-in-twenty (6%) thought they would be physically assaulted in the street or other public place, whilst one-in-fifty (2%) thought it was likely that they would be sexually assaulted.
Annex table A1.23 presents these results over time and highlights significant changes where these have been detected. It shows that when 2016/17 results are compared with 2008/09 and 2014/15 a range of relatively small but statistically significant changes are detected in the proportion of adults who thought they were likely to experience different crime types. For example:
- The proportion of adults who thought they were likely to be involved or caught up in violence between groups of individuals or gangs has fallen from 7% in 2008/09 to 4% in 2016/17;
- The proportion who thought their home would be broken into has increased from 9% in 2008/09 to 10% in 2016/17.
Across a range of crime types, the actual victimisation rate in 2016/17 was notably lower than the proportion of adults who think they are likely to experience the issue.
Figure 7.5 below compares the proportion who thought they were likely to experience each issue in the next 12 months, against the estimated victimisation rate for that crime type in 2016/17. It shows that generally a much larger proportion of adults thought they were likely to experience each crime than the proportion who were actually victims of such incidents in 2016/17.
For example, 6.0% thought it was likely that they would be attacked in the street in the next year, yet the prevalence rate for all assaults (including those which happened in public places, but also elsewhere) in 2016/17 was 2.8%.
Figure 7.5: Perceived likelihood of victimisation
in next year in context of 2016/17 victimisation rate
Base: All adults (5,570); Variables: QHAPP; PREVHOUSEBREAK; PREVMOTOVVAND; PREVASSAULT; PREVATTTHEFTMV; PREVROB; PREVTHEFTOFMV; PREVPROPVAND.
What was the impact of concerns about crime?
Most adults did not allow their concerns about crime to prevent them doing things they otherwise wanted to.
Following on from exploring worry about and perceptions of crime, it is helpful to consider the impact of such feelings on individual behaviour to help put findings in context. Of those who reported being worried about experiencing some sort of crime, two-thirds (65%) reported that it did not ('at all') prevent them from doing things they would otherwise want to do. 28% of adults worried about being a victim of crime said they were prevented from doing things 'a little', whilst 6% said it affected them 'quite a lot'. Only 2% said that it affected them doing things 'a great deal' in 2016/17.
Most adults reported taking some sort of action in 2016/17 to reduce their risk of being a victim of crime.
Figure 7.6 highlights some of the precautions that SCJS respondents reported having done or having in place in the last year to try to reduce the risk of becoming a victim of crime. The majority of adults (77%) reported adopting at least one preventative action in 2016/17 and since 2014/15 the proportion of adults reporting that they did not adopt any of the potential precautions has fallen from 30% to 23%.
As in the last two survey sweeps, the most common behaviours adopted by adults were not leaving their home empty or leaving a light on (reported by 35% in 2016/17), and concealing valuables on their person, in their car or at home to make them less visible (reported by 39%).
Figure 7.6: Actions taken to reduce the risk of
experiencing crime in the last year
Base: All adults (1,390); Variable: QDONE