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Serious Organised Crime: 2017-2018 research outputs

Report collating the findings from the Scottish Government's multi-project phased research programme on Serious Organised Crime (SOC) in Scotland, which was delivered during 2017 to 2018.

Serious Organised Crime: 2017-2018 research outputs


The purpose of this report is to collate the findings from the Scottish Government's multi-project phased research programme on Serious Organised Crime (SOC) in Scotland, which was delivered during 2017-18. This section will introduce the report by defining SOC, outlining the policy context and providing an overview of the SOC research programme.

What is Serious Organised Crime?

Definition of the term 'organised crime' is subject to wide-ranging debate (Maltz 1976; Hagan 2006). Von Lampe (2015) has identified more than a hundred definitions, with variations between academic, policy and law-enforcement approaches. The Scottish Government (2015) defines SOC as crime which:

  • involves more than one person;
  • is organised, involving a level of control, planning and use of specialist resources;
  • causes, or has the potential to cause, significant harm; and
  • involves benefit to the individuals concerned, particularly financial gain.

For the purpose of this report, which aims to collate the findings from the Scottish Government's research programme on SOC, the Scottish Government's term SOC and the definition it encompasses will be used.

Policy Context

The Scottish Government published Scotland's Serious Organised Crime Strategy in 2015. This strategy built on the original Serious Organised Crime strategy for Scotland, Letting Our Communities Flourish, published in 2009. The focus of the strategy is on reducing the prevalence and harm of SOC through the pursuit of four core objectives:

  1. Divert: To divert people from becoming involved in SOC and using its products
  2. Deter: To deter SOC groups by supporting private, public and third sector organisations to protect themselves and each other
  3. Detect: To identify, detect and prosecute those involved in SOC
  4. Disrupt: To disrupt SOC groups

The strategy notes the need for a detailed, evidence-based understanding of SOC in Scotland, in order to inform approaches aimed at reducing the prevalence of SOC and the extent and severity of its impacts.

As such, in Scotland's Serious Organised Crime Strategy the Scottish Government committed to conducting research on the prevalence of SOC in Scotland and its impact on communities, filling gaps in the current evidence base. This commitment was made to ensure an evidence-based understanding of the issue and to help develop an effective programme to counter it, in order to achieve the Scottish

Government's strategic vision of a 'safer, fairer and more prosperous country free from the harm caused by serious organised crime'.

Research Programme

Given the commitment to conducting research on the extent and nature of SOC in Scotland, during 2017-18 the Scottish Government delivered a multi-project phased research programme on SOC.

Four key research projects were delivered:

These studies have complemented each other by giving a national picture of the extent, prevalence and nature of SOC. They provide an important contribution to the evidence base in this area and address a number of research gaps.

This report will collate the findings from these studies, including discussion of emerging priorities for further research, exploration and action. It will begin by summarising each of the research outputs, before discussing some of the key findings that emerged as pertinent across the studies.

Specifically, this report will collate findings on:

  • The extent and prevalence of SOC
  • SOC offenders
  • Public perceptions of SOC

The impacts and harms of SOC

The report will conclude by discussing the subsequent steps for tackling SOC in Scotland.

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