Homicide in Scotland: more than just a numbers game

Homicide is currently at a record low in Scotland. In 2014-15, there were 59 homicides committed (including murder and culpable homicide), which is the lowest figure since 1976, and the homicide rate has more than halved over the past twenty years. But this is not just a numbers game. Although we know that homicides have decreased overall, there is less clarity over the changing nature of homicide. In other words, have all types of homicide reduced or only certain types of homicide that involve different types of victim, offender and circumstance?

The aim of this doctoral research, conducted by Sara Skott, was to examine the changing patterns and characteristics of homicide in Scotland and to determine the extent to which changes in homicide reflect the changing pattern and characteristics in serious violence. The examination of changes in patterns and characteristics of homicide is relevant in its own right, but by analysing these changes in relation to the changes in serious violence, this research also examines the assumption that homicide is following the same pattern as violence within Scotland. Although homicide and violence (such as serious assault) are both violent crimes, they might not necessarily follow a similar pattern over time.

To examine the change in homicide and violence over time, subtypes, or groups, of both homicide and violence were identified. This was done using latent class analysis, a quantitative technique that identifies groups of homicides that exist in the data. Preliminary results show that there are indeed different forms of homicides in Scotland, which all have distinctive characteristics to differentiate them from one another. These groups, or subtypes, of homicides have been compared with subtypes of violence over time in order to examine whether homicide and violence have changed similarly over the past twenty years. The findings show some distinct similarities in changing forms of homicide and serious violence, but also some distinct differences.

This research is important for a number of reasons, not least from a policy perspective. Firstly, it will provide valuable insights for relevant organisations such as Police Scotland and the Scottish Government as to how the characteristics of homicide and violence have changed over time. Furthermore, if homicide does not follow a similar pattern to other types of violence, or if the types of homicide committed have changed drastically over time, we might need to change the strategies in place to tackle these crimes. This information might suggest that strategies intended to reduce or prevent homicide specifically are required, or perhaps that we need to restructure the specific foci on violence reduction policies that are currently in place. A more detailed picture of how different types of homicide and violent crime have changed over time will enable policy makers and service providers to determine how best to target interventions in order to both reduce and prevent homicide and violence in Scotland.

Policy relevance:
This research will be of interest to those working to tackle homicide and other types of violent crime in Scotland. It is helping to inform policy development within Scottish Government and Police Scotland.

* Photo ©istock Giorgio Fochesato