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, we still do not know what types of homicides have decreased. Have all types of homicide decreased together, or are there certain types of homicides that might have remained stable, or even increased, over the past twenty years?

The aim of my research is 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, my 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.

As part of examining the changes in homicide and violence over time, subtypes, or groups, of both homicide and violence will be identified. This will be done using latent class analysis, a quantitative technique that identifies groups of homicides that exist in the data. Preliminary results have shown 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 will then be compared with subtypes of violence over time in order to examine whether homicide and violence have changed similarly over the past twenty years. 

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 homicides committed have changed drastically over time, we might need to change the strategies in place to tackle these crimes.  This information might suggest that policy 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 would enable policy makers as well as service providers to determine how best to target interventions in order to both reduce and prevent homicide and violence in Scotland. Although the level of homicide is currently at a record low in Scotland, we have only just begun to understand this crime.

* Photo ©istock Giorgio Fochesato

Policy relevance: 
This research will be of interest to those working to tackle homicide and other types of violent crime in Scotland.
October, 2016

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