Crime trends in detail
From Statistics Explained
- Data from January 2012, most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database.
National sources of information about crime show considerable differences in approach and coverage, which makes it necessary to exercise caution in making direct comparisons between countries and compiling totals at the level of the EU. Recent work to improve the comparability of statistics on crime and criminal justice reveals some significant developments in criminality in the European Union. This analysis is based on the number of offences recorded by the police for the period 2006-2009 (see Figure 1), with some reference to earlier trends.
Main statistical findings
The number of crimes recorded by the police in the European Union has fallen constantly since about 2002, but during the period 2006-2009 this trend showed signs of slowing down. Towards the end of this period, the police recorded more crimes in a number of Member States (particularly, for domestic burglary and drug trafficking).
On the other hand the type of recorded crime which showed the most substantial decrease was theft of motor vehicles.
The highest homicide rates are found in Lithuania and Estonia, and the lowest in Austria, Slovenia, Germany and Spain. Homicide rates for the major cities tend to mirror the national trends while being, in general, rather higher.
The largest prison populations relative to the number of inhabitants are in Latvia and Estonia whereas the smallest are Iceland, Finland, Denmark and Slovenia.
Crimes recorded by the police
The crime statistics in this statistical article cover offences recorded by the police in the EU Member States and other countries.
There are differences between countries in systems of legal and criminal justice; in definitions of crimes; methods of reporting, recording and counting crimes; and the proportion of reported to unreported crime. So it is not usually possible to make direct comparisons of crime types and levels between countries: a picture has to be built up by considering trends over time (assuming that background circumstances remain unchanged).
It should also be recognised that these crime figures cannot provide a full description of the extent of crime in Europe as some crime goes unreported, and trends for particular offences may reflect the focus of police activity in those areas.
The EU Safety Survey (due to be conducted in 2013) will provide additional knowledge of crime in the EU. This victim survey will have standardised features which will make it possible to extract EU-wide comparable statistics on people’s experience of crime.
Total crime (Table 1)
The figures for total crime include offences against the penal or criminal code. Less serious crimes (misdemeanours) are generally excluded.
In most EU countries, crime levels have been decreasing consistently since about 2002 (see Figure 2). This trend continued in the EU as a whole in the period 2006 to 2009, though the tendency was upwards in a number of individual Member States, including Romania, Luxembourg, Denmark, Sweden, Portugal and Finland. Rises were also recorded in Iceland and Liechtenstein.
The countries where the decrease in total crime has remained most noticeable since 2006 are Malta, the United Kingdom, Greece, Poland and Cyprus. But underlying these general tendencies there are considerable differences in the development of specific types of crime.
Violent crime (Table 2)
The figures for violent crime include violence against the person (such as physical assault), robbery (stealing by force or threat of force) and sexual offences (including rape and sexual assault). Close analysis of this class of crime is made more difficult because not all Member States use the standard definition but the general trends show a decline in the EU of about 7 % for the period 2006-2009 in the number of these offences reported to the police.
At country level, the picture is mixed, with significant rises in Cyprus, Denmark, Luxembourg, Greece and Sweden and notable falls in Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, the United Kingdom, Poland and the Czech Republic.
Homicide (Table 3)
Homicide is a type of violent crime, and is defined as the intentional killing of a person, including murder, manslaughter, euthanasia and infanticide. It excludes death by dangerous driving, abortion and help with suicide.
Because of its seriousness, homicide is fairly consistently reported, and definitions vary less between countries than for some other types of crime. Homicides are normally counted in numbers of victims (rather than numbers of cases as for other types of crime). The figures are for completed homicides but, in some countries, the police register any death that cannot immediately be attributed to other causes, as homicide. It may, therefore, be over represented in the statistics.
The national figures indicate (see Figure 3) that Lithuania and Estonia have by far the highest incidence of homicides (over 8 and 5 victims respectively per 100 000 population). The only other EU Member States reporting more than 2 homicides per 100 000 inhabitants were Finland, Bulgaria, Romania and Ireland, while the lowest rates (less than 1 per 100 000) were observed in Austria, Slovenia, Germany and Spain.
Homicide rates for EU capital cities (see Figure 3) are typically rather higher than for the country as a whole. They generally follow the national trends, with the highest figures being recorded in Vilnius (on average almost 8 victims per 100 000 inhabitants) and Tallinn (about 6).
Robbery (Table 4)
Robbery is another type of violent crime, and is defined as stealing by force or by threat of force. It includes mugging (bag-snatching) and theft with violence.
Whilst police recorded robbery offences have fallen by about 11 % since 2006 in the EU as a whole, significant rises were reported in Greece, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Bulgaria, the Netherlands, Hungary, Sweden and particularly in Denmark (where the figures more than doubled).
In contrast, there were sharp falls in Romania, Latvia, Poland, Italy, Estonia, the United Kingdom, and Lithuania.
This class of crime covers the stealing or destruction of property. Data for two such types of crime, domestic burglary and theft of a motor vehicle, are presented below.
Domestic burglary (Table 5) is defined as gaining access to a dwelling by force in order to steal goods. It rose by about 3 % on average in the EU in the period 2006 to 2009. In the majority of the EU Member States, there were rises of between 5 % and 10 %, with sharper rises (over 20 %) in Denmark, Greece, Sweden and Romania.
Falls of more than 20 % were recorded in a few countries including Poland, Estonia, Malta and Cyprus.
Theft of a motor vehicle (Table 6) covers thefts of cars, motorcycles, buses, lorries, construction and agricultural vehicles. The figures have fallen steadily in recent years, perhaps partly as a result of technical improvements in automobile security systems. The great majority of Member States recorded decreases of over 10 % in vehicle thefts between 2006 and 2009.
However, some Member States, reported substantial increases, the largest being in Greece and Cyprus (over 20 % for the period 2006-2009) and in Romania (which has fewer cars per head than any other EU Member State), with a two-fold rise in the number of offences over this period.
Drug trafficking (Table 7) is a sub-set of the broader class of drugs offences. It includes the illegal possession, cultivation, production, supplying, transportation, importing, exporting and financing of drug operations.
Drug trafficking has generally been increasing consistently in the EU since 2002. In 2006-2009, these offences continued to increase, with the majority of Member States recording increases of over 10 %. However there were falls of over 20 % in Hungary and Germany, which have both witnessed a steady gradual decrease in crimes of this type since 2005, and of 12 % in Austria, where a similar if less consistent trend is visible.
Police officers (Table 8) include criminal police, traffic police, border police, gendarmerie, uniformed police, city guard and municipal police, while excluding civilian staff, customs officers, tax police, military police, secret service police, special duty police reserves, cadets and court police. However, this definition is not uniformly applied and there are some differences between countries in the inclusion of some sectors of their law enforcement personnel in the figures.
Whilst recognising these differences, it is, nevertheless, evident that the number of police officers has remained virtually unchanged in most EU Member States over the period 2006-2009 but rises of over 10 % were seen in Hungary, Ireland, Spain and Luxembourg and falls of more than 5 % in Latvia, Romania and the Czech Republic.
The prison population figures (Table 9) include both adult and juvenile convicted prisoners and pre-trial detainees in all types of prison establishments but exclude non-criminal prisoners held for administrative purposes such as pending investigation into their immigration status.
In 2009, there were over 630 000 prisoners in the EU. This gives a rate of about 129 prisoners per 100 000 population in the EU Member States (averaged over the period 2007-2009). By comparison, the incarceration rate in the USA was much higher, at 784 per 100 000 population.
The highest numbers of prisoners in relation to the national population (see Figure 4) are found in Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Poland (each of which had over 230 prisoners per 100 000 inhabitants). The Czech Republic and Slovakia had over 150 prisoners per 100 000. Spain and the United Kingdom (except Northern Ireland) also saw steady rises in recent years.
Noticeable increases in prison populations may also be observed in some of the EU candidate or potential candidate countries, such as Turkey, Montenegro, Croatia, Serbia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
On the other hand, Iceland, Finland, Denmark and Slovenia had the lowest numbers of prisoners per head of population in Europe, with fewer than 70 prisoners per 100 000 population, while the rate in Sweden and Norway was marginally higher.
Data sources and availability
Developing EU Statistics on crime and criminal justice
Eurostat received a mandate under the 2004 Hague Programme: strengthening freedom, security and justice in the European Union to develop comparable statistics on crime and criminal justice, and a series of measures towards this end were undertaken under the 2006-10 Action Plan on Developing a comprehensive and coherent EU strategy to measure crime and criminal justice.
Following the conclusion of the Action Plan, the system is being enhanced and extended as part of the implementation of the 2009 Stockholm Programme: An open and secure Europe serving and protecting citizens.
Data collection The methodology used in this article draws upon that developed by the European Sourcebook of Crime and Criminal Justice Statistics, in particular the definition and measurement of criminal offences, and upon the Surveys on Crime Trends conducted by the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime.
Countries were asked to adhere to a standard definition when assembling the figures and to provide details of any divergences.
Figures for the United Kingdom are reported separately (as UK: England & Wales, UK: Scotland and UK: Northern Ireland), owing to the existence of three separate jurisdictions.
The data are taken from information recorded or reported by the police. Comparisons of crime levels based on the absolute figures would be misleading, since they are affected by many factors, including:
- different legal and criminal justice systems
- rates at which crimes are reported to the police and recorded by them
- differences in the point at which crime is measured (for example, when reported to the police, on identification of suspects, etc.)
- differences in the rules by which multiple offences are counted
- differences in the list of offences that are included in the overall crime figures
Figures for the prison population may also be affected by many factors, including:
- number of cases dealt with by the courts
- the percentage receiving a custodial sentence
- the length of the sentences imposed
- the size of the population on remand
- the date of the survey, especially where amnesties apply
For these reasons, direct comparisons of crime levels in different countries should be avoided. Rates per head of population (which might imply that such comparisons could be made) are therefore not presented in this publication, except in the case of homicide and the prison population, where the figures may be more readily comparable. In these cases, rates per 100 000 head of population averaged over 3 years have been calculated.
Caution should also be exercised when considering low numbers for some crimes. For example, for homicide, the rate may vary considerably from year to year. This is especially true for small countries or cities where there may be no homicides recorded in one year and two or more the following year.
As a general rule, comparisons should be based upon trends rather than upon levels, on the assumption that the characteristics of the recording system within a country remain fairly constant over time. Even here, however, there are many exceptions as methods change, causing breaks in the series, indicated using the symbol '|'. The symbol ‘:’ is used for some countries to indicate that definitional changes make such a comparison impossible. Fuller information on these changes is given on the Eurostat website.
Where national series without definitional changes are available for the years between 2006 and 2009, indices have been calculated using the 2006 figure as a base, in order to make it easier to follow the trends:
Crime index Ii = (Ci/Cbase) * 100
Ii = index number for year i
Ci = number of offences recorded by the police for year i
Cbase = number of offences recorded by the police for the base year
The website allows users access to the data and the metadata. There are tables on total crime from 1950 onwards and from 1993 for some specific offences, from 1993 for the number of police officers and from 1987 for the prison population. As already noted above, comparability of the figures between countries is difficult to achieve and users are strongly advised to consult the metadata files when referring to the figures. The metadata files contain additional information on the precise definition of the offence used by each country.
The progressive elimination of border controls within the EU has considerably facilitated the free movement of European citizens, but may have also made it easier for criminals to operate, especially since the scope of law enforcement authorities and criminal justice systems is generally limited to the boundaries of national borders.
Since the adoption of the Amsterdam Treaty, the EU has set itself the objective of providing a common area of freedom, security and justice. This goal was further developed by the Hague programme in 2004, which outlined ten priority areas: strengthening fundamental rights and citizenship; anti-terrorist measures; defining a balanced approach to migration; developing integrated management of the EU’s external borders; setting up a common asylum procedure; maximising the positive impact of immigration; striking the right balance between privacy and security while sharing information; developing a strategic concept on tackling organised crime; ensuring a genuine European area of justice; and sharing responsibility and solidarity.
As part of the work to harmonise and develop crime and criminal justice systems, EU Member States agreed to approximate the definitions of offences and the level of sanctions for certain type of offences. Furthermore, mutual recognition of decisions taken by national judges is set to become the cornerstone of judicial cooperation in criminal matters, with a range of tools having been developed to facilitate practical cooperation across borders.
With respect to police cooperation, the EU seeks to grant law enforcement authorities in each of the Member States access to relevant information (such as DNA, fingerprint, vehicle registration or immigration databases), and to improve police cooperation within a common framework for the protection of personal data. Access to information is covered by a raft of legislation, including the Data Retention Directive 2006/24/EC, the Swedish Initiative Framework Decision (Council framework Decision 2006/960/JHA), the Prüm Decision (Council Decision 2008/615/JHA) and Regulation 767/2008 concerning a visa information system (VIS) and the exchange of data between Member States.
Police cooperation has been encouraged through legislation such as Council Framework Decision 2002/465/JHA on Joint Investigation Teams and Council Decision 2008/617/JHA on improved cooperation between special intervention units, while a range of organisations/bodies have been created to aid cooperation between different law enforcement agencies, such as the European Police College (CEPOL), the European Police Office (Europol) or the European agency for the management of operational cooperation at the external borders of the Member States of the EU (Frontex). Furthermore, the EU supports a range of national and multi-national projects, through programmes such as the ‘Prevention of and fight against crime’ (Council Decision 2007/125/JHA).
The first steps towards a more comparable system of crime and criminal justice statistics was outlined in a European Commission Communication (COM(2006) 437), titled 'Developing a comprehensive and coherent EU strategy to measure crime and criminal justice: an EU action plan 2006-2010'. In the short term, its objective was to collect national data and to assess its quality. However, the longer-term goal is for the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Home Affairs, in close collaboration with Eurostat, to develop a harmonised methodology, on which the collection of EU-wide statistics should be based, allowing comparisons of the structure and trends of crime between Member States.
Particular progress has been made in the collection of statistics related to the police and in the development of a common victimisation survey. The collection of data relating to money laundering is underway, and subsequent priorities include information on the trafficking of human beings, corruption and cybercrime. A pilot survey to assess the level and impact of crimes against businesses in EU Member States was also launched at the end of 2011.
Further Eurostat information
- Crime and Criminal Justice, 2006-2009 - Statistics in focus 6/2012
- Crime and Criminal Justice - Statistics in focus 58/2010
- Crimes recorded by the police (crim_gen)
- Crimes recorded by the police: homicide in cities (crim_hom_city)
- Crimes recorded by the police: historical data (total crime) 1950-2000 (crim_hist)
- Police officers (crim_plce)
- Prison population (crim_pris)
- Prison population: historical data 1987-2000 (crim_pris_hist)
- Crime and criminal justice (ESMS metadata file - crim_esms)
- Commission Communication COM/2006/437 final: Developing a comprehensive and coherent EU strategy to measure crime and criminal justice : an EU Action Plan 2006-2010
- The Hague Programme: strengthening freedom, security and justice in the European Union (Official Journal C 53 of 3.3.2005, p.11)
- The Stockholm Programme: An open and secure Europe serving and protecting citizens (Official Journal C 115 of 4.5.2010, p.1)
- Council of Europe
- European Sourcebook of Crime and Criminal Justice Statistics
- Europol - European Police Office
- Fundamental Rights Agency
- United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime - Data and analysis