Fostering Well Connected Communities


It is the only lab like it in the world, the Institute for Canadian Urban Research Studies (ICURS) is transforming how we analyze crime by exploiting the power of advanced research computing (ARC). Located at Simon Fraser University, ICURS is a fine example of how large data sets and ARC can create new ways to solve challenges that benefit our quality of life, all while preventing crime and improving our neighbourhoods.

Dr. Patricia BantinghamApplying new algorithms to large datasets for crime reduction is equivalent to what DNA evidence did for criminal investigations. ICURS combines the disciplines of criminology, computing science, geography and economics. ICURS’ director Dr. Patricia Brantingham and her partners in the British Columbia police force are conducting research that will inform society on evidence based approaches to crime reduction and urban planning.

Compute Canada and its regional partner WestGrid are supporting the institute’s need for secure high performance computing services. Dr. Martin Siegert got involved in this project to help run, maintain and setup a database infrastructure to manage the information as it comes in from the police. As a physicist, he learned to build, maintain and create code for advanced research computing.

“We can do in four minutes what the police systems do in four days,“ said Dr. Siegert. “We are only limited by imagination, we know people do not move randomly and we can pattern things that were not possible ten years ago.”

Dr. Brantingham has received international recognition for her work on offender target selection processes and geography of crime.  Her mathematical work on the distribution of crime in regard to the structure of neighbourhoods is fundamental to understanding the environments that promote or reduce crime.

“We are taking 20 years of 911 call service data and other data sources such as traffic flow, public transportation, previous crime history, and other data points to create a third way of thinking on how to map crime,” said Dr. Brantingham. “When you know the approaches in one field and can apply them to other fields, it is like a third way of thinking and attaining results.”

The results are impressive; researchers are able to predict very specific outcomes and even solve crimes that once would have appeared random using more traditional methods on desktop computers.

For example, ICURS researchers can predict which corner at an intersection is more likely to have criminal activity and why. For violent crime, this model can quickly make predictions as to how far an individual likely travelled to get to the scene of the crime from their home neighbourhood, their age, and the likelihood of whether it was a first time crime or a repeated offender.

The data from thousands of events, which has been cleared of personal information, can be mapped to look for patterns and possible modifications to reduce crime. Modelling scale, time and space connectedness with physical juxtapositions can only happen by integrating datasets and exploiting the services provided by Compute Canada.

The model is so unique, it has captured the attention of retired RCMP Deputy Commissioner for British Columbia, Gary Bass as a senior research associate. He will play an integral part of this multidisciplinary team. Together with other local and regional allies, Dr. Brantingham’s simulations will address an issue which could potentially influence the layout of future communities.

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