FSE 3: SAVE (Smartness Against Violence in Environments) - Developing smart urban environments to fight violent knife crimes

Faculty: Faculty of Science and Engineering

Supervisors: Prof Maria Vogiatzaki; Dr Lakshmi Babu Saheer; Dr Elisa Orofino

Location: Chelmsford

The interview for this project is expected to take place on Wednesday 19 April.

Despite the alarming increase in reported knife crime in urban public spaces globally, there are gaps in our knowledge about the distinct characteristics of this type of offense.

Police have identified the main hotspots of violent crime in general, but there are limited studies on the specific urban design traits of the loci that characterise these hotspots.

Although several agents that contribute to knife-crime activity have been investigated, research for its prevention and reduction has not included a systematic and thorough analysis and understanding of the spatial conditions of the reported crime scenes. There is also a knowledge gap in the potential of smart technologies to enhance knife-crime prevention.

There are recent studies showcasing how frequent patrolling alone can reduce crime in specific localities, which lead to the hypotheses that: a. the (re)design of the crime loci is a critical factor; and b. the full deployment of social media, internet of things (IoT) and data could drastically improve the situation.

HotSpot Policing is a well-established technique utilised by law enforcement organisations to identify high crime areas. Risk Terrain Modelling (RTM) added further context to HotSpots by identifying 'risky' areas based on the placement of various commercial enterprises - pawnbrokers, liquor stores, 24/7 shops, abandoned buildings, mixed vs pure commercial or residential planning systems, materiality, lighting qualities, and escape routes.

Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) is a long-established practice within the construction and architectural industries.

At the intersection of RTM and CPTED there is an opportunity to identity a novel approach to reducing violent crime, effectively managing or removing elements that contribute to the 'place' from the Problem Analysis Triangle, which built on the Routine Activity Theory.

This project will enhance knife-crime prevention in UK cities by gaining insights into the characteristics of public spaces where such crime recurrently occurs, and by proposing guidelines for their redesign both physically and immaterially.

This will involve introducing smart technologies in public spaces (cameras; warning devices; lighting; sonic alerts to emergency services; social media alerts, neighbourhood watch; escape route clear signalling; apps) and to their users (enabling citizen awareness through wearables and apps).

Transforming public spaces will not only reduce the exponentially growing crime rate, but improve communities’ quality of life and safety.

The aim of this PhD project is to work with police and crime commissioners (PCCs) in the Cambridgeshire and London Metropolitan police to:

  1. Collect the existing details of the crimes and map the spatial qualities of knife-crime prone urban areas (hotspots as identified by the police).
  2. Design, develop and evaluate statistical models to predict knife crime risk prone areas based on the data collected in (1).
  3. Propose design guidelines for safe and resilient urban spaces (risk terrain modelling and escape route design) for safer urban neighbourhoods.
  4. Understand and analyse the use of digital technology, including social media and IoT-based monitoring, to map and alert potentially dangerous zones of interaction.

The research will provide important inputs to policing initiatives, local authorities redesigning public spaces, and instantiate interdisciplinary research on the subject.

The PhD will develop urban design guidelines to reduce knife crime by mapping natural and human-made aspects of knife crime hotspots and integrating these into multiagency environmental modelling.

You'll have a Masters or a Bachelors in architecture and/or urban design, with a good understanding of data science and AI. An MSc in AI or data sciences is desirable.

You'll work with urban designers, forensic psychology, digital media, IoT monitoring, and police experts to study the multiagency of the place and space knife crime occurs.

You'll use your urban design background to examine spatial characteristics - humanmade or natural - and their relationship to the broader urban context, as well as the nature of the broader area, system, and land use, with a goal of proposing updated urban design guidelines to discourage knife crime.

If you would like to discuss this research project, please contact Prof Maria Vogiatzaki: maria.vogiatzaki@aru.ac.uk

Apply online by 19 March 2023

Funding notes

This successful applicant for this project will receive a Vice Chancellor’s PhD Scholarship which covers Home tuition fees and provides a UKRI equivalent minimum annual stipend for three years. For 2022/3 this was £17,688 per year. The award is subject to the successful candidate meeting the scholarship terms and conditions. Please note that the University asserts the right to claim any intellectual property generated by research it funds.

Download the full terms and conditions.