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Big data could help to reduce crime in Saskatchewan

By Dale Johnson Posted: October 6, 2016 3:00 p.m.

Interns on the Mitacs Accelerate project team, supervised by U of R Professor Howard Hamilton (centre). From left to right: Zhi Cao, Mehdi Sadeqi, Manali Gaikwad, Howard Hamilton, Imran Jahan, Khantil Patel, and Rahim Samei.
Interns on the Mitacs Accelerate project team, supervised by U of R Professor Howard Hamilton (centre). From left to right: Zhi Cao, Mehdi Sadeqi, Manali Gaikwad, Howard Hamilton, Imran Jahan, Khantil Patel, and Rahim Samei. Photo courtesy of Mitacs

A partnership between a team of researchers from the University of Regina’s Department of Computer Science and ISM Canada is looking at ways to tackle crime in the streets, in response to a possibility identified by the Saskatchewan Ministry of Justice.

ISM Canada is a specialist in information technology storage and analytics, and provides support services to many large clients. One of those clients, the Ministry of Justice, was wondering if connections could be made using millions of pieces of data in ways that might help them to create new crime reduction initiatives in Saskatchewan.

ISM partnered with Professor Howard Hamilton at the University of Regina and a team of six other professors to apply their expertise in the latest data science techniques to the problem identified by the Ministry. The other professors are: Robert Hilderman, Orland Hoeber, Xue Dong Yang, Jingtao Yao, Yiyu Yao, and Sandra Zilles.

Mehdi Sadeqi, a postdoctoral fellow on the project, says by gathering data about crime, predictions can be made – with the aim of reducing crime.

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U of R Associate Vice-President (Academic and Research) Dena McMartin (centre) met with officials of Mitacs, Iman Yahyaie, Director of Business Development (right), and Matthew Bongiorno, Senior Advisor, Partnerships (left). Photo: U of R Photography


“Take graffiti for example. We could map out all the areas that have had increased incidents of graffiti and overlay it with information about other crimes in that location, like break-and-enters. If we notice a connection between the two, then we can use that knowledge to help the graffiti taggers avoid criminal lifestyles that might lead them to committing break-and-enters. In this way, we’re using big data to prevent criminals from re-offending, and hopefully taking them out of the cycle of crime altogether.”

Another researcher, Credell Simeon, a computer science graduate student, says: “We can tell if a person expresses intent to commit crimes using publically available data like open tweets or posts to different social media sites. When we combine this with the other information available, we can get a much richer picture of how and where crimes might take place.”

When it’s completed, the data mining and visualization system will be an important tool to support crime-reduction programs.

This research project was initiated by Mitacs, a national, not-for-profit organization that has designed and delivered research and training programs in Canada for 15 years. Mitacs works with 60 universities, thousands of companies, and federal and provincial governments to build partnerships that support industrial and social innovation in Canada.

Officials from Mitacs were in Regina on Thursday, October 6, 2016, and met with officials from the U of R to discuss other possible research projects between the U of R and local businesses.

The director of business development at Mitacs, Iman Yahyaie, says "Through Mitacs programs, University of Regina students, postdocs, and faculty have access to research collaborations where they can gain new professional skills, expand their networks, and connect with potential employers. The U of R is a fantastic supporter of Mitacs, and we look forward to continuing our partnership with the university."