Jamie Morton is the NZ Herald's science reporter.

The new crime fighters: Scientists team up with police

Crime scientists examined who committed crime, how and why, and where and when crimes were carried out. Photo / Martin Sykes
Crime scientists examined who committed crime, how and why, and where and when crimes were carried out. Photo / Martin Sykes

Some of the country's top scientists are joining forces with police to help fight crime - but those behind the new collaboration say it's a far cry from the slick, distorted world of shows like CSI.

The partnership will put police staff alongside Waikato University researchers who will mining crime data for patterns, offer psychology insights and help tackle a growing cyber crime problem which could be costing the country $400m each year.

The new collaboration builds on work the university is already leading through its Institute of Crime Science.

"Crime science is devoted to finding out what works to cut crime," said Inspector Shanan Gray, who is helping drive the project.

"It uses data, professional knowledge and an evidence-based problem solving approach to identify ways to detect, prevent and disrupt crime."

Crime scientists - coming from fields ranging from architecture and engineering to mathematics and criminology - examined who committed crime, how and why, and where and when crimes were carried out.

"CSI really is just TV - in the real world things are more complicated," he said.

"But police do understand the need to use science and evidence to inform what we do."

Crime science would form just part of the work at what's been named the Centre for Evidence Based Policing, which Gray said would draw on empirical research to make decisions about "what works" in policing, with frontline staff would having input.

The approach was growing in popularity internationally, and had become more prominent in policing over the last decade.

The centre would host police research and evaluation staff, as well as researchers from the university and ESR, with an initial team of 15 to 20 people.

Better sharing of data could help police better understand what drove offending, how to protect in victims in family harm cases, or save more lives on the roads, Gray said.

Police constantly collected a vast amount of data, from burglary statistics to offender demographics, and there was a need to use and share of much of it as possible to build a deeper understanding of crime.

"Social changes associated with population growth, climate change, fluid migration patterns and an ageing society all have the potential to drive crime and insecurity in ways that are not currently well understood."

Road policing will be a focus area of a new collaboration between police and scientists. Photo / File
Road policing will be a focus area of a new collaboration between police and scientists. Photo / File

Kiwis were also increasingly under threat from cyber crime: last year, the Government Communications Security Bureau reported New Zealand was now facing 900 different types of cyber attack each month.

According to Netsafe, the 8570 cyber attacks recorded in 2015 cost New Zealand companies and individuals $13.4 million - but this only represented four per cent of all breaches that year.

The total cost of cybercrime could have stretched up to $400 million.

"The dark net and internet of things present a range of new problems," Gray said.

"New technologies that could be exploited by criminals are also of interest."

Waikato University Vice-Chancellor Professor Neil Quigley said computer science, data mining and software engineering had long been strengths of the university.

"The work police are interested in having us do has to be sufficiently difficult and intellectual interesting that it sits with peoples' research agendas - and we are pretty sure that it will."

- NZ Herald

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