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Dawes Centre for Future Crime

Technological and societal change leads inevitably to new types of crime. The Dawes Centre identifies emerging crime threats and works to deliver pre-emptive interventions for the benefit of society

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About us

The Dawes Centre was founded with £7m funding from the Dawes Trust and UCL. The centre focuses on key questions such as "which emerging crimes should we focus on, given limited resources?" and "how can we mitigate future threats?". 

Director's Welcome

Professor Shane Johnson, Director, Dawes Centre

“The past thirty years have demonstrated that paradigm shifts in technology lead inevitably to the emergence of new types of crime and offenders. We are all familiar with the rapid rise of cybercrime brought on by the ‘digital revolution’, but crime opportunities will also be presented by developments in, for example, nanotechnology, robotics and cybernetics.

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"The relationship between innovation and crime has almost universally comprised three distinct phases. First, there is innovation without much consideration of crime consequences; second there is a crime ‘harvest’ exploiting the vulnerabilities to crime of the innovation; third, there is the retrofit of a solution, often partial. This sequence has been played out many times, most recently in the rush to market of digital products and services with unforeseen crime consequences.

"These ‘emerging’ crimes range across many crime markets. The Dark Web’s Silk Road and Bitcoin were major players in the illegal drug market, and the Dark Web still serves markets from counterfeit passports to pornography. There is a massive issue in online grooming preparatory to child sexual exploitation. One-to-many digital communication is a boon for fraudsters who need only one vulnerable target for every hundred sent in a single keypress. New Scientist reports a claim that handcuff keys used by Dutch police were 3-D printed having featured in newspaper photographs. The Internet of Things (machine to machine communication) offers a new range of criminal possibilities, such as the disruption of implanted medical devices. Arduino, an open-source electronics platform, brings the potential for weaponising a range of hitherto benign products.

"In a very real sense such ‘crimes of the future’ are an emergent property of the advance of civilisation. It is not a question of if new criminal opportunities will be exploited, but when and how. The challenge is in both forecasting the nature and spread of such crimes, and in tackling them effectively before they become established.

"Responses must be speedy, flexible and intelligent. The aim is to shorten movement through the three-stage cycle described above, and ideally pre-empt the first two. A range of disciplines across the social, physical and life sciences is relevant to this cause.

"However, the experience of cybercrime has demonstrated amply that law enforcement – often limited by constrained resources, out-dated skills-sets and traditional modes of thinking – may be caught flat- footed by crimes that emerge dramatically and with little advance notice of their arrival. It is in response to this clear gap that academic research, linked to a mechanism by which such research can be deployed into front-line law enforcement, can help.

"The proposed Dawes Global Centre for Future Crimes will have the dual purposes of identifying emergent crime threats and outlining and promulgating pre-emptive measures. To our knowledge this will be the first research centre of its kind anywhere in the world, giving us the opportunity to set the agenda. We welcome your participation in this endeavour.”

Research, study and outputs

Click on the links below to find out about research currently underway at the Dawes Centre, including PhD projects and how to apply for Dawes funding; and to read our research outputs including academic and government publications, and our annual reports.