UCL Department of Security and Crime Science

The UCL Department of Security and Crime Science is the first university department in the world devoted specifically to reducing crime and other risks to personal and national security. It does this through teaching, research, public policy analysis and by the dissemination of evidence-based information on crime reduction and security enhancement. We bring together politicians, scientists, designers and  practitioners to examine patterns in crime and security threats, and to find practical methods to disrupt these patterns. Our mission is to change policy and practice. In the last Research Assessment Exercise (RAE 2008) 75% of the dept's research activity was judged as internationally excellent or world leading, placing the dept joint 2nd in the relevant unit of assessment.

Research Showcase

Problem oriented policing (POP)

Problem-oriented policing (POP) is an evidence-based and scientific approach to dealing with specific community problems. The key processes involve ‘scanning’ (identifying specific problems with common attributes), ‘analysis’ (testing hypotheses about the conditions giving rise to the problem), response (implementing a strategy that removes or modifies key conditions giving rise to the problem) and assessment (evaluating the effectiveness of the strategy that has been developed).

The JDI’s Nick Tilley led a demonstration project in Leicestershire in 1995 attempting to introduce POP. This project sparked national interest as an approach to policing and crime prevention more generally. Problem Oriented Partnership, as it is now termed in the UK, is widely embraced in police services and within Community Safety groups. The annual Home Office funded Tilley Award for excellence in POP, now in its twelfth year, is awarded following a national competition.

Crime Analyst Book Cover
Knowledge transfer

Staff at the JDI, led by Spencer Chainey, have played a major part in training over 1,000 analysts, police officers and partnerships in POP techniques as part of the JDI knowledge transfer programme. Gloria Laycock, currently seconded to the United Arab Emirates, is now training their police staff in POP. Kate Bowers, Shane Johnson, and Aiden Sidebottom have contributed to a POP guide series that is funded and published by the US Department of Justice.

In 2011, three of the seven finalists for the International Goldstein Award for excellence in POP were from the UK, as was the winner. All were influenced by the JDI either in terms of the training for the staff involved or in research lying behind the projects. The JDI has built on and pushed forward the adoption of POP as a vehicle for bringing scientific method to dealing with problems of crime and disorder.

Murder Conviction Quashed Through Forensic Analysis of Quartz Grains

In 2002 Barri White was convicted of murdering his girlfriend and sentenced to life with a 15 year tariff.  His friend Keith Hyatt was found guilty of perverting the course of justice and sentenced to 5 years.


                                                                White & Hyatt

New geoforensic investigations were undertaken by the JDI’s Ruth Morgan in collaboration with colleagues at the University of Oxford and BBC's Rough Justice, on the soil samples taken from the victim's clothing, the body deposition site and the shoes and vehicle belonging to White and Hyatt.  Quartz is a mineral that is ubiquitous in most soils and the analysis of the surface textures of quartz grains can give an indication of their provenance.  The new forensic analysis carried out on the quartz grains identified that the quartz taken from the vehicle, clothing and shoes belonging to White and Hyatt could not have come from the body deposition site.  This finding, in combination with new discoveries concerning other forms of particulate evidence identified on the victim and in the vehicle were presented at the Court of Appeal in December 2007 where the three judges quashed the convictions on the basis of the quartz and particulate evidence.  In December 2008 at his retrial, White was found not guilty of the murder.

Quartz Grain

                          Quartz Grain

The UCL JDI Centre for the Forensic Sciences

This is just one example of the way the research carried out at the JDI and the new UCL JDI Centre for the Forensic Sciences is contributing to aid the detection of crime and secure justice.  The JDI forensic science research group is expanding and undertaking interdisciplinary research in partnership with a growing number of stakeholders, to provide a robust research framework for the forensic sciences to build upon, to develop and make an impact in forensic investigations. For more details see www.ucl.ac.uk/forensic-sciences


What do crime and disease have in common?

Near-repeat offending and predictive mapping

The risk of crime is far from random. Instead, some people, locations and homes are more at risk of crime than others. Being able to predict who or what is at risk in the near future would be of considerable benefit to crime reduction agencies, including the police. Research led by JDI's Shane Johnson and Kate Bowers (e.g. Johnson et al., 1997; Bowers et al., 1998) concerned with repeat victimization demonstrates that for all crime types so far analysed – with the exception of murder – the risk of victimisation a person or place experiences increases following each offence suffered.  Moreover, and importantly, this elevation in risk is short-term meaning that attempts to prevent such crimes need to be swift.

Following on from this, with respect to crime at places, using techniques developed in the field of epidemiology, research conducted at UCL JDI (e.g.Bowers and Johnson, 2005; Bowers, Johnson and Pease, 2004; Johnson et al., 2007) demonstrates that the risk of crime spreads much like a disease - when a crime occurs at one location, the risk of crime temporarily increases at that location and at those nearby. This pattern of space-time clustering has been shown to occur for residential burglary (e.g. Johnson & Bowers, 2004), vehicle crime (Johnson et al., 2009), cash-in-transit robbery, and even insurgency in Iraq (e.g. Johnson and Braithwaite, 2009).

Such findings have received attention from the international media, have been used by crime reduction agencies worldwide to reduce crime, and are being used to develop and refine methods of crime forecasting. Current research, conducted in collaboration with the National Police Improvement Agency, is exploring how forecasts and associated information, based on the above findings, might be best communicated to the police using mobile devices such as SmartPhones.

Designing out crime: lo-tech solutions to hi-volume crime

Design influences behaviour. Variation in the design of places, products and systems gives rise to different patterns of behaviour. This is also true of criminal behaviour: different places, products and systems afford different opportunities for crime, antisocial behaviour and terrorism. The JDI has been at the forefront of work exploring how best to apply design in the service of crime prevention. Research in this area by Gloria Laycock, Shane Johnson, Kate Bowers and Aiden Sidebottom includes assessing the role the design process has in effective crime prevention, a trial of shopping trolleys designed to reduce bag theft from supermarkets, and in collaboration with the Design Against Crime Research Centre at Central Saint Martins College, the evaluation of efforts to design out bag theft from bars and the evaluation of bicycle parking furniture designed to reduce the risks of cycle theft. 


Crime ‘pollution’ around risky facilities such as football stadia

The need for understanding the impact of ‘risky’ facilities for police services has never been more important than in these times of austerity. In 2011 the JDI’s Justin Kurland, Shane Johnson and Nick Tilley conducted research on behalf of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), and various other police agencies, to investigate spatio-temporal patterns of crime and disorder in and around football stadia throughout England. The temporal irregularity of football matches and other events allowed comparisons to be made across the same areas around stadia under alternative conditions. The result of this work has led to a better understanding of how increases in the ambient population associated with attending a football match or alternative event changes the ecology of a local environment, thus making specific areas surrounding stadia more likely to generate or attract crime. This has practical implications. It provides police forces with evidence to ensure football clubs are paying commensurately for the ‘crime pollution’ they are legally responsible for. A research brief authored by the JDI that outlines the findings will be circulated by ACPO to all police commanders throughout England with the hope of convincing more forces to use an evidence-based approach towards determining the area for which each individual football club might be asked to contribute to the costs of policing.

A study currently being conducted by Kate Bowers fits well with this philosophy. Using data from a large metropolitan area relating to theft from person, it demonstrates that there is a connection between the amount of theft that occurs internally within public facilities and that which occurs on the street nearby. It appears that some risky facilities ‘radiate’ their risk to passers-by or those who have recently left the premises. Thus, owners of large crime generators, such as busy bars and restaurants should take some responsibility for theft levels in their local neighbourhood.


From hotspot mapping to hotspot modelling

Hotspot analysis has become a standard technique used in policing and community safety. A hotspot is an area of high crime and disorder concentration, relative to the distribution of crime across a whole study area. Hotspot analysis is regarded as the most basic form of crime prediction - it uses crime events from the past to help identify where problems are likely to exist in the future.

The JDI has been central in the development of techniques for improving hotspot analysis. This has included conducting several critical reviews (e.g. Chainey, Tompson and Uhlig, 2008), and being the authors of key guidance documents (e.g. ACPO NPIA ‘The Analysis of Geographic Information’, US Dept of Justice ‘Understanding Hotspots’).

Our research is now taking hotspot analysis to the next level.

· What’s hot? The first stage involves introducing spatial significance testing into hotspot analysis by determining what is 'hot'. This has helped to improve the ability to predict where crime will occur in the future by 30% over standard techniques

· Hotspot modelling: We are now using local spatial regression methods (e.g. Geographically Weighted Regression) to statistically determine why a hotspot is 'hot', recognising that these factors may vary from place to place. We are then using these 'causation' factors, alongside the more traditional method of using crime data from the past, to produce a hotspot model. That is, can our ability to predict where crime will occur in the future be improved by combining data on the reasons why crime takes place at certain locations with crime data from the past?

See also images of Newcastle hotspots


Hotspots of serious violence in Newcastle

The Gi* statistic better predicts future crime hotspots by over 30% in comparison to common methods.


Spatial regression model of violence and licensed premises: rather than assuming that the relationship between licensed premises and violence is equal in all places, this map shows that this relationship geographically varies. We then use these inputs to produce a hotspot model to improve crime prediction.


Crime Science, Countering Terrorism and Security Science - the JDI contribution to education

As part of one of the world’s leading universities it has been a primary function of the JDI to develop a strong teaching programme which both supports and challenges students. In 2002 we launched the MSc in Crime Science. Our emphasis was on science and one of the most important modules was ‘Thinking Scientifically’ ie, the philosophy of science. This has proved one of the most popular modules with many of our police practitioner students, for whom it represents a major intellectual challenge. In 2008, Sir Stephen Lander, former head of MI5, helped launch our MSc in Countering Organised Crime and Terrorism which emphasised ways of developing and implementing strategies to address the threat of extremism. The course has been a runaway success and involves real-life practitioners in its teaching elements. Each of these degree courses has associated diploma and certificate programmes and both are now experimenting with new methods of teaching including e-based learning.



In 2008 we were delighted to win £7m from the EPSRC (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council) for our Security Science Doctoral Research Training Centre (UCL SECReT). We now have 50 Phd students on the programme working – with support from external partners such as the Met Police, Selex, Rapsican, Home Office CAST, Goldman Sachs and others – on a wide range of crime and security problems such as internal sex trafficking, computational cryptography, blood pattern analysis, transport security, and modelling radicalisation. The multidisciplinary nature of the students’ approach and the emphasis on real-world results is already generating significant outcomes for crime reduction in the UK.

MSc in Crime Science – a world first


The MSc in Crime Science aims to provide students with a thorough understanding of how science and scientifically based techniques can deliver immediate and sustainable reductions in crime. The programme focuses on how to apply science better to understand crime problems, and develop strategies for reducing such problems by (a) stopping them from happening in the first place and (b) increasing the probability of detecting and arresting offenders.

Students Jumping

Refuting displacement: Crime doesn’t 'move’ next door

A concern that is sometimes raised about police use of POP approaches is that because they are geographically specific they will just displace criminal activity from the POP project area to other locations. Research funded by the National Policing Improvement Agency, and commissioned by the Campbell Collaboration (an organisation who aim to help people make well informed policy decisions in education, crime and justice, and social welfare by commissioning systematic reviews based on transparent, highly regulated procedures) was conducted by the JDI’s Kate Bowers, Shane Johnson and colleagues to assess the evidence on this possibility.

The results showed that, on the basis of the best available evidence, geographically focused policing interventions are successful at reducing crime, and do not, on average, displace problems to nearby areas. In fact, for POP schemes in particular, a 'diffusion of benefit' was a more likely outcome; with crime levels actually dropping in the nearby areas as well as within the project boundaries.

Doctoral Research at UCL SECReT, the Security Science DTC


In 2008 we were delighted to win £7m from the EPSRC (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council) for our Security Science Doctoral Research Training Centre (UCL SECReT). We now have 50 Phd students on the programme working – with support from external partners such as the Met Police, Selex, Rapsican, Home Office CAST, Goldman Sachs and others – on a wide range of crime and security problems such as internal sex trafficking, computational cryptography, blood pattern analysis, transport security, and modelling radicalisation. The multidisciplinary nature of the students’ approach and the emphasis on real-world results is already generating significant outcomes for crime reduction in the UK.


Page last modified on 14 jan 13 13:44