Science and crime fighting may be an unlikely couple to some, especially out of the realm of CSI like forensics, but science can influence how communities interact with their law enforcement agencies.
Research in this area will be in the upcoming Science in The City on the evening of September 29th in Valletta. The science and arts festival will feature stands by numerous departments at the University of Malta, including the department of Cognitive Science which will feature the CITYCoP project, an EU funded project taking place across several countries.
Part of the CITYCoP project attempts to understand what types of crime troubles communities. Taking advantage of the explosion of smartphones, the Department of Cognitive Science developed an app that was used by research participants to report instances when they felt they could become victims of crime, and even recording them by taking a photo.
Visitors to Science in the City will be able to experience this app first hand by taking part in the department’s “Crime Hunter” event. The event involves downloading the app, and assisting “superheroes” – paid actors, to hunt and document crime in Valletta perpetrated by other paid actors. The savviest crime hunter will be rewarded with a day in the Cognitive Science Lab.
Although all of this seems like a game, it’s the first step towards a radical overhaul of the relationship between communities and law enforcement that aims to create a more mutual understanding of what is bothering communities.
Speaking to Lovin Malta, Professor Noellie Brockdorff, head of the department of Cognitive Science said that projects like CITYCoP “demonstrate how science can impact the lives of citizens by helping lawmakers to base their policy decisions on sound, evidence-based foundations”.
This is often at odds with the stereotype of a scientist, firmly entrenched in a white coat and exiled permanently to a lab – and Professor Brockdorff admitted that that was probably her when she was younger. “But as I got older, I realised that while doing the science and writing the papers is important, so is taking those findings and reaching out to the community”.
“Initiatives like this also show the point of Government and EU investment in research”, she continued, adding that taxpayers get a return on their investment more often than they think.
The department of Cognitive Science will also showcase more of its research.
One involves the study of human attention and perception through participants taking control of a squirrel in an augmented reality game. This project, co-developed with the Institute of Gaming, has already been deployed in an experimental setting in the past year.
The original inspiration for the game was how animals forage for food in the wild. Previous experiments have used mobile apps to see if humans do indeed forage in the same way as other species. The augmented reality version at Science in the City takes this to a complex 3D environment.
Other departments, government agencies and some private businesses are also contributing to Science in the City, and events also include a Jazz session, a “See the Stars” event by the Astronomical Society of Malta, an exhibition by Wasteserve on the effects of plastic on the planet and a time machine journey by Heritage Malta at the National Museum of Archaeology.
This is by no means an exhaustive list however: head to Science in the City’s Facebook page for more!