Students get virtual lessons in forensic crime analysis
A new, online special topics course being offered by Simon Fraser University’s School of Criminology this fall will give students the chance to hone high-level crime investigation skills by accessing a virtual forensic criminal intelligence analysis lab.
SFU is the first university in North America to build and offer a virtual forensic analysis lab, which includes access to industry standard software and tools such as ESRI ArcMap Crime Analyst and IBM i2 Analyst Notebook, and a number of tools previously reserved for law enforcement and intelligence agency personnel only.
Working together with SFU criminology professor Curt Griffiths, Ryan Prox, a special constable with the Vancouver Police Department and an SFU instructor, will teach Crim 417, Introduction to Crime and Intelligence Analysis: Theory and Practice through SFU’s Centre for Online and Distance Education (CODE). Students enrolled in the special topics criminology course can log in to the lab and use the highly specialized forensic analysis tools online.
The course is being developed as part of SFU’s popular Police Studies program, coordinated by Griffiths. The special topics status enables testing of the concept until the course receives formal approval. Crim 417 focuses on special topics centered on new ideas and developments in criminology.
“This will be the first criminology course of its kind with this level of forensic hands-on, skills-based experience,” says Prox. Those who complete the course will enhance their job readiness and can add the course to others enabling them to apply for International Associate of Law Enforcement Intelligence Analysts (IALEIA) certification.
The fall semester course follows the success of a classroom-based version offered this past spring and taught by Prox at SFU’s Surrey campus. Students taking the course, which had a waiting list of 25 students, had access to an onsite forensics criminal intelligence analysis lab, which will remain at the Surrey campus for future classes, including one next spring (2014). Prox says the facility is comparable to premier intelligence training facilities in the U.S.
“You don’t typically find this capacity offered outside the law enforcement industry,” says Prox, noting that SFU made a substantial investment in resources to upgrade the software and lab capacity in the physical lab, in tandem with the building of the CODE virtual lab.
The physical and online labs are made possible through the gift of nearly half a million dollars worth of crime and intelligence software donated to the university by several software vendors, and the support and expertise of the SFU criminology faculty members, CODE course creators and SFU’s Instructional Technology (IT) course designers.
The potential exists to offer the course to law enforcement agencies across the continent and beyond – with interest from police services as far off as Saudi Arabia – as creators hope to widen its scope by next semester.
CODE academic program director John Whatley says combining complex software programs (such as CrimeAnalyst and ArcMap) allows police forces worldwide to determine crime patterns through the use of crime databases projected onto thematic maps. “The course is based on an innovative use of online design, allowing access to highly structured data to enable geo-spatial and social network analysis,” explains Whatley.
Prox says students will be exposed to some of the tools used by law enforcement agencies to analyze organized and gang crime data and will have access to former Homeland Security files used in court to create intelligence packages.
“The technology involved and techniques learned are those sought by industry and will give students a really solid lead in the job market,” says Prox.
Simon Fraser University is Canada's top-ranked comprehensive university and one of the top 50 universities in the world under 50 years old. With campuses in Vancouver, Burnaby and Surrey, B.C., SFU engages actively with the community in its research and teaching, delivers almost 150 programs to more than 30,000 students, and has more than 120,000 alumni in 130 countries.
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