Criminology, Research, Awards

Award for ICURS Director Patricia Brantingham

November 26, 2014

In San Francisco last week at its annual conference, the American Society of Criminology (ASC) awarded SFU’s Dr. Patricia Brantingham the 2014 Freda Adler Distinguished Scholar Award. The award goes to one scholar each year whose contributions to international criminology have had an impact on “international criminal justice, comparative, cross-border, and transnational crime or justice research.”

Dr. Patricia Brantingham

Dr. Freda Adler, the namesake of the award, is Professor Emeritus, Rutgers University and a visiting Professor at University of Pennsylvania. Adler is known for her work on women and crime, and she is a representative to the UN on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice and a past President of the ASC. Brantingham is the second scholar from a Canadian university to win the award and joins the ranks of diverse group of international scholars such as Dr. Tamar Pitch, University of Camerino, Italy (1999), Dr. Maria Los, University of Ottawa (2002), Dr. Lorraine Mazerolle, University of Queensland (2010), and David P. Farrington, Cambridge University (2013).

Brantingham’s research contributions are numerous. But it is her work as a pioneer in Environmental Criminology, with her husband Dr. Paul Brantingham, and the co-founding of SFU’s secure data laboratory at the Institute for Canadian Urban Research Studies (ICURS), that has garnered Brantingham international recognition.

Drs. Paul, Patricia and Jeffrey Brantingham

Before becoming a criminologist, Brantingham studied theoretical mathematics at Barnard College, an offshoot of Columbia University known for such diverse alumni as anthropologist Margaret Meade ’23, entrepreneur Martha Stewart ’63, and award-winning chemist Jacqueline Barton ’72. Brantingham’s parents were chemists who worked in industry (and son Jeffrey is Professor of Anthropology at UCLA). After college—perhaps following in the same path as her parents—she designed large-scale computing systems for industry before pursuing graduate work.

Her interest in criminology didn’t surface until she traveled to Cambridge, England with husband Paul while he completed his postdoctoral research. “My first exposure to criminology was working as a researcher for some of the criminologists [in Cambridge] and when we moved to Florida, I went back to do my PhD because I liked what they were doing in Urban and Regional Planning which was really a joining of geography and political science, looking at growth and change, and how we shape growth and change.”

Dr. Patricia Brantingham

In those early days of urban and regional planning, however, Brantingham notes that “urban planning seemed to approach things as though crime wouldn’t happen or that it was independent of urban planning.” She says this pointed to something crucial missing from many approaches: there was scarcely “any concern about crime or any interest in what you plan for services for people who are victims of crimes, for people who commit crimes or repeat offenders or for teenagers who commit crime.”

This focus of Brantingham’s work marked her scholarship as truly interdisciplinary. Paired with Paul’s experience in Criminology and Criminal Justice, the Drs. Brantingham were an appealing pair to recruit when Criminology’s founding chair, Dr. Ezzat Fattah was building the School in the 1970s. They came to SFU’s Burnaby Mountain campus in 1977. Back then, Criminology was about 10 faculty members strong, a burgeoning unit on the cusp of launching the first English language graduate program in Criminology in Canada (the only other place to study criminology at the graduate level was in Montreal, and in French).

During their tenure at Florida State University, both Patricia and Paul had worked with criminologist C. Ray Jeffery, who in 1971 had published the book, Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design. When they came to SFU, they were among a few scholars in the 1980s and 90s interested in analyzing how human-made environments influenced crime patterns. Patricia Brantingham explains that they began having yearly meetings with like-minded researchers around the globe, and aptly started calling the new discipline Environmental Criminology.

While researchers had more commonly focused on psychological or sociological factors in crime rates and occurrences, she says the attention to urban environments was something that really began to draw in researchers. “What we could all see was that where you lived, how you lived, where you spent your time, influenced your activity space, and what you’re aware of. The big step of this whole field is to see people who commit crimes as people and recognize that they too have activity spaces, places where they choose to spend time.”

In the early 1990s the husband-wife team founded the Institute for Canadian Urban Research Studies, or ICURS, a move that formalized the research group and helped give structure to the interdisciplinary nature of the field. The secure laboratory in the new Arts and Social Sciences Complex, opened in 2007, enables scholars from criminology, computing science, geography, economics, and applied mathematics to pursue advanced research on crime reduction, allowing them to design and utilize informatics in a secure data setting. Brantingham’s background in computer design was undoubtebly a great asset to her and her team.

Such collaborations with researchers like people like Uwe Glässer at SFUs Interdiscliplinary Research in Mathematical and Computational Sciences Centre (IRMACS), have also been crucial for ICURS, where scholars are researching a range of issues in urban crime: how crime rates and types of crime are impacted by such factors as road layouts, rapid transit designs, or shopping mall locations and hours.

Another example of innovative research is a recent paper on the perception versus the rate of crime in Vancouver’s Grandview-Woodland neighbourhood, on which Brantingham collaborated with postdoctoral fellow Dr. Valerie Spicer and Spatial Information System Lab and Web Administrator Justin Song. The international impact of Brantingham’s work at ICURS is also clear from the establishment of partner labs and corresponding laboratories internationally in Australia, Chile, and England, Netherlands and South Africa.

While receiving the Freda Adler Distinguished Scholar Award might suggest a capstone to Patricia Brantingham’s academic career, she says she has no plans to retire anytime soon. “The nature of crime is changing based on shifting environments and technologies,” she notes, “[and] that’s why much of what we’re moving into is computational criminology.”

Most recently, Uwe Glässer from Computing Science received Canada Foundation for Innovation funding for a secure High Performance Computing Laboratory (sHPC Lab). As an SFU press release stated in January this year, Patricia Brantingham and Martin Andreson at ICURS will “use the lab to store and analyze large volumes of crime data” and their research will take on crime areas like “organized crime, cybercrime, border security, and drug and human smuggling.” Commenting on the emergence of such a big data approach, Brantingham says “you can see that the environment is adding another dimension that’s more than the physical space. Soon, we are going to be able to build the type of model that we had only talked about before.”