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.