Spotlight on Loughborough University research

Loughborough is in the top 4 of the 2020 Guardian’s rankings, with thriving campuses at Loughborough and London, and over 18,000 students. Their applied research is world-leading, pioneering modern optics and laser technology, and producing extensive police-related outputs including:-

  • applications in digital policing, led by Professor Peter Kawalek;
  • demand management, led by Professor Lisa Jackson;
  • laser protection for police officers, led by Professor John Tyrer;
  • understanding heritage theft, led by Dr Louise Nicholas;
  • place-based approaches such as ‘PeopleZone’, led by Professor Darren Smith and supported by Leicestershire’s PCC, Lord Willy Bach.

Here is a snap shot of just some of the ongoing work.

Preventing burglary

A Safer Secure App has been developed by Dr Ashraf El-Hamalawi and Vinuchan Chandrabalan at Loughborough to dynamically assess safety and security, and recommend tailored changes to prevent burglary. The App involves a series of questions about the state of a property, whether residential or commercial, and associated features (see screenshots). Advice is given during the process in response to various questions, and then a personalised summary of recommendations with links to more detailed information, in compliance with Secured by Design. Currently undergoing field testing, this valuable resource will be available soon for operational use.

Youth justice

Professor Stephen Case, Loughborough’s Head of Social and Policy Studies, has evaluated the effectiveness of police Bureau partnerships with Youth Offending Teams in successfully diverting children and young people from the formal Youth Justice System (YJS) of England and Wales. The Bureau programme was established to pursue diversionary outcomes for children who offend, based on three problems or issues identified in empirical youth justice research:

1. that the majority of youth offending is relatively trivial;
2. that most children who offend will ultimately mature out of crime without excessive intervention;
3. that contact with the formal YJS can be criminogenic.

The impact of this research for the police has been the refinement and validation of a model of diversion that has now been rolled out across Wales and into some areas of England. This model has been demonstrated to reduce the number of children entering the YJS for the first-time and to reduce the number who subsequently re-offend, providing the police and wider YJS with an effective and cost-effective response to the majority of
offences committed by children. Furthermore, this diversionary approach aligns with the ‘Child-centred Policing’ national strategy for the policing of children and young people (NPCC 2015).

Forensic investigations

The Department of Chemistry, led by Dr Paul Kelly, is developing forensic
investigations, both at the crime scene and in the laboratory. Dr Kelly is leading on new systems for identifying bodily fluids at scenes, and, working with social science colleagues and Historic England countering metal and stone theft.

Within Loughborough’s Forensic Laboratory, new techniques are being developed for specific scenarios, such as the retrieval of both fingerprints and original data from faded till receipts, and to maximise the capabilities of investigators searching for fluorescent evidence in darkened scenes.

Detecting concealed weapons

Dr Ashraf El-Hamalawi, in conjunction with Amin Al-Habaibeh of Nottingham Trent University, has modified technology previously used to detect buried landmines to now spot concealed weapons. Unlike other expensive non-portable systems detecting specific materials (e.g.
metallic knives), or fixed in place (e.g. knife arches/airport scanners), this
technology is a low-cost, covert, non-contact, non-intrusive and portable system, usable via a mobile phone or tablet.

Infrared thermography with active thermal variation is used to visualise different-sized concealed weapons of any materials, under different clothing materials, using artificial intelligence and image processing software. A police professional carrying a mobile would be able to monitor a crowd from up to six metres away to identify concealed weapons. Such crime-disrupting technology is critical to combat a major increase in UK knife crime, increased attacks on police and recent terrorist attacks using concealed weapons. As readily available evidence, this application could also be used to instantly explain and justify police use of powers in stop and search.

New national police car design

Alex Sutton, an undergraduate automative engineering student, has designed a new multi-functional police car that can safely transport prisoners without the need to call for a caged van.

The project attempted to reduce costs, increase functionality and, ensure occupant safety whilst, meeting the current performance requirements of the Police. Currently UK Police forces use a range of different vehicles, each designed for a specific role. For example, vans are used for the transport of detainees or for several Officers. Whilst medium sized hatchbacks are used for incident response vehicles (IRVs). Several possibilities for merging
two or more Police vehicles to create a multi-functional vehicle were investigated. To maximise cost and time savings an IRV was combined with a detainee transport van.

A partition was designed for use in a large estate car that separates the rear
passenger side seat from the rest of the vehicle. Taking into account the engineering performance of the material of construction, ergonomics of the passenger, safety considerations and costs, the end results allows a detainee to be transported without risk to the officers in the vehicle. The rear seat behind the driver is left unmodified and therefore witnesses or victims can also be transported. The rear boot space can carry the equipment
that is normally carried in IRVs.

You can watch a 15 minute film all about Alex’s research here:- https://drive.google.com/file/d/12G-aNNp5fiIrcAtKt1xeWtnk1Dtn9mIA/view

Tracking stolen vehicles

Elliott McCallum, another automative engineering undergraduate, explored how to improve stolen vehicle recovery rates by assessing the viability of a passive ultra-high frequency RFID (radio frequency identification) system as a vehicle tracking system. 

The Home Office report vehicle theft rates in the UK have been increasing year on year since 2014. Part of this rise is no doubt due to keyless vehicle entry and ignition becoming more popular however, this does not explain the full story. Although vehicle telematics hardware is improving rapidly this has not been supported by an equal increase in use of data to protect and recover vehicles. 

There is an innovation opportunity to improve vehicle tracking to reduce the theft rate of vehicles in the UK and increase the chance of recovery. In addition to a novel vehicle tracking system, a path predictive algorithm has been developed which autonomously calculates the highest probability escape route that a thief would take, as shown below. The experimental investigation is supported with a risk analysis which identifies the key potential risks and benefits of the proposed RFID tracking system through the use of a criticality matrix. By combining the RFID vehicle tracking system and the path predictive algorithm, stolen vehicles can be tracked in real time and a probable direction of travel can be used as real-time intelligence.

For more information about policing-related research at Loughborough contact Professor Michael Henshaw at m.j.d.henshaw@lboro.ac.uk

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