Geography professor Dana Wilson released the preliminary findings of her study on the causes of violent crime at the Crime Prevention Conference on November 4.
Wilson and her team of UTM students found a correlation between the physical and social characteristics of a neighbourhood and the occurrence of crime.
Last summer, Wilson led a group of UTM Research Opportunity Program students and one graduate student in a study of crime in Mississauga, Caledon, and Brampton. Funded by a United Way Neighbourhood Development grant, Wilson hoped the study would help identify causes of crimes committed in the target communities and thus help residents prevent future crimes.
The study comprises two parts, explained Wilson. In the first part, the ROP students collected data on the locations of graffiti and vandalism, areas in need of maintenance, how recreational areas were used, general cleanliness, and evidence of crime in Mississauga, Brampton, and Caledon. They also used crime data from the Crown Attorney’s office in Peel in order to include crimes that resulted in an arrest and criminal charges.
For the second part of the project, the team of student researchers interviewed people in the three pilot communities about crime in their areas, safety, and the health of the community.
Wilson then guided the students in plotting the data using Geographic Information Systems, a data-mapping program. The locations of the crimes were coded onto maps of Mississauga, Brampton, and Caledon, a process known as “geocoding”.
In addition to linking physical characteristics (such as graffiti and vandalism) of areas to crime, the study also found that most gun violence occurs within a five-kilometre radius of where the perpetrator lives. This type of finding would be difficult to see in an analysis of written crime data, but when geocoded onto a GIS map, the correlation is easily visualized.
The project started when Wilson, also a board member at Safe City Mississauga, noticed an interest in research in what makes a neighbourhood vulnerable to crime. The project is a collaboration between United Way, Safe City Mississauga, UTM, RBC, and local community leaders.
At the end of the data-gathering portion of the study, the United Way asked if UTM students wanted to help with the United in Action kickoff day by cleaning up the vulnerable or “high-crime” areas in the communities studied.
“The cleanup was an expected outcome, tacked on to the end of the project,” said Wilson. The study also started an initiative to reduce some of the physical factors found to be associated with crime, such as offensive graffiti and litter. During the cleanup, 150 UTM students joined around 100 citizens from each of the three communities to remove or paint murals over offensive graffiti, pick up garbage, and tend gardens.
The one graduate student that participated in the research is using this study for her dissertation. “She will be working with the three neighbourhoods, looking for things we might have missed in the study,” said Wilson.
Wilson says next summer there will be more volunteer positions and for-credit work available with the project. The next step is to monitor crime changes in the area, especially around the new murals.