CLS Program Collaborates with City of Fairfax Police Department

CLS Program Collaborates with City of Fairfax Police Department
Examples of student projects from Professor D'Anna's "Crime and Place" class.

Providing students with hands-on experience and promoting knowledge about evidence-based practices are two hallmarks of the undergraduate program in the Department of Criminology, Law and Society (CLS) at Mason.  A partnership between the CLS Department and the City of Fairfax Police Department highlights the exciting opportunities our students have to use their skills and knowledge to address real world problems.

Beginning in spring 2016, PhD candidate and adjunct faculty instructor Matthew D’Anna established an enduring partnership with the City of Fairfax Police Department.  The collaboration allows Prof. D’Anna to use real crime, calls for service, and vehicle accident location data in his undergraduate course on Crime and Place (CRIM 320). Students use 10+ years of these data throughout the semester to complete assignments and projects with direct practical implications. The partnership benefits both sides: the City of Fairfax PD receives data-driven answers to spatial crime problems, and Mason students get the opportunity to work on real crime problems. 

Professor D’Anna derives the final exam from a set of research questions that the City of Fairfax PD needs answered. The topics are wide-ranging and include seasonal crime patterns, identifying hotspots, and predictive analytics. Students present their findings at the end of the semester to the Command Staff at the City of Fairfax PD headquarters.  It is a novel way for students to apply theories of crime and place to real-world data, as well as to gain tangible technical skills. 

Over the years, the student presentations have had a direct effect on the local community. In Prof. D’Anna’s spring 2016 class, for example, one student developed a predictive layer for burglary activity. During her presentation, the officers described a burglary that had occurred the night before, within one of the predicted areas. Afterward, Chief Carl Pardiny stated: “I’m going to task our new division commanders with looking at and using info from the class to create some plans to address some of the various issues experienced in the community.” 

In summer 2016, Prof. D’Anna’s students were able to demonstrate a direct relationship between accident hotspots and the use of smartphones over time. According to Chief Pardiny, student projects like these have been used in operational planning for subsequent months, as the findings were able to identify key areas, days, times, and types of crime and calls for service. He noted: “I am certainly looking forward to using your students’ findings in our quest to improve efficiency and effectiveness in our deployment of police resources.”

In May 2017, the CLS Department presented Col. Carl Pardiny with an Excellence in Service Award in recognition of his strong support of this novel partnership, his role as adjunct faculty in the department, and his long-standing relationship with Mason.

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