Police-student partnership makes crime map available

URBANA, Ill. – As anti-Asian violence started to trend upward around the country during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, a team of computer science, computer engineering and physics students wanted to do something to keep their fellow community members safe.

After months of putting their unique skills to work and forging a partnership with the University of Illinois Police Department, their new tool officially went live this week on the police website, where they hope it can benefit all students.

The map tool can be accessed at https://police.illinois.edu/SafetyMap.

As the student team looked for a way to help others, HackIllinois in April 2021 offered the perfect opportunity. The students joined the virtual event and developed the mapping tool to identify crime hotspots on the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus. The idea was that being able to visualize areas of the community where crime is more likely to occur could help others avoid those areas and potentially prevent crime. The team offered more background information in a YouTube video they produced as part of the project.

“I think we all learned a lot from this project. Working together on the UIUC Crime Map has taught us how to improve the safety of our community while simultaneously furthering our own technical skills,” said Aaron Yu, a U. of I. student in Mathematics + Computer Science and a member of the development team. “We hope to continue to develop the project and do our part to keep the campus safe.”

The final product, which they call the UIUC Crime Map, was launched. Following the HackIllinois event, the students reached out to University Police to gauge interest in placing the map tool on the department’s website to increase its visibility and offer important public safety information to as many community members as possible.

University Police were enthusiastic about working with the students. Police Chief Alice Cary said this is exactly the type of partnership that benefits the whole community.

“We often say that community safety requires the active participation of everyone,” Cary said. “This is a perfect example of students using their unique skills to look out for other students and helping to keep the community safer. They should be lauded for their work.”

The map works with daily crime log data which was previously available, but never before in a visual format. The students wrote code that pulls that data from the daily crime log, which is a compilation of many different types of incidents that occur on campus. Not all the incidents in the daily crime log are criminal in nature, and some of them were not reported to police for the purpose of a criminal investigation – but they all involve some kind of safety-related issue.

The tool then places those daily crime log reports on a map, so users can see in a visual format exactly where these incidents have occurred. The map displays incidents reported during previous 60 days. A federal law called the Clery Act mandates that universities maintain a daily crime log for exactly that period of time.

The students who worked on the project are: Aaron Yu, a mathematics plus computer science student at the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign; Juyoung Choi, a physics student at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign; Illia Borzov, a computer science student at NYU; with help during the hackathon from Angel Shah, a computer engineering student at the University of Waterloo and Peter Vandervelde, a high schooler at Proof School who is interested in further study in computer science.