Fear vs terror: signal crimes, counter-terrorism, and the Charlie Hebdo killings

Headline image credit: Paris rally in support of the victims of the 2015 Charlie Hebdo shooting, 11 January 2015. Photo by “sébastien amiet;l”. CC BY 2.0 via Flickr. - See more at:

Headline image credit: Paris rally in support of the victims of the 2015 Charlie Hebdo shooting, 11 January 2015. Photo by “sébastien amiet;l”. CC BY 2.0 via Flickr. - See more at:

Oxford University Press blog by Martin Innes

Signal crimes change how we think, feel, and act — altering perceptions of the distribution of risks and threats in the world. Sometimes, as with the recent assassinations and mass shootings in France, sending a message is the intention of the criminal act. The attackers’ target selection of the staff of Charlie Hebdo magazine, and that of taking and killing Jewish hostages, was deliberately designed to send messages to individuals and institutions.

Researchers examine social reactions to different kinds of crime events and the signals they send to a range of audiences. The aim is to determine how and why certain kinds of incidents and situations generate fear and anxiety responses that travel widely and, by extension, how processes of social reaction to such events are managed and influenced by the authorities.

The murder of Lee Rigby in London in 2013 can be understood as a signal crime as it triggered concern amongst the general public and across security institutions, owing to the macabre innovation of the killers in undertaking a brutally simple form of assault. Analysis of the crime has identified a number of key components to the overarching process of social reaction. Observing how events have unfolded in France, the collective reactions have followed a similar trajectory to what happened in London.

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UPSI to launch report on spontaneous community mobilisation in the aftermath of the Lee Rigby murder at NESTA event on Big & Open Data

UPSI's Director Prof. Martin Innes and Prof. Alun Preece from Cardiff University's School of Computer Sciences will officially launch a report on spontaneous community mobilisation in the aftermath of the Lee Rigby murder at NESTA's event on Big & Open Data For The Common Good.

The free event will take place in London on the 18th February.

The day will include presentation and discussion of the following projects:

  • Analysing data to identify emerging social issues: Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) and Datakind have partnered to explore how a data driven approach to mining the rich data that CAB hold on social issues in the UK can be used to develop a national map of emerging social issues, such as payday loans.

  • Understanding hidden social action: Nesta has funded 5 research grants to explore how data driven methods, such as open data analysis and social media analysis, can help us understand new types of informal social action, often referred to as “below the radar activity”.

  • 360 giving: Nesta’s work with Indigo Trust to develop a funder-collaborative that is openly publishing spending data from the UK’s major funding bodies and philanthropists. 360giving will help the sector create better intelligence on its activities and will ultimately enable more effective collaborations and decision making.

  • Open Data Challenge Series: Through Nesta’s partnership with the Open Data Institute, this series of Challenge prizes is encouraging teams to develop viable products and services for social good using open data predominantly from the public sector.




Cutting crime: Cardiff University surgeon’s research that helps stop street violence

Prof Jonathan Shepherd’s pioneering research helped cut violence in Cardiff by 40% – now he wants R&D thinktanks linking up public policy across the UK

Nights out in Cardiff around 20 years ago often ended in grim scenes at the A&E of the University Hospital of Wales, not least for Prof Jonathan Shepherd, a surgeon with the job of treating what seemed a steady stream of patients with facial injuries.

Beyond the injury toll lay something surprising when Shepherd and his researchers examined the figures – less than a quarter of the A&E cases treated were recorded by police, largely because victims were fearful of reprisals, were confused about what had happened, or were victims of domestic violence.

Over the following 15 years, the surgeon brought together the police, medical staff and local authorities to pool information on weapons, times and the city’s violent hotspots. The move allowed officers to better focus their energies, with streets pedestrianised and plastic glasses introduced. By 2007, violent incidents had fallen by around 40%, with savings of £7m to the taxpayer that year alone, and Cardiff rank as safer than similar-sized cities.

“The cost savings are not just for the NHS but for the criminal justice system as well – probation, the courts, prisons, all the rest of it,” says Shepherd, who is professor of oral and maxillofacial surgery at the school of dentistry at Cardiff University and director of the university’s violence and society research group. “The other aspect of this in terms of the economy is that clearly people want to work in a city that is safe. There is an economic impact in developing a safe city and a safe region.”

The “Cardiff model” is now employed to pinpoint hotspots of violence across the UK as well as in Amsterdam, the Western Cape in South Africa, and Milwaukee in the US. Shepherd, now an adviser to the Cabinet Office, has become a vocal campaigner for such collaborative research methods to be used across government and for different public services to work together , with all the attendant savings for the public purse.

“It seemed the logical thing to do but you don’t know until you test it whether it is going to work or not,” he says. “Around 2005, I was surprised to read a report that compared about 55 cities in Great Britain which had a population of more than 100,000 and Cardiff was down there … [with] Eastbourne and Cambridge and others which were leafy, gentle, nonviolent places. That was the first clue that this was working.”

By bringing together the police, health professionals and the local authorities – which came to be known as “community safety partnerships” – the various public services started to talk to each other , says Shepherd. Prior to that, the various departments and authorities worked independently, in what is called “silos”.

The principle that public services and the professions have a lot to learn from each other came out of the local violence-reduction partnership, he says.

While chairing meetings with law enforcement staff, Shepherd noticed that although he had been trained at a medical school, there was little by way of research and development facilities for the police. “Why don’t we have a college for policing or a professional body for probation? It is part of the furniture for many of the other professions but not in this arena.”

By 2007, the Universities Police Science Institute was opened in Cardiff University and now acts as an R&D unit for policing, looking at topics such as intelligence gathering and counter-terrorism. It is a model which could be rolled out across the public services, Shepherd says.




'Cuts could 'sacrifice' crime prevention in Wales' Martin Innes BBC Wales News

Police budget cuts could lead to fewer crimes being prevented, a policing expert said.

Cardiff University's Prof Martin Innes said if resources are reduced there will be more "reactive" policing.

His comments come after Gwent Police commissioner Ian Johnston said brutal cuts had reached dangerous levels.

Despite a 4.9% funding cut, the Home Office said forces in England and Wales would still have the required resources.

"The police always cope, they're an emergency service and they always cope," Mr Innes, a professor in police science, said.

'Very concerned'

"Where this does come into play is where you start to think about the prevention of crime rather than just responding to crime.

"So if the resource gets smaller and the capacity gets smaller then the ability to prevent things happening in the first place - that gets cut back - then you'll probably see more reactive policing rather than preventing crime in the first place."






Daniel Morgan murder: Prof. Rod Morgan joins team investigating police handling of the notorious killing

Home Secretary Theresa May has announced that two leading criminal justice experts will join the investigation into the police’s handling of the murder of Daniel Morgan.

Professor Rodney Morgan, Emeritus Professor of Criminal Justice at the University of Bristol, and Samuel Pollock, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Policing Board, will join Baroness Nuala O’Loan’s independent panel.

Mrs May said the panel’s task was to “shine a light on the circumstances of Daniel Morgan’s murder”. The Metropolitan Police has admitted corruption was a “debilitating factor” in the original investigation.

Ms O’Loan was Northern Ireland’s first Police Ombudsman from 2000 to 2007 and she is leading the effort to uncover the full story of how police have dealt with the murder of the 37-year-old private investigator from Llanfrechfa, who was found in 1987 with an axe in his head in the car park of a London pub.

In 2011 a trial of four men charged with his murder collapsed. Five police investigations have failed to secure a prosecution.

Professor Morgan is a member of the Universities’ Police Science Institute, Cardiff University.




UPSI's Pioneering Research Impact Recognised in REF 2014

The outstanding quality and impact of Cardiff University’s sociology research has been recognised in a national assessment that has ranked the University third in the UK in this area of research.

The Research Excellence Framework (REF) which is published today (18 December 2014) assesses the quality of research in UK higher education institutions.

The results endorse the innovative, interdisciplinary research undertaken at the School of Social Sciences and the positive impact it has on people’s lives, with 80 percent of its research judged as ‘outstanding’ for its cultural, social or economic impact.

Professor Amanda Coffey, Head of the School of Social Sciences, said: "The School is delighted to have its sociological research recognised in this way. We are extremely proud of our research record and of the ways in which our research has been judged as having a high impact."

Among its research impacts is pioneering research by the Universities' Police Science Institute (UPSI), based at the School, which has made police more effective at understanding and responding to crime and disorder. Its work has changed Home Office policy for the policing of antisocial behaviour across England and Wales and informed the Prevent counter-terrorism strategy for the UK and overseas.



RUSI Launch Organised Hub on Strategic Crime

Organised crime is receiving increased attention, both from government departments and academic researchers. However, the current state of knowledge of this area remains limited. The research community is fragmented, and academic research is disconnected from the needs of policymakers. More effort is needed to bridge the gap between theory, policy and practice.

In partnership with the Home Office, National Crime Agency, Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Research Council UK’s Partnership for Conflict, Crime and Security, RUSI has launched a Strategic Hub on Organised Crime to develop a world class research agenda that meets the needs of policymakers.

Prof Martin Innes took part in a panel on 'Disrupting Organised Crime - Do we understand what we’re up against, are our strategies effective and are they ethical?' at the one-day which conference launched on 8 December. The event also included panels on two other priority areas for policymakers – what do criminal markets look like, and where are the vulnerabilities in the system.

See for further information



Martin Innes discusses Community Impacts of Lee Rigby Murder on BBC Radio Wales

UPSI Director Martin Innes was interviewed on the Good Evening Wales programme on BBC Radio Wales following the publication of the Intelligence and Security Committee's report into the Woolwich killing of Fusilier Lee Rigby.

Prof Innes highlights UPSI and Cardiff University's School of Computer Sciences' ground-breaking research using social media analysis to assess the community impacts of the murder

Click the link below to listen, the interview starts at approx 1:18 mins



Wales Online Feature on Lee Rigby Killer's Welsh Links Highlights UPSI Research

Criminologists and computer scientists at Cardiff University are investigating “what lessons can be learned from the murder of Lee Rigby for managing the community impacts of terrorist attacks of this kind in the future”.

They have tracked “social media traffic from the first tweet at the crime scene through to the conclusion of the court case”. There was “in excess of 800 tweets a minute about the Lee Rigby murder at its peak” and “the suspects were first named on Twitter - several hours before their identities were released by the broadcast media.”

Professor Martin Innes, Director of the Universities’ Police Science Institute who is leading the research, said: “A lot of attention focuses upon how social media can be monitored to spot individuals who pose a potential risk of terrorism. But as the Intelligence and Security Committee Report identifies, in practice this is much harder than might be assumed, and not all attacks can be detected, especially those involving ‘lone wolf’ assailants.

“Reflecting this, our research is focused upon what can be learnt for the future from the murder of Lee Rigby in terms of improving the management of community impacts when terrorist incidents do occur. Our work has shown that social media is increasingly important in influencing how the public understand such attacks and what happens in the aftermath.

“There are very important consequences for the police and authorities in terms of taking the heat out of a tense situation and reducing the opportunities for the kinds of ‘secondary crimes’ that we saw following Lee Rigby’s killing.”




'How schools have been pushed to the front in preventing extremism' Martin Innes in The Conversation

The chief inspector of schools’ intervention into the running of seven London schools shines a light onto several emerging developments in the Prevent strategy for countering violent extremism. Michael Wilshaw, head of Ofsted, identified that in six independent Muslim faith schools in Tower Hamlets, pupils may be vulnerable to “extremist influences and radicalisation”. In a seventh school, the Sir John Cass Foundation and Redcoat secondary school, insufficient responses were made to social media after an student Islamic society Facebook group posted links to extremist viewpoints.

Following similar allegations made recently about schools in Birmingham, known as the “Trojan Horse” affair, it is becoming clear that the education sector is being forced on to the “frontline” for tackling extremism.

This is a trajectory of development that can be traced back to the review of the Prevent Strategy commissioned by the Coalition government in 2010. This review sought to “refresh” Prevent and to re-orientate it in several important ways. Especially significant was a move to lessen the emphasis on and investment in “grassroots” community-based interventions. Instead, all statutory agencies were to be required to perform more of the work in identifying individuals at risk of radicalisation and delivering interventions to mitigate these risks.




Learning from the community impacts of the Lee Rigby murder

A study led by Professor Martin Innes, Director of the Universities' Police Science Institute, has looked at what lessons can be learned from the murder of Fusilier Lee Rigby by analysing community reactions to the impacts of terrorist attacks.

The Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) report issued today identifies that it will be impossible to prevent lone wolf terrorist attacks in the future. Funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, this study has been conducted by researchers at the Universities' Police Science Institute and the School of Computer Science and Informatics to identify the lessons for better managing the consequences of terrorism when it happens.

Professor Innes said: "A lot of attention focuses upon how social media can be monitored to spot individuals who pose a potential risk of terrorism. But as the Intelligence and Security Committee Report identifies, in practice this is much harder than might be assumed, and not all attacks can be detected, especially those involving 'lone wolf' assailants. Reflecting this, our research is focused upon what can be learned for the future from the murder of Lee Rigby in terms of improving the management of community impacts when terrorist incidents do occur.

Our work has shown that social media is increasingly important in influencing how the public understand such attacks and what happens in the aftermath. There are very important consequences for the police and authorities in terms of taking the heat out of a tense situation and reducing the opportunities for the kinds of 'secondary crimes' that we saw following Lee Rigby's killing."

The full story is available on the University's News Centre webpages.



College of Policing Feature UPSI and School of Computer Sciences' Work on using Social Media to Monitor Large Scale Events

A study into social media during the NATO summit found overall commentary about the event was negative after an increase in police presence - until officers began posing for selfies.

Computer and social scientists from Cardiff University studied community reactions on Twitter during last September's NATO summit in Newport, Wales, which drew world leaders including US President Barack Obama.

They found there were wide variations in public perceptions of the event, with the key findings revealing the overall commentary on social media about the summit was negative in tone.

The study found an initial increase in police numbers, especially highly visible armed officers, generated a negative public reaction, but this was recovered by many of them posing for selfies with members of the public.

The study can act as an example of how police forces could use social media analytics to carry out a 'live' community impact assessment during large scale events.

Researchers were able to measure public reaction to events surrounding the summit, such as the announcement of local school closures and national media headlines which reported on a 'ring of steel' around the summit.

Part of the work also involved analysing the tone of tweets based on location.
NATO organised events in Cardiff Bay, which included a display of warships and a fly-past involving the RAF's Red Arrows, generated a far more positive public mood compared with the disruption experienced in the centre of Cardiff and Newport.




'Crime is Changing' Martin Innes Speaks to BBC Wales

The nature of crime in Wales is changing, says a Cardiff University academic who is an authority on policing and social control.

Prof Martin Innes said experts have been expecting to see a rise in crime following the recession and financial austerity.

His comments come as Wales-only crime survey figures by the Office for National Statistics show a recent rise in crime, against the wider trend for England and Wales.




New Report on the Impact of Austerity on the Neighbourhood Policing Workforce

Changing The Beat?

The Impact of Austerity on the Neighbourhood Policing Workforce

Researchers from the Universities’ Police Science Institute at Cardiff University have today released a report exploring trends in the PCSO workforce across England and Wales and the current and future implications for Neighbourhood Policing provisions.

The study reveals that while the majority Police forces across England and Wales have answered the financial challenges of government funding reductions by reducing PCSO numbers, there are a number of forces that have maintained or increased their PCSO workforce strength. The London and Welsh police forces have pursued markedly different approaches, with the biggest decreases in PCSO numbers being found in the two London forces and the biggest increases in Wales.

According to the Crime Survey of England and Wales, the police have enjoyed rising levels of confidence and visibility by the public since the introduction of PCSOs and a commitment to Neighbourhood Policing. The size of the PCSO workforce is potentially dependent on the continuation of the Neighbourhood Policing approach and vice versa.

Cardiff University researcher Jack Greig-Midlane said “The changes in the Welsh forces represent the most extreme examples of strengthening the neighbourhood policing model. Conversely, the London forces have weakened neighbourhood policing to a larger extent than any of the other English police forces.”

He goes on to caution “The spectrum of reforms highlights the differences in local decision-making and the effects of localised police governance in response to current financial pressures. Overall, neighbourhood policing in England and Wales has been weakened, but there are a number of forces who have minimised the impacts of financial pressures on this policing model. In this era of ‘austerity’, an increasing number of voices are warning of the erosion, or even the end, of neighbourhood policing. With this in mind, the extent and consequence of current changes to this programme of local policing needs to be carefully considered by police forces and policy-makers. "


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Do You Work With Victims of Crime in South Wales?

Do you work with victims of crime in South Wales? If so, we need your help.

To support the new commissioning process, we are undertaking work to understand levels of ‘demand’ and ‘supply’ in the provision of services to victims of crime in South Wales.

If your group or organisation work with victims of crime in any of these key areas: violence, theft, burglary, robbery, anti-social behaviour, young victims, honour-based violence, forced marriage, female genital mutilation or hate crime in South Wales, then researchers based at Cardiff University’s Police Science Institute (UPSI) would like you to complete a short survey about the services you provide.

Your responses will be used by us to help identify the extent of victim provision in the categories above and by the South Wales Police and Crime Commissioner to inform decision making about how future victim services will be funded.  

Please click the below link to take part in our survey;

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Martin Innes quoted in Economist piece on Government's anti-terrorism regime

Speak loudly but carry no stick

The government’s surprisingly liberal anti-terrorism regime

The murder of James Foley, an American journalist kidnapped by jihadists in Syria, was always likely to fill newspapers. His killer’s British accent has started a storm (seeBagehot). Since the news broke, David Cameron, the prime minister, has argued for “a tough security response”. Theresa May, the home secretary, added that “we must do all that we can to stop radicalisation”, and hinted at new laws. Boris Johnson, London’s mayor and a would-be MP, called for a “swift and minor” change to the law, to the effect that anybody who travels to a war zone without informing the authorities can be presumed to have gone for terrorist purposes.

Such musings worried lawyers and civil-liberties campaigners, who are accustomed to governments reacting to enormities with draconian new laws. But if the recent past is any guide, they can rest easy. Through a peculiar combination of high principle and low muddle, and almost despite itself, the government has adopted a surprisingly liberal position in the balance between security and liberty.

A task force set up after the murder of Lee Rigby for instance, a soldier, by two fanatical Muslims last year has largely been a talking shop for senior politicians, says Martin Innes, an expert at Cardiff University. Mrs May’s plan to make it easier for the security services to snoop on internet use was blocked by the Liberal Democrats. They also snipped away at new powers to strip naturalised Britons of their citizenship.

Read Full Article ..



'We can’t legislate our way out of the Isis crisis' Martin Innes writes for the Guardian

To prevent the radicalisation of Britons, it is soft power that has been shown to work, not ostentatious ideas like banning orders

In considering changing the law to combat the threat of Isis affiliates in the UK, the home secretary is following a well-trodden political path. Confronted by urgent and complex social problems, politicians frequently reach for legislative change. After all, it is a response giving the impression to an anxious and angry electorate that action is being taken. Unfortunately, in this case it will not work. A few symbolic tweaks to the law will afford some marginal gains, but won’t do the “heavy lifting” in preventing small groups of young people from seeking to join a hyper-violent Islamist movement.

Instead, government focus needs to be upon enabling the messy, unpredictable and contingent “dirty work” of local counter-terrorism on the ground, and learning the lessons about what works and what doesn’t from recent experience. This reflects what we know from a growing body of research about the radicalisation process.

Inculcating violent extremist motivations involves interacting “push” and “pull” factors. Pushes propel individuals away from contacts with mainstream society and values. Pull factors attract people towards violent groups – often by providing a sense of belonging, identity and purpose. Interfering with these processes of attraction and propulsion requires sophisticated and subtle preventative interventions.

In 2011 my research team at Cardiff University was commissioned to assess the delivery of the Prevent strategy in four areas of the country. We identified three key aspects. A lot of effort at the time was going into building community cohesion. Counter-radicalisation activities were focused on inhibiting people from taking on extremist ideologies and narratives. The least developed aspects of Prevent related to deradicalisation – altering the behaviour and motivations of those already exposed to extremist ideas.




Home Office Policy Lab Workshop Sets Out Future of Police Digitisation


The Police Science and Technology Unit within the Home Office recently partnered with Policy Lab to bring experts in the fields of Policing, Design and Digital Technologies to find innovative ways of using digital technology to enhance Police services.

Martin Innes - Director of the UPSI. Prof. attended the event and set out work he had been doing tracking social media over the murder of Lee Rigby. The incident, and the level of social media activity around it, demonstrated that securing the scene of the crime was no longer possible in a world where people can instantly tweet photos. Interestingly the local provenance of the tweets being mostly from the Lewisham area meant that despite greater connectivity, people were still most concerned with the geographic area closest to them.

Other participants included Dr Andrea Siodmok, (Head of the Policy Lab) Chris Price (Head of the Police Science and Technology Unit in the Home Office) and Chief Constables Giles York from Surrey Police and Simon Parr from Cambridgeshire Police who are national policing leads for digital evidence and information management respectively and both passionate advocate about digital working.

The outcome was a range of prototypes for improving services to victims of crime, from an online skills academy where people could go to learn how to prevent crime to an online court where you could report crime, give evidence and hear the result, all from the comfort of your own living room.

A full report from the workshop is available to view online here:



As child abuse investigations take shape, old crimes are transforming British society



Prof. Martin Innes writes for The Conversation

The home secretary, Theresa May, has announced a major independent inquiry into claims that for decades, accusations and evidence of child abuse were dismissed, ignored and mishandled by many of Britain’s most important institutions.

She also announced a review of the way the Home Office handled sexual abuse allegations passed to it between 1979 and 1995 – including those submitted by MP Geoffrey Dickens to the then home secretary Leon Brittan.

The allegations of organised historic sexual abuse of children by MPs and peers are already sending huge shockwaves through the British establishment; they point to abuses and cover-ups in the care system and the civil service, among others, and have revived long-dormant inquiries into alleged child abuse by powerful figures at the Elm Guest House in Barnes in the early 1980s.




BBC Radio Wales: Eye on Wales - Violent Radicalisation feat. Martin Innes

The emergence of an online recruitment film, apparently for the Sunni militant group ISIS, featuring two men from Cardiff has prompted questions about radicalisation and extremism in the city. 

ISIS is a hard-line group that's been among those fighting government forces in Syria. In recent weeks it has pushed into large areas of northern Iraq, leaving sectarian slaughter in its wake.

It's estimated that between four and five hundred Britons have gone to Syria. As well as their families' fear for their safety, there's a broader concern that some of them may bring a commitment to extremist violence home with them if they return. 

In a special edition of Eye on Wales Felicity Evans brings together a panel of experts to ask how the radicalisation of young men from Cardiff and elsewhere happens and how it can be addressed.

Contributors include: Haras Rafiq of the counter-extremism think tank, the Quilliam Foundation; Shahien Taj, founder and executive director of the Henna Foundation which works to strengthen families within the Muslim community; and Professor Martin Innes, director of Cardiff University's Police Science Institute, who has researched radicalisation in some cities in England.