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Could AI help prevent graffiti at heritage sites?

Research funded by Historic England hopes to catch criminals more quickly by tracking their offences with artificial intelligence.

New research suggests artificial intelligence could play a role in curbing a growing number of criminals graffitiing on or near heritage attractions.

Research published by Professor Bryant, Director of Criminal Justice Practice at Canterbury Christ Church University and funded by Historic England, suggests supervised machine learning could help to identify offenders.

The technology would assist in identifying tags, and track a criminal’s movements by matching graffiti in different areas. It could also help to analyse paints to establish where the spray cans were initially sourced by offenders.

Professor Bryant is working alongside Mark Harrison, Head of Heritage Crime for Historic England on the project, which comes as new data suggests graffiti and anti-social behaviour are on the rise at heritage attractions.

The project has so far analysed crimes recorded over a four-year period in Kent and Medway and found 8% of all recorded crime and anti-social behaviour occurs within, at, or close to, a protected heritage site.

Bryant said: “Our best estimates suggest that currently approximately one in five listed buildings and one in four places of worship in Kent and Medway experience some form of crime each year.”

“AI offers the possibility to link offences together to the same offenders. In classic policing terms, this is normally a very good start in terms of an investigation.”

The research also found that one in ten monuments are affected by crime, or it occurs nearby.

Professor Bryant’s report also found most offences relate to theft of historic fabric, such as lead from a church roof and criminal damage, which includes graffiti.

Listed buildings and places of worship most at risk are often on the fringes of urban environments rather than deep in the countryside and the transport network plays a significant part in offenders’ targeting of churches, it suggests.

Professor Bryant said: “I will be working closely with Historic England to deliver their strategic ambition to ‘improve civic pride, prosperity and well-being’ and for ‘economically and socially disadvantaged places to become safer and more prosperous.’

Harrison added: “This research presents an exciting opportunity to develop new and innovative approaches to prevent and investigate graffiti within the historic environment.”

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