When the police arrest people in Houston, where should they put them?
Houston sprawls, and people under arrest need to be taken downtown. Transporting a prisoner across the city is time-consuming, and that means additional expense and, for the officers, time away from patrolling and other duties. “It’s a classic problem with a few new twists. It’s a challenge and sort of fun,” said Logan Smith, a second-year doctoral student in computational and applied mathematics (CAAM) at Rice University.
Thanks to the Houston Solutions Lab (HSL), Smith and colleagues in CAAM are helping the city’s police department determine which existing police buildings should be renovated to temporarily house arrested people. From these facilities, small groups of prisoners can be efficiently transported downtown.
HSL is a partnership between Rice researchers and City of Houston departments. The program is part of the MetroLab Network, a national association of city-university research partnerships with the goal of engaging academic expertise to help solve issues faced by cities. Funding for the projects comes from three Rice entities: the Kinder Institute for Urban Research, the Office of Research and the Ken Kennedy Institute for Information Technology.
“The ultimate purpose of the new centers is to save the police department money by minimizing the cost of trips to and from the current downtown holding areas,” Smith said. “People who are arrested would be temporarily kept in holding centers until they could be moved to a central facility.”
Factors that Smith and his colleagues must take into account include the frequency of arrests in various parts of the city, daily traffic patterns, crime rates and various location statistics, including flood risk.
“We’re building a simulation with all this data, a model of what the police do and what they need. It’s complicated,” Smith said.
A native of Dayton, Ohio, Smith graduated with a B.S. in mathematics and physics, with a minor in computer science, from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland in 2015. At Rice, Smith is vice president of the student chapter of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics.
“I know I really enjoy the academic life, the combination of teaching and research. I’m not sure exactly what I’ll want to do after graduation, but that’s definitely an option,” Smith said.
Patrick Kurp, Engineering Communications