Alex Luscombe

Alex Luscombe

PhD Candidate in Criminology

University of Toronto

Hi! 👋

Welcome to my personal website. I am a PhD Candidate in criminology at the University of Toronto, a data scientist, and a research and policy consultant. I conduct research in the areas of policing studies, social inequality, and criminal justice policy reform using a broad range of data sources and methods. My dissertation research, for example, leverages advances in natural language processing, machine learning, and high performance computing (via the Digital Alliance of Canada) to conduct the first ever ‘big data’ study of police criminal investigations into complex economic crime in Canada. As a data scientist and research and policy consultant, I have worked on projects for many different Canadian private and public sector agencies, as well as international organizations like the OECD and the Public Law Project. My work has been profiled in national and international news outlets, including Nature, The Globe & Mail, The Toronto Star, The Washington Post, and BBC News.

I am the co-editor of two academic books. The first, Freedom of Information and Social Science Research Design (Routledge, 2019), examines how freedom of information laws across the globe are becoming an increasingly mainstream method of data collection among academic researchers. The second, Changing of the Guards: Private Influences, Privatization, and Criminal Justice in Canada (UBC Press, 2022), listed one of the Top 100 Best Books in 2022 by Hill Times, provides a comprehensive assessment of privatization and private influence across the 21st century Canadian criminal justice field.

From 2017-2021, I was a Junior Fellow at Massey College. Between 2018-2022, I was a member of the editorial board of the University of Toronto publication, Criminological Highlights. From April 2020-July 2021, I co-led the Policing the Pandemic Mapping Project in partnership with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

Beyond my research, I am an avid rock climber, mountain biker, and backcountry nordic skier.

Recent Posts

Webscraping from client-side API

For the past few weeks, I’d been thinking about writing a short blog post explaining how to scrape information from the Internet using a website’s client-side API (when available, and when deemed legal/ethical to do so, of course).

An R package for convenient access to eight TPS data sets

As part of its broader Race and Identity-Based Data Collection (RBDC) Strategy, the Toronto Police has published eight open data sets that it plans to update periodically. To make accessing these eight data sets as convenient as possible, I put together a little R package (it’s one very simple function that makes use of some base R, plus rio, tibble, and janitor) that grabs the data directly from the TPS’s client-side API, cleans up the column names, and imports it into R in tidy (tibble) format.

Annotating Training Data in R

Some collaborators and I recently started a project analyzing a large amount of tweets we obtained via the Twitter API. To analyze these data, we are planning to train a machine learning model, which means we need training data, which means we need annotations (‘ground truth’ as its commonly referred to in computer science).


Governing Through Transparency: Investigating the New Access to Information Regime in Canada

This paper examines the state of Canada’s federal access to information (ATI) regime. Drawing from literature on government transparency, we conceptualize Bill C-58 and the problems it proposes to address as a form of policy discordance. We assess …

Deciphering the Decline: A Computational Analysis of Two Decades of Canadian Newspaper Op-Eds on Freedom of Information

Newspaper op-eds are an underexplored mode of communication that frame social, cultural, and political issues. This article uses an unsupervised machine-learning approach called structural topic modelling to map changes in the content of a corpus of …

Changing of the Guards: Private Influences, Privatization, and Criminal Justice in Canada

Changing of the Guards evaluates issues of privatization and private influence across the twenty-first-century Canadian criminal justice system. In recent decades, service outsourcing has spread throughout Canada’s prisons and jails, into its police, …