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Calculating crime

When you think about math, you probably donít think about breaking the law, solving mysteries or finding criminals. But a mathematician in Maryland does, and he has come up with mathematical tools to help police find crooks. People who solve crimes look for patterns that might reveal the identity of the criminal. Itís long been believed, for example, that crooks will break the law closer to where they live, simply because itís easier to get around in your own neighborhood. If police see a pattern of robberies in a certain area, they may look for a suspect who lives near the crime scenes. So, the farther away from the area a crime takes place, the less likely it is that the same criminal did it. But Mike OíLeary, a mathematician at Towson University in Maryland, says that this kind of approach may be too simple. He says that police may get better clues to the location of an offenderís home base by combining these patterns with a cityís layout and historical crime records. The records of past crimes contain geographical information and can reveal easy targets ó that is, the kind of stores that might be less difficult to rob. Because these stores are along roads, the locations of past crimes contain information about where major streets and intersections are. OíLeary is writing a new computer program that will quickly provide this kind of information for a given city. His program also includes census, or survey, information about the people who live in the city, and information about how a criminalís patterns change with age. (Itís been shown, for example, that the younger the criminal, the closer to home the crime.) Other computer programmers have worked on similar software, but OíLearyís uses more math. The mathematician plans to make his computer program available, free of charge, to police departments around the country. The program is just one way to use math to fight crime. OíLeary says that criminology ó the study of crime and criminals ó contains a lot of good math problems. ďI feel like I'm in a gold mine and I'm the only one who knows what gold looks like," he says. ďItís a lot of fun.Ē

Calculating crime
Calculating crime

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