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Calculating the geography of crime

A mathematician fine-tunes how to blend crime records, geography to track down serial criminals

5:14pm, January 8, 2009

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Math as a tool for tracking down criminals has never been as precise as the TV show Numb3rs depicts. But mathematicians are developing better ways to at least estimate where a person on a crime spree might live.

Using information about the layout of a city, such as the location of similar crimes during the past few years, beefed up mathematical tools could improve estimates of where a criminal lives based on where he or she commits crimes, according to new research presented January 7 at the annual Joint Mathematics Meetings.

"I feel like I'm in a gold mine and I'm the only one who knows what gold looks like," says Mike O'Leary, an applied mathematician at Towson University in Maryland who performed the new research. "There are so many good mathematical problems in this field" of criminology.

A well established principle of criminology is that perpetrators will tend to commit more crimes close to their homes simply because

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