I am about halfway through “The Numbers Behind NUMB3RS“. I have always known to a certain extent that mathematics is used in solving crimes. However, it is no easy task. As I read this book, I can see how intense the work of math in solving crimes is. They use data and more data to figure things out.
In the book, I learned that sabermetrics is he term for analyzing statistics of baseball performance. (Yes, I didn’t know that term.) Using this on the show they were able to look and figure out exactly when a baseball player started to use enhancement drugs. Yes, this can continue today in our world.
They use statistics like these when looking to catch other crimes and illnesses as well. It is very intense to look at a possible change and knowing if it’s an actual change as well. From page 54:
The principal challenge facing the designer of such a monitoring system is to identify when an activity pattern – say, a sudden increase in people taking time off from work because of sickness, or people visiting their doctor who display certain symptoms – indicates something unusual, above and beyond the normal ebb and flow of such activities. Statisticians refer to this task as changepoint detection – te determination that a definite change has occurred, as opposed to normal fluctuations.
So as you can see, it is not an easy task. Page 57 holds a quote that I found rather funny. They are trying to help the common man figure out exactly what they my be looking at.
Suppose that over some substantial period of time, it has been observed that a particular event occurs about once a month. Put another way, the probability of it happening on any given day is about 1 out of 30. Examples abound – a New Yorker finds a parking space on the street in front of her apartment, a husband actually offers to take out the garbage, a local TV news show doesn’t lead off with a natural disaster or violent crime, and so on.
A big change in the courtroom came after the Rodney King trial and the beating of Reginald Oliver Denny in April 1992. Here’s a video from the beating.
From videos like this one they were able to find a tattoo on the arm of Damian Williams. The tattoo was not very easy to see (technology wasn’t as great back then) but due to digital enhancement they were able to see it more clearly. This was the first trial that digital enhanced photos and videos were allowed to be used as evidence. The world was changing.
Today more and more trials are referring to videos for evidence of crimes. Video from the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords is being used to see exactly what happened that day. The world will continue to change as more people have smart phones and have access to a video camera at all times. These could help or hurt as we allow them in the courtrooms.