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That teacher who told you, “You need math for everything” was right. Knowledge of mathematics, including basic math, algebra, geometry and even statistics, is necessary in virtually every career path. This includes careers in the field of criminal justice. From police officers on the street to crime-scene technicians in laboratories to criminologists, math is a necessary skill for criminal investigations, analysis of evidence and the study of criminal behavior.
Mathematics skills are a valuable tool for police officers investigating traffic accidents and criminal incidents. Reconstructing a traffic accident requires knowledge of measurements and angles to calculate the speeds and distances traveled, and points of collision. Homicide investigations require police to estimate the victim’s time of death, taking into consideration such factors as climate and body temperature. Crimes involving firearms require mathematics skills for ballistics to determine trajectory and distance.
Weights and Measures
A basic knowledge of weights and measures is necessary in criminal justice, especially in cases involving controlled substances. The punishment for drug possession often varies with the amount of drugs a suspect possesses at the time of arrest. Police investigators need familiarity with weights and measures to determine the exact amount of drugs seized to determine the severity of the offense.
Math in Forensic Science
Forensic scientists collect and analyze physical evidence collected at crime scenes. Proper analysis of DNA and other physical evidence requires not only strong knowledge of chemistry and biology, but mathematics skills as well.
Statistical principles such as probability are useful tools in criminal profiling, in which investigators attempt to construct a profile of the type of person likely to have committed certain crimes or a particular class of crime. Math helps investigators determine the characteristics of likely suspects and perpetrators.
Math and statistics are valuable tools in criminal justice management. Police chiefs and divisional commanders use statistics collected from officers’ reports to determine precincts and neighborhoods in which crime rates are the highest. This helps police departments determine where to increase their presence. In addition, criminologists and other criminal justice researchers use mathematical and statistical skills to study the effectiveness of various criminal justice programs, analyze crime rates and assess incarceration levels in prison systems.
Most universities with criminal justice degree programs require students majoring in the field to complete a course in social science research methods, which includes basic statistics. Students also may be required to take one or more statistics courses in addition to any mathematics courses required for all students, regardless of major. As demonstrated, knowledge of mathematics and statistics is necessary for a career in criminal justice, whether in basic police work, crime investigation or advanced criminology.
Shane Hall is a writer and research analyst with more than 20 years of experience. His work has appeared in "Brookings Papers on Education Policy," "Population and Development" and various Texas newspapers. Hall has a Doctor of Philosophy in political economy and is a former college instructor of economics and political science.