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Chula Vista Students Apply Math Skills to Crime Fighting

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Aired 4/5/11

When students sit down to figure out the length of a hypotenuse, they probably aren’t thinking about catching criminals. One Chula Vista crime expert hopes to change that.

Craig Ogino isn’t surprised that most high school students think knowing how to find the length of a hypotenuse will be of little use after graduation.

Craig Ogino, Chula Vista Police Department crime lab director, stops to check the work of Chula Vista High Tech High School student Jennifer Cabrera, 17, and her classmates during the How to Use Math to Solve Crime program at the Chula Vista Police Department crime lab, April 5, 2011.
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Above: Craig Ogino, Chula Vista Police Department crime lab director, stops to check the work of Chula Vista High Tech High School student Jennifer Cabrera, 17, and her classmates during the How to Use Math to Solve Crime program at the Chula Vista Police Department crime lab, April 5, 2011.

“When I was taking trigonometry in high school I said, ‘there’s no way in hell I’m ever going to use this in real life,’” he said. “And then I get into forensics and – lo and behold – we use this all the time.”

The Chula Vista Police Department crime-lab director devotes at least one day each year to showing students just how he and his colleagues use those skills. This year the students came from Chula Vista’s High Tech and Otay Ranch high schools.

The 40 juniors and seniors who spent Tuesday visiting the crime lab had to calculate the volume of a cylinder to figure out how much methamphetamine a suspect had in their possession. They used the equations for sine, cosine and tangent to learn where a victim was hit from the blood splatter left on the ground.

The lessons weren’t lost on Larae Butler, 17, an Otay Ranch High School student.

“This makes me think that math is more important, because I used to complain about ‘why am I taking this math class?’ But after this, now I see why – you use math without even knowing,” he said.

His classmate, Ana Belmontes, 17, already liked math class, but was surprised to learn those abstract ideas have real-world applications.

“It’s interesting how math, which is something so simple and has to do with logic, can help figure out the most intricate parts of a crime scene, like blood splatter,” she said.

This is the third year Ogino has shown Chula Vista students how to put their math skills to use. He brought the idea with him from San Bernardino where he led similar programs for seven years.

The police department has hosted one student group each of that last three years and Ogino hopes they’ll be able to expand in the future.

“The problem right now is the budget cuts at the schools,” Ogino said. “Right now they can’t get a bus to get them here.”

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