Dangerous Minds: Criminal Profiling
DANGEROUS MINDS: CRIMINAL PROFILING Author’s Note This paper was prepared for Into to Forensic Psychology PSY-501 taught by Professor Anna Moriarty Abstract Profiling is premised on the belief that behavior can be predicted based on knowledge of an individual’s personality and personal characteristics. Criminal profiling limits this behavior analysis to suspects in the hopes that law enforcement will be able to narrow the pool of potential criminals and find the person or persons that committed the crime.
Most law enforcement activity occurs after a crime has been committed and they usually have a very short time period in which to catch the criminal.
If the police are lucky enough to get a case in the very early stages, time is even more crucial. This paper discusses how the use of criminal psychological profiling to identify perpetrators of specific crimes has become more commonplace in modern police work. Dangerous Minds: Criminal Profiling
Criminal or offender profiling as it is sometimes referred to, is a law enforcement investigation technique that attempts to determine the type of person who may have committed the crime based upon an individual’s behavior at the crime scene or at multiple crime scenes (Devery, 2010). It is based on the premise that humans are creatures of habit and will follow a pattern of behavior. Profilers rely on the fact that normal human behavior; characteristics and patterns remain consistent, regardless of the action (Davis, 1999). A profile is a list of likely traits that the individual who committed the crime possesses.
The purpose of the profile, like all other investigative tools, is to narrow the search parameters for police to a defined set of suspects that they can match to forensic or physical evidence if it has been recovered and is available (Davis, 1999). Criminal profiling is not a new concept. Early use of behavior analysis in criminal cases dates back to the 1800s. It was developed in response to violent crimes that often receive the most publicity and generate the most fear among members of the public (Davis, 1999). These are the cases that police are under the most pressure to solve quickly.
Public perception of crime and criminal profiling is shaped by popular media, which gives an unrealistic view of what profiling adds to an investigation. Just like the “CSI effect” the public believes that a profiler can determine who did it, find that person and prevent further harm all in a half hour. Detectives who work these cases understand that criminal profiling is an important technique that is not worth much alone but when added to forensic evidence it eliminates suspects and builds a strong case against actual perpetrators.
There are several types of violent crimes such as: murderer, rapes, molestation, abduction, armed robberies and so on. Some of these crimes are committed by people with a criminal past and some are at the hands of a person without any criminal history. The sheer number of potential suspects can be staggering. The reverse may also be true, where no suspect emerges the magnitude of the investigation increases substantially. Most police departments especially those in less populated areas do not have sufficient resources or expertise to handle such wide reaching investigations (Davis, 1999).
Types of Criminal Profiling There are two major types of criminal profiling, crime scene analysis and investigative psychology (Devery, 2010). Both techniques were created independently of each other but use many of the same procedures. John Douglas, a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agent for 25 years in the Investigative Support Unit (ISU) is credited with the development of the profiling techniques that are currently taught and used in the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit (Devery, 2010). His techniques were born out of the ISU’s determination to work unsolved violent crimes in the 1970s (Devery, 2010).
The second major type of criminal profiling is known as Investigative Psychology. This approach to profiling was created by Dr. David Canter, a British psychologist. Investigative psychology attempts to match the dominant themes in an offender’s crimes to characteristic aspects of their lifestyles and criminal history (Canter, 1989). The goal of this technique is to achieve an observed, rather than intuitive basis for criminal profiling that can be measured and tested in a scientific manner (Canter, 1989).
There are two other criminal profiling techniques that are in the testing stages and as such are not yet widely used or accepted. The first is Diagnostic Evaluation (Devery, 2010). Diagnostic evaluation depends on the clinical assessment of the offender by a mental health professional (Devery, 2010). In this approach the profile is based primarily on psychoanalytic principles and the individual practitioners’ clinical perceptions. The second, geographical profiling analyzes the spatial decision making process of offenders and relates it to crime victims and crime scene locations (Davis, 1999).
This profile provides information on how perpetrators target their victims. How is a Criminal Profile Created? The act of developing a profile is a process not an event. A criminal profiler will analyze certain physical attributes of a suspect such as: race, sex, residential or personal location, marital status, occupation and much more (Devery, 2010). In addition, they will look for specific psychological characteristics such as: personality type, psychological tendencies and behavior traits (Devery, 2010).
A criminal profiler will examine what happened at the crime scene, determine the traits of the person that committed the crime, and generate a summary of common traits and behaviors of that person. Criminal profiling involves studying a perpetrator’s behavior, motive, and their background history, in an attempt to guide the focus of an investigation (Winerman, 2004). Much of the profile is based on historical data that has been compiled over the years which contains the evidence and methods used by criminals in previous crimes, as well as psychological and sociological studies of criminal minds (Winerman, 2004).
The criminal profiler matches the evidence from the present crime against those used by other criminals and then looks for correlations based on probabilities (Young, 2006). Therefore the profile itself is the product of a series of calculated assumptions that compare past and present crimes. The FBI Crime Scene Analysis Approach: Organized or Disorganized? The FBI crime scene analysis approach to profiling is based upon the premise that the crime scene reflects the personality of the perpetrator.
FBI profilers produce psychological profiles of the perpetrators using information gathered at a crime scene and by examining the nature of the crime itself (Young, 2006). Through years of study they have been able to identify certain traits that put murderers into one of two groups: organized and disorganized. An organized murderer is often profiled as being highly intelligent, socially competent and charismatic. A disorganized murderer is profiled as being of average intelligence, socially immature, and a loner.
Other differences between organized and disorganized murderers can been seen when examining the extent of planning the crime, how they target their victims and the manner of death. Organized killers exhibit systematic patterns of behavior and well-defined plans. They carefully select strangers as victims, demand that the victims be submissive, there is discipline in the actual manner of death, they leave little to no evidence at the crime scene and may kill at one site and dispose of the body at another site in order to avoid detection. In contrast, disorganized murderers are spontaneous in committing the crime.
There is very little planning; they usually are aware of or know their victims, and the manner of death is a surprise attack, which results in a large amount of physical evidence at the crime scene (Davis, 1999). In order for a local agency to obtain a FBI criminal profile they have to request their assistance and the case to be analyzed must meet certain criteria. The case must involve a violent crime, the perpetrator must be unknown, commonly referred to as the “Unsub” for unknown subject and all major investigatory leads must have already been exhausted (Devery, 2010).
When creating a criminal profile FBI profilers use a six-stage process (Davis, 1999). The first stage is known as input as it is marked by the collection of crime scene photographs and diagrams, police reports, victim and forensic data and all other information connected to the case (Davis, 1999). Also called the manner-and-method phase it involves an examination of all technical aspects of the crime. For example, what type of weapon was used and how was it used? Was the shot at close range? Was it a single shot or multiple rounds?
The second stage is the decision process phase (Davis, 1999). The profiler reviews all data and information and organizes it into preliminary profile. During this stage the profile will categorize the nature of the homicide (e. g. , single, mass, or serial murder), the intent of the perpetrator (e. g. , was this the planned crime or did it occur in the commission of a separate crime), the nature of the victim (e. g. , whether the victim was a high or low risk target), and the degree of risk that the perpetrator undertook to commit the crime.
The location (s) of the crime and the possible length of time that was taken to carry out the offense (s) will also be evaluated. (Davis, 1999). The third stage is crime assessment (Davis, 1999). The profiler will attempt to think like the perpetrator to gain insight as to his or her reasoning processes. For example, the selection of a victim is often random and based on patterns that only make sense to the perpetrator. The profiler will try to establish the reason for the crime and the motive for choosing a particular location or day etc. During this stage the profiler will categorize the Unsub as organized or disorganized.
The profiler will attempt to find why he or she selected the victim, whether the crime was planned or spontaneous, how the crime was executed, the nature and the types of wounds on the victim, and any ritualistic actions such as displaying or positioning the body of the victim in a certain manner. The profiler will examine the perpetrator’s behavior at a crime scene in three parts: the modus operandi, personation or signature, and staging. The profiler is looking for indicators at crime scene that will translate into behavioral characteristics (Davis, 1999).
The profiler is also keenly aware that not all criminal behavior is consistent especially if certain events have taken place since the past crime. Perpetrators are constantly changing their methods. For example, if an Unsub has a need for his victim to be submissive and his or her first victim fights him he may tie up the next victim to avoid that problem. Incarceration can also impact how a criminal will act in future crimes. Career criminals learn from their mistakes and other criminal while in jail so they may change their approach for the next rime. Violent and habitual offenders have a tendency to display a behavior known as a signature or “calling card” (Winerman, 2004). This is an action that goes beyond what is necessary to commit the crime. Violent crimes are often a result of the fantasies of perpetrator. When the criminal acts out his or her fantasy there is usually some aspect of each crime that is a unique, personal expression or ritual. For this offender committing the crime is not enough, they must also perform a ritual to complete the fantasy.
The “signature” is what the perpetrator leaves displayed at the crime scene (Winerman, 2004). Unlike method, an offender’s signature remains a constant part of them. It may evolve, but will always retain the elements of the original scene (Winerman, 2004). Staging is another criminal behavior that profilers examine. Staging occurs when the perpetrator purposely changes a crime scene before the police locate it (Winerman, 2004). Violent offenders stage for two reasons: 1) to avoid detection and 2) to protect the victim or the victim’s family (Winerman, 2004).
If a perpetrator stages a crime scene they most likely have or believe they have some kind of relationship with the victim. They will appear to law enforcement as overly cooperative or overly distraught as they try to deflect suspicion away from themselves (Davis, 1999). Staging to protect the victim or the victim’s family is normally done by a family member or the person that finds the body in an attempt to restore some dignity to the victim or to spare the family the horrifying details of the crime (Winerman, 2004).
It is often difficult to determine if an offender has staged a scene or if they are just disorganized (Davis, 1999). The fourth stage is the criminal profile (Davis, 1999). The profiler combines all of the collected information and adds their experiences with similar crimes. The actual written profile can range from a few paragraphs to several pages. The profile will contain the Unsub’s physical features such as: age, gender, race and appearance. It will detail the background of the Unsub such as: possible occupation and employment, military service, education, residence, familiarity with the crime scene area, and elationship history with other people. The next portion of the profile report will contain information about the Unsub’s psychological personality traits. The last section of the profile report will provide strategies for identifying, interrogating, and apprehending the perpetrator. The fifth stage known as the investigation is the transmission of the completed profile to the task force or department that is investigating the crime (Davis, 1999). The final stage is the apprehension of the person or persons that committed the crime(s) (Davis, 1999).
The accuracy of the profile is then assessed and the case is added to the profiling database. The profile is considered a success if an offender is identified and confesses to the crime. It is assessed as open if new information is obtained and the profile is redone with the new profile replacing the original. The National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime “NCAVC” organization, provides behavior analysis profiles of criminals based on information gathered from federal, state and international laws enforcement agencies (Devery, 2010). NCAVC consists of four separate and specialized units.
Behavior Analysis 1 is responsible for counterterrorism or threat assessment including arson and stalking crimes. Behavior Analysis 2 is responsible of crimes against adults including sexual assaults, kidnappings and missing person cases. Behavior Analysis 3 is responsible for crimes against children including abductions, homicides, and sexual assaults. Behavior Analysis 4 is responsible for the apprehension of violent criminals including actual and attempted homicides. This unit also develops and maintains VICAP Web, the national database for these types of cases. Devery, 2010). The Investigative Psychology Approach Dr. David Canter, an environmental psychologist at the University of Liverpool, believes that his profiling technique offers a comprehensive methodology because it is based upon a collection of theories, hypotheses and results of studies of the history and patterns of behavior as they relate to certain individual characteristics (Canter, 1989). Investigative psychologists believe that crime is an interpersonal transaction, usually between the criminal and the victim, within a social context.
In other words, the perpetrator is repeating interactions that they have had with other people under normal circumstances. The profiler using this approach will look for connections between the crime and aspects of the perpetrator’s past and present focusing on which actions are clearly unique to the individual. This psychological profile is done in five stages: (1) interpersonal coherence; (2) significance of time and place; (3) criminal characteristics; (4) criminal career and (5) forensic awareness. (Canter, 1989). Criminal Profiling as a Career
Criminal profiling (also known as criminal investigative analysis) is a professional subspecialty in the field of criminal investigation (Winerman, 2004). As a result, most profilers are FBI agents instead of psychologists. However, criminal profiling is the combination of two very distinct disciplines: investigative science and psychology. Criminal investigators need to know the physical and psychological traits of the perpetrator in order to know who to apprehend for questioning and testing. Criminal profiling provides this information.
Classes in criminal profiling may be taken as a subsection of another course such as psychology or as part of a criminal justice degree. Forensic psychology combines criminal justice principles with mental health concepts. Creating criminal profiles is one area of application for forensic psychologists within the criminal justice field (Winerman, 2004). Experts estimate that there are less that 100 profiler graduates a year (Winerman, 2004). A primary reason may be that this type of training is offered in only a few graduate programs.
According to the FBI, successful profilers are experienced in criminal investigations and research and possess common sense, intuition, and the ability to isolate their feelings about the crime, the criminal, and the victim (Davis, 1999). They have the ability to evaluate analytically the behavior exhibited in a crime and to think very much like the criminal responsible (Davis, 1999). Does Profiling Work? Assessment and Evaluation Statistics show that only 2. 7% of criminal profiling cases actually lead to identification of the offender (Alison, Smith ; Morgan, 2003).
Studies have found that FBI profiling techniques provide some assistance in 77% of cases, provide leads for stakeouts solving cases 45% of the time, and actually help identify the perpetrator in 17% of cases (Alison, Smith ; Morgan, 2003). Despite research suggesting that criminal profiling is ineffective in determining the specific offender, it continues to be widely used by law enforcements agencies throughout the world. Still there is a lot of controversy about the validity of the FBI approach to profiling.
With respect to the organized or disorganized classification, psychologists contend that nearly all types of criminals will display a certain level of organization so this indicator does not really rule anyone in or out (Young, 2006). Psychologists further argue that the methods used by the FBI profilers have no scientific basis (Young, 2006). In support of this, they point to the FBI profiler’s reliance on their criminal investigation experience instead of analysis of evidence that is specific to each reported crime (Young, 2006).
Psychologists further argue that each crime has specific patterns that cannot be generalized and applied to other crimes (Young, 2006). In order words, criminal profiling in arson cases should not be applied to criminal profiling in murder cases. They contend that each type of crime should be investigated by conducting numerous case studies on that specific type of crime then a dependable pattern could be established. Conclusion Criminal profiling is an investigative technique that uses the analysis of behavioral and psychological traits to profile suspects. Some profiles have led to the identification of the perpetrator.
Currently there is a lack of scientific evidence in support of the techniques used in criminal profiling and the proclaimed successes of criminal profilers. Academic criticism supports the need for further research in order to determine if these technique can be improved and used successfully by criminal investigators. References Alison, L. , Smith, M. D. , ; Morgan, K. (2003). Interpreting the accuracy of offender profilers. Psychology, Crime ; Law, 9, 185-195. doi:10. 1080/1068316031000116274 Canter, D. (1989). Offender profiles. The Psychologist, 2, 12-16. Davis, J. A. (1999).
Criminal personality profiling and crime scene assessment: A contemporary investigative tool to assist law enforcement public safety. Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, 15, 291-301. Devery, C. (2010). Criminal profiling and criminal investigation. Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, 26, 393-409. doi:10. 1177/1043986210377108 Winerman, L. (2004). Criminal profiling: The reality behind the myth. Monitor on Psychology, 35(7), 66. Young, T. M. (2006). Profiling pros and cons: an evaluation of contemporary criminal profiling methods. Honors Junior/Senior Projects. Retrieved from http://hdl. handle. net/2047/d10001281