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Criminal Profiling

What is criminal profiling?

Criminal profiling is an important part of a criminal psychology. This part of an article will partially
answer questions about what criminal profiling is, what it is used for, what is aim of it, in which cases
it is mostly used, what are it’s types and what kind of approaches it has.

In short, criminal profiling (also known as offender profiling and specific profile analysis) is to create
a psychological and not only psychological portrait, determine location of the offenders by gathering
their personal attributes from crime scene behavior in order to assist in detection of them.

Criminal profiling is typically used when offender’s identity is unknown and with serious criminal
offences such as murder, sexual assault. Profilers also work on crime series, where is considered, that
the crime is committed by the same offender.

What creates an offender profile is not clearly agreed, but the process of profiling draws
both, physical and nonphysical information. This includes the layout of the crime scene in terms of
disposition of the victim and the presence or absence of significant items, evidence on what was done
to the victim and the sequence of events, and the perpetrator’s behavior before and after the crime.
From these data, inferences are drawn about the possible meaning and motivation of particular acts.
For example, tying up a victim may mean a necessity for control, while stabbing the victim before
sexual intercourse may mean a need for arousal from pain or blood. Characteristics of the victim,
location of the crime, use of a vehicle, and relation to previous crimes may also suggest social and
demographic features of the offender, such as race, age or occupation.

The goal is to narrow the field of investigation, basic assumptions are, that an offender’s behavior
at the crime scene reflects consistencies in personality and method of committing crime (Holmes,
1989). In the majority of cases Criminal profiling is used in serial crimes and sexual assaults and 90%
of profiling attempts involve murder or rape. Holmes suggests, that profiling is most useful when the
crime scene reflects psychopathology, such as sadistic assaults, rapes or satanic and cut killings.
However, there have been cases of it’s use in arson, obscene telephone calls and bank robbery.
There are two main directions of Criminal profiling: The profiling of an criminal’s personal
characteristics and geographical profiling. Most commonly, the first one is what people most
commonly associate with criminal profiling.
A geographical profiler could be asked to identify the location of an offender’s home, an offender
profiler might be asked to construct profile of an unknown offender based on his/hers behavior at
the crime scene. A profiler may also be asked to advise police about which particular suspect should
be interviewed and how. In addition to it, Ainsworth has identified four main approaches to criminal
profiling, these are:

The geographical approach – this looks at patterns in the location and timing of offences to make
judgements about links between crimes and suggestions about where offenders live and work.
Investigative psychology – this grew out of geographical profiling and uses established
psychological theories and methods of analysis to predict offender characteristics from offending
The typological approach – this involves looking at the characteristics of crime scenes to assign
offenders to different categories, each category of offender having different typical characteristics.
The clinical approach – this approach uses insights from psychiatry and clinical psychology to aid
investigation where an offender is thought to be suffering from a mental illness of other psychological

The Process
The basic assumptions
When profiling characteristics of a person, a offender profiler assumes, that the offender’s behavior
is directed by the way he/she thinks and his/her characteristics. Although, “how they think how they
behave” principle is not flawless, because sometimes an offender’s behavior may be affected by
involvement of another person, such as victim or witness and in result a drawing of
an his/her characteristics becomes more complicated. It is the job of a criminal profiler to infiltrate a
behavior that is indicative of a person rather than of the situation.

The process of criminal profiling can be divided into five stages:

1. Profiling inputs

2. Decision processing

3. Crime assessment

4. The offender profile

5. Investigative use

Profiling inputs
This step involves gathering all the information about the crime. This may be any kind of information
that would help understand what happened, how it happened and why. On this stage gathering of
background information about the victim such as his/her employment, activities, friends, habits,
social status, criminal history is also very important.

Decision processing
During this step, all the information gathered in the first stage is being organized in order classify the
crime by type and style. A correct classification will assist profiler in determining the direction of

For the purposes of this step the answer to relevant questions about the crime will help. These may

 Where did the action take place?

 Why would a person commit the crime, what would his primary motive be?

 Why offender might have chosen the specific victim?

 What did he/she do in order to reduce the risk of detection, does the offender seem to be amateur
or professional, or at least how intelligent he/she may be?

The FBI has developed its own manual of classification and they have a checklist of symptoms and by
accumulation of their presence the offender will be assigned to a specific classification.

The more specific classification a criminal act falls in the better. For example, a murder can be divided
into many types of classification, such as:

 Constant murder (third party)

 Gang-motivated murder

 Kidnap murder

 Drug murder

 Insurance related murder with sub-classifications of individual profit and commercial profit

 Personal cause homicide with sub-classifications such as domestic homicide, argument/conflict

murder, revenge, nonspecific motive murder, extremist homicide, mercy/hero homicide.
 Sexual homicide, which can also be classified as organized, disorganized, mixed, sadistic, elder
female sexual homicide.

Crime assessment
After summarizing all the information gathered in previous steps, the crime assessment is made. The
primary aim of this stage is reconstructing a sequence of events that took place before, during and
after committing a crime and determine the behavior of both, victim and offender.

The offender profile

This stage focuses on hypothesizing about the type of a person who committed an offence. The
created profile will include information, which describes offender. In some examples this information
will include age, sex, location, social status, intelligence, physiological characteristics, etc.

The investigative use

There are two main ways in which an offender profile can help in investigation. Firstly, criminal
profilers make a report for investigators so that they will concentrate their efforts on finding an
offender, that matches characteristics in the profile and secondly it will be used for planning
an interview process of suspects.
It is worth admitting also, that the profile may change during the investigative use.

The use of offender profiling is controversial. Many people don’t believe in it, because it is not an
exact science. One of the flaws of offender profiling is “Stereotyping.” this occurs in a case, when
profiler starts believing something about a person based on small number of characteristics. Many
unsuccessful profiles are created if they are based solely on Stereotyping.

criminal profiling in British

(ˈkrɪmɪnəl ˈprəʊfaɪlɪŋ)


the analysis of a person's psychological and behavioural

characteristics, so as to assess whether they are likely to have
committed a crime under investigation
Collins English Dictionary. Copyright © HarperCollins Publishers
How does profiling work?
Informal criminal profiling has a long history. It was used as early as the 1880s, when
two physicians, George Phillips and Thomas Bond, used crime scene clues to make
predictions about British serial murderer Jack the Ripper's personality.

At the same time, profiling has taken root in the United States, where, until recent
decades, profilers relied mostly on their own intuition and informal studies.
Schlossberg, who developed profiles of many criminals, including David Berkowitz-
-New York City's "Son of Sam"--describes the approach he used in the late 1960s
and 70s: "What I would do," he says, "is sit down and look through cases where the
criminals had been arrested. I listed how old [the perpetrators] were, whether they
were male or female, their level of education. Did they come from broken families?
Did they have school behavioral problems? I listed as many factors as I could come
up with, and then I added them up to see which were the most common."
In 1974, the FBI formed its Behavioral Science Unit to investigate serial rape and
homicide cases. From 1976 to 1979, several FBI agents--most famously John
Douglas and Robert Ressler--interviewed 36 serial murderers to develop theories
and categories of different types of offenders.

Most notably, they developed the idea of the "organized/disorganized dichotomy":

Organized crimes are premeditated and carefully planned, so little evidence is found
at the scene. Organized criminals, according to the classification scheme, are
antisocial but know right from wrong, are not insane and show no remorse.
Disorganized crimes, in contrast, are not planned, and criminals leave such evidence
as fingerprints and blood. Disorganized criminals may be young, under the influence
of alcohol or drugs, or mentally ill.

Over the past quarter-century, the Behavioral Science Unit has further developed the
FBI's profiling process--including refining the organized/disorganized dichotomy
into a continuum and developing other classification schemes.
"The basic premise is that behavior reflects personality," explains retired FBI agent
Gregg McCrary. In a homicide case, for example, FBI agents glean insight into
personality through questions about the murderer's behavior at four crime phases:

 Antecedent: What fantasy or plan, or both, did the murderer have in place before
the act? What triggered the murderer to act some days and not others?

 Method and manner: What type of victim or victims did the murderer select? What
was the method and manner of murder: shooting, stabbing, strangulation or
something else?

 Body disposal: Did the murder and body disposal take place all at one scene, or
multiple scenes?

 Postoffense behavior: Is the murderer trying to inject himself into the investigation
by reacting to media reports or contacting investigators?

A rape case is analyzed in much the same way, but with the additional information
that comes from a living victim. Everything about the crime, from the sexual acts the
rapist forces on the victim to the order in which they're performed, offers a clue
about the perpetrator, McCrary says.

Psychology's contributions
Although the FBI approach has gained public attention, some psychologists have
questioned its scientific solidity. Ressler, Douglas and the other FBI agents were not
psychologists, and some psychologists who looked at their work found
methodological flaws.
Former FBI agent McCrary agrees that some of the FBI's early research was rough:
"Early on it was just a bunch of us [FBI agents] basing our work on our investigative
experience," he says, "and hopefully being right more than we were wrong."
McCrary says he believes that they were right more than wrong, though, and
emphasizes that FBI methods have improved since then. In the meantime,
psychologists have also been helping to step up profiling's scientific rigor. Some
psychologists have been conducting their own criminal profiling research, and
they've developed several new approaches:
 Offender profiling. Much of this work comes from applied psychologist David
Canter, PhD, who founded the field of investigative psychology in the early 1990s
and now runs the Centre for Investigative Psychology at the University of Liverpool.
Investigative psychology, Canter says, includes many areas where psychology can
contribute to investigations--including profiling. The goal of investigative
psychology's form of profiling, like all profiling, is to infer characteristics of a criminal
based on his or her behavior during the crime. But, Canter says, the key is that all of
those inferences should come from empirical, peer-reviewed research--not
necessarily from investigative experience.
For example, Canter and his colleagues recently analyzed crime scene data from 100
serial homicides to test the FBI's organized/disorganized model. Their results, which
will be published in an upcoming issue of APA's Psychology, Public Policy and Law,
indicate that, in contrast to some earlier findings, almost all serial murderers show
some level of organization.
Organized behaviors--like positioning or concealing a victim's body--are the "core
variables" that tend to show up most frequently and co-occur with other variables
most often, he found. The differences between murderers, the researchers say,
instead lie in the types of disorganized behaviors they exhibit. The study suggests
that serial murderers can be divided into categories based on the way they interact
with their victims: through sexual control, mutilation, execution or plunder.
Canter says that research like this, which uses the statistical techniques of psychology
to group together types of offender behaviors, is the only way to develop
scientifically defensible descriptions and classifications of offenders.
"Our approach," he says, "is to consider all the information that may be apparent at
the crime scene and to carry out theory-based studies to determine the underlying
structures of that material."
In another study, he and his colleagues collected crime scene data from 112 rape
cases and analyzed the relationship among different crime scene actions--from what
types of sexual acts the rapist demanded to whether he bound the victim. The
researchers found that the types of sexual violation and physical assault did not
distinguish rapists from each other; these were the core variables that occurred in
most rape cases. Instead, what distinguished the rapists into categories were
nonphysical interactions--things like whether they stole from or apologized to the
Canter puts little faith in the investigative experience-derived offender descriptions
developed by law-enforcement agents. As he sees it, psychologists need to work
from the ground up to gather data and classify offenders in areas as various as arson,
burglary, rape and homicide.
 Crime action profiling. Forensic psychologist Richard Kocsis, PhD, and his
colleagues have developed models based on large studies of serial murderers,
rapists and arsonists that act as guides to profiling such crimes. The models, he says,
are similar to the structured interviews clinical psychologists use to make clinical
diagnoses. They come out of an Australian government-funded research program
that Kocsis ran, in which he developed profiling methods in collaboration with police
and fire agencies.
Now in private practice, Kocsis says crime action profiling models are rooted in
knowledge developed by forensic psychologists, psychiatrists and criminologists.
Part of crime action profiling also involves examining the process and practice of
"Everybody seems to be preoccupied with developing principles for profiling," Kocsis
explains. "However, what seems to have been overlooked is any systematic
examination of how to compose a profile. What type of information do, or should,
profiles contain? What type of case material do you need to construct a profile? How
does the presence or absence of material affect the accuracy of a profile?"
He has studied, for example, whether police officers perceive the same profile to be
more accurate and useful when they believe it was written by a professional profiler
rather than a layperson.
Kocsis agrees that the future of profiling lies in more empirically based research. He
also believes, though, that just as some clinicians are better than others, there is also
a skill element involved in profiling. Is profiling an art or a science? "Realistically, I
think it is probably a bit of both," he says.
The psychology-law enforcement relationship
Among those in the profiling field, the tension between law enforcement and
psychology still exists to some degree. "The difference is really a matter of the FBI
being more oriented towards investigative experience than [academic
psychologists] are," says retired FBI agent McCrary.
"But," he adds, "it's important to remember that we're all working toward the same
In recent years, the FBI has begun to work closely with many forensic psychologists-
-in fact, it employs them. Psychologist Stephen Band, PhD, is the chief of the
Behavioral Science Unit, and clinical forensic psychologist Anthony Pinizzotto, PhD,
is one of the FBI's chief scientists.
The unit also conducts research with forensic psychologists at the John Jay College
of Criminal Justice in New York. One recent collaborative study, for example, looked
at the relationship between burglaries and certain types of sexual offenses--whether
specific aspects of a crime scene differed in incidents that began as a burglary and
ended in a sexual offense, as opposed to crimes that began as a sexual offense but
included theft. Police looking at the first type of crime might want to look for
convicted burglars in the area, Pinizzotto explains. The study will be published in an
upcoming issue of Sex Offender Law Report, published by the Civic Research
One of the FBI's collaborators at John Jay College is Gabrielle Salfati, PhD, a graduate
of the Centre for Investigative Psychology. "Whenever we do research, we try to
bring in as many varied points of view as possible," Pinizzotto says. "Gabrielle Salfati's
expertise on the statistical aspects of evaluating crime scenes is a great
More recently, the unit has also begun to collaborate with forensic psychologists at
Marymount University in Arlington, Va.--another indication that law enforcement
and psychology will continue to work together.
"I think," says Band, "that there is an incredible value added when applications of
professional psychology enter into the mix of what we do

Offender profiling
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Offender profiling, also known as criminal profiling , is an investigative tool used by law
enforcement agencies to identify likely suspects (descriptive offender profiling) and analyze
patterns that may predict future offenses and victims (predictive offender profiling). [1] Offender
profiling dates back to 1888 and the spree of Jack the Ripper.[2] Current applications include
predictive profiling, sexual assault offender profiling, and case linkage.[2]

Offender profiling is also known as criminal profiling, criminal personality profiling,

criminological profiling, behavioral profiling, or criminal investigative analysis.

Despite a lack of scientific research or evidence to support its usefulness in criminal

investigations, usage of profiling by law enforcement has grown since the 1970s.[3][4] More recent
attempts at research into profiling's effectiveness have prompted researchers to label it
as pseudoscientific.[4] Malcolm Gladwell of The New Yorker compared profiling
to astrologyand cold reading. [5]

Psychological profiling is described as a method of suspect identification which seeks to identify
a person's mental, emotional, and personality characteristics based on things done or left at the
crime scene.[6] According to Gregg O. McCrary, "the basic premise is that behavior reflects

There are two major assumptions made when it comes to offender profiling: behavioral
consistency and homology. Behavior consistency is the use of linkage analysis in order to find
similar cases that have little evidence and link them to one offender because of the similarities
that are present. Homology is the idea that similar crimes are committed by similar offenders
that possess similar characteristics: that from crime scene actions (A) one can infer offender
characteristics (C).[7][8][9]

Fundamental assumptions that offender profiling relies upon, such as the homology assumption,
have been proven outdated by advances in psychology and behavioral science.[10][11] The majority
of profiling approaches assume that behavior is primarily determined by personality, not
situational factors, an assumption that psychological research has recognized as a mistake since
the 1960s.[12][9]

Profilers have been noted to be very reluctant to participate in studies of profiling's


The most routinely used typology in profiling is categorizing crime scenes, and by extension
offender's personalities, as either "organized" or "disorganized."[12][5]

A typology of serial sexual homicides advocated by Robert Keppel and Richard

Walter categorizes them as either power–assertive, power–reassurance, anger–retaliatory, or

There are three leading approaches in the area of offender profiling: the criminal investigative
approach, the clinical practitioner approach, and the scientific statistical approach. The criminal
investigative approach is what is used law enforcement and more specifically by the Behavioral
Analysis Unit (BAU) within the FBI. The BAU "assists law enforcement agencies by their review
and assessment of a criminal act, by interpreting the offender's behavior during the crime and
the interactions between the offender and the victim during the commission of the crime and as
expressed in the crime scene."[7] The clinical practitioner approach focuses on looking at each
case as unique, making the approach very individualistic. One practitioner, Turco, believed that
all violent crimes were a result of the mother-child struggle where female victims represent the
offender's mother. This is also recognized as the psychodynamic approach. Another practitioner,
Copson, outlined some principles for profiling which include being custom made, interactive and
reflexive. By following these principles, the profile should include advice that is unique and not
from a stereotype, should be easy to understand for all levels of intelligence, and all elements in
the profile should influence one another.[7] The Scientific approach relies heavily on the
multivariate analysis of behaviors and any other information from the crime scene that could
lead to the offender's characteristics or psychological processes. According to this approach,
elements of the profile are developed by comparing the results of the analysis to those of
previously caught offenders.[7]

Wilson, Lincon and Kocsis list three main paradigms of profiling: diagnostic evaluation, crime
scene analysis, and investigative psychology.[13] Ainsworth[14] identified four: clinical profiling
(synonymous with diagnostic evaluation), typological profiling (synonymous with crime scene
analysis), investigative psychology, and geographical profiling.[15]

Five steps in profiling include analyzing the criminal act and comparing it to similar crimes in the
past, an in-depth analysis of the actual crime scene, considering the victim's background and
activities for possible motives and connections, considering other possible motives, and
developing a description of the possible offender that can be compared with previous cases. [16]

One type of criminal profiling is referred to as linkage analysis. Gerard N. Labuschagne defines
linkage analysis as "a form of behavioral analysis that is used to determine the possibility of a
series of crimes as having been committed by one offender."[17] Gathering many aspects of the
offender's crime pattern such as modus operandi (MO), ritual or fantasy-based behaviors
exhibited, and the signature of the offender, help to establish a basis for a linkage analysis. An
offender's modus operandi is the habits or tendencies during the killing of the victim. An
offender's signature is the unique similarities in each of the kills. Mainly, linkage analysis is used
when physical evidence, such as DNA, cannot be collected.

Labuschagne states that in gathering and incorporating these aspects of the offender's crime
pattern, investigators must engage in five assessment procedures: obtaining data from multiple
sources, reviewing the data and identifying significant features of each crime across the series,
classifying the significant features as either modus operandi or ritualistic, comparing the
combination of modus operandi and ritual or fantasy-based features across the series to
determine if a signature exists, and compiling a written report highlighting the findings.[17]

FBI method[edit]
Main article: FBI method of profiling

The BAU and FBI have six stages to developing a criminal profile: profiling inputs, decision
process models, crime assessment, criminal profiling, investigation, and apprehension.[7]

Profiling techniques existed as early as the Middle Ages, with the inquisitors trying to
"profile" heretics.[citation needed] The first offender profile[citation needed] was assembled by detectives of
the Metropolitan Police on the personality of Jack the Ripper, a serial killer who had murdered a
series of prostitutes in the 1880s. Police surgeon Thomas Bond was asked to give his opinion on
the extent of the murderer's surgical skill and knowledge.[18] Bond's assessment was based on his
own examination of the most extensively mutilated victim and the post mortem notes from the
four previous canonical murders.[19]

In his notes, dated November 10, 1888, Bond mentioned the sexual nature of the murders
coupled with elements of apparent misogyny and rage. Bond also tried to reconstruct the
murder and interpret the behavior pattern of the offender.[19] Bond's basic profile included that
“The murderer must have been a man of physical strength and great coolness and daring...
subject to periodic attacks of homicidal and erotic mania. The characters of the mutilations
indicate that the man may be in a condition sexually, that may be called Satyriasis”[2]

In 1912, a psychologist in Lackawanna, New York delivered a lecture in which he analyzed the
unknown murderer of a local boy named Joey Joseph, dubbed "The Postcard Killer" in the

In 1932, Dr. Dudley Schoenfeld gave the authorities his predictions about the personality of the
kidnapper of the Lindbergh baby.[21]:229

In 1943, Walter C. Langer developed a profile of Adolf Hitler that hypothesized his response to
various scenarios,[22] including losing the war.

James Brussel was a psychiatrist who rose to fame after his profile of New York City's Mad
Bomber was published in the New York Times in 1956. The media dubbed him "The Sherlock
Holmes of the Couch."[23] In his 1968 book Casebook of a Crime Psychiatrist, Brussel relates how
he famously predicted that the bomber would wear a buttoned-up double-breasted suit, but
edited the many other incorrect predictions he had made in his profile, claiming he had
successfully predicted the bomber would be a Slav in Connecticut, when he had actually
predicted he would be "born and educated in Germany," and live in White Plains, New York.[5][24] In
1964, Brussel profiled the Boston Strangler for the Boston Police Department.[22]

In 1972, after the death of a psychology-skeptical J. Edgar Hoover,[21]:230-231 the Behavioral Science
Unit of the FBI was formed by Patrick Mullany and Howard Teten.[25]

Investigations of notorious serial killers Ted Bundy and the Green River Killer were performed in
1974 by Robert Keppel and psychologist Richard Walter. They went on to develop the four
subtypes of violent crime and the Hunter Integrated Telemetry System (HITS) database which
compiled characteristics of violent crime for research.[26]

At the FBI's BSU, Robert Ressler and John Douglas began an informal series of ad-hoc interviews
with thirty-six convicts starting in early 1978.[21]:230-231[27][22] Douglas and Ressler later created a
typology of sex murderers and formed the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime.[28]

The March 1980 issue of the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin invited local police to request profiles
from the FBI.[27] An article in the April 1980 issue, "The Lust Murderer," introduced the dichotomy
of "organized" and "disorganized" offenders.[27] The August 1985 issue described a third, "mixed"

In 1985, Dr. David Canter profiled the Railway Rapist.[22]

The Crime Classification Manual was published in 1992, and introduced the term "criminal
investigative analysis."[27]

Profiling as an investigative tool has a high level of acceptance among both the general public
and police.[10]

In the United States, between 1971 and 1981, the FBI provided profiling services on only 192
occasions. By 1986, FBI profilers were requested in 600 investigations in a single year. By 1996,
12 FBI profilers were applying profiling to approximately 1000 cases per year.[12]

In the United Kingdom, 29 profilers provided 242 instances of profiling advice between 1981 and
1994, its usage increasing steadily over that period.[12]

The usage of profiling has been documented in Sweden, Finland, New Zealand, South
Africa, Germany, Canada, Ireland, Malaysia, Russia, Zimbabwe, and the Netherlands.[3][12]

Surveys of police officers in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada have found an
overwhelming majority consider profiling to be useful.[3] A 2007 meta-analysis of existing
research into offender profiling noted that there was "a notable incongruity between [profiling's]
lack of empirical foundation and the degree of support for the field."[4]

Profiling's continued popularity has been speculatively attributed to broad use of anecdotes and
testimonials, a focus on correct predictions over the number of incorrect ones, ambiguous
profiles benefiting from the Barnum effect, and the popular appeal of the fantasy of a sleuth with
deductive powers like Hercule Poirot and Sherlock Holmes.[12]
Notable profilers[edit]
Notable profilers include Roy Hazelwood, Ernst Gennat, Walter C. Langer, James Brussel, Howard
Teten, Robert Keppel, Richard Walter, John Douglas, Robert Ressler, and David Canter.

In a review of the literature by Eastwood et al. (2006),[3] one of the studies noted, Pinizzotto and
Finkel (1990),[29] showed that trained criminal profilers did not do any better than non-profilers in
producing an accurate profile. A 2000 study also showed that profilers were not significantly
better at creating a profile than any other participating groups.[30]

A survey of statements made in offender profiles done for major cases from 1992 to 2001 found
that "72% included repetition of the details of what occurred in the offence (factual statements
already known by the police), references to the profiler’s competence [...] or caveats about
using the material in the investigation." Over 80% of the remaining statements, which made
claims about the offender's characteristics, gave no justification for their conclusion.[31]

A 2003 study which asked two different groups of police to rate how accurately a profile matched
a description of the apprehended offender, with one group given a description of a completely
fabricated offender instead of the real one, found that the profile was rated equally accurate in
both cases.[32][5]

There is a lack of clear, quantifiable evidence of a link between crime scene actions (A) and
offender characteristics (C), a necessary supposition of the A to C paradigm proposed by Canter
(1995).[33][34] A 2002 review by Alison et al. concluded, "The notion that particular configurations
of demographic features can be predicted from an assessment of particular configurations of
specific behaviors occurring in short-term, highly traumatic situations seems an overly ambitious
and unlikely possibility. Thus, until such inferential processes can be reliably verified, such claims
should be treated with great caution in investigations and should be entirely excluded from
consideration in court."[11]

What is Criminal Profiling?

Criminal profiling is the process of identifying behavioral tendencies, personality traits,

geographic location, and demographic or biographic descriptors of an offender based on the
characteristics of a particular crime. The primary goal of criminal profiling is to narrow the field
of possible suspects to a more reasonable number from the hundreds or thousands of possible
suspects. In essence, criminal profiling is a form of prediction wherein a profiler attempts to
predict who the offender might be on the basis of crime scene information and the behavioral
patterns or habits of the offender. By using data collected on other offenders who have
committed the same type of crime, the profiler is able to come to some conclusions regarding
the current offender. Of course, the better the data on other offenders, the more accurate the
profiler will likely be. It is important to note that criminal profiling can rarely point to the
particular person who committed the crime; rather, the process is used to develop a
manageable set of clues as to who may have been responsible for the crime.

Criminal Profiling v. Psychological Profiling v.

Racial Profiling
In their book, Introduction to Forensic Psychology, Curt and Anne Bartol describe the
differences between criminal profiling, psychological profiling, and racial profiling.

Criminal Profiling
Criminal profiling refers to identifying and describing essential information about a suspect. As
previously indicated, criminal profilers use data about other offenders who ha
ve committed similar types of offenses in attempting to narrow the pool of possible suspects.
The goal of criminal profiling is to arrive at a profile of the type of individual who may be
responsible for committing the crime of interest.

Psychological Profiling
Psychological profiling refers to a behavioral sketch of an individual who may or may not be a
suspected offender. The process of psychological profiling involves integrating information
and evidence from the crime scene with psychological theory to arrive at a sketch of the
perpetrator’s behavior and personality. Bartol and Bartol write that the United States’ Office
of Strategic Services used psychological profiling during World War II in an effort to
understand the tendencies and thought processes of Adolf Hitler.

Racial Profiling
Racial profiling refers to police-initiated action that relies on the race, ethnicity, or national
origin (rather than the behavior) of an individual or information that leads the police to a
particular individual who has been identified as being, or having been, engaged in criminal
Applied Profiling v. Research on Profiling
One important aspect to consider is that our application of the principles of profiling can only
be as good as the research behind it. Thus, one area of forensic psychology that drastically
needs attention from forensic psychologists is that of profiling research. It is crucial to
understand the reliability and validity of various profiling techniques so they can be improved
to allow for meaningful application by law enforcement and other forensic investigators.
Excerpted from: Bartol, C. R., & Bartol, A. M. (2004). Introduction to forensic psychology.
Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Criminal Profiling 101

rom Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes to Silence of the Lambs’ Clarice Starling, the idea
of brilliant investigators using their brains over their brawn to identify criminals has captured
countless imaginations.
But our criminal justice system demands more than psychological inference to convict offenders. An
expert combination of criminal psychology with evidence-based investigation becomes the kind of
asset that’s integral to effective law enforcement. Learn how criminal profiling has developed into
a career that can validate and dictate the direction of a criminal case.

Purpose of Criminal Profilers

Criminal profilers play a multifaceted role in collaboration with law enforcement. Their evaluations
go beyond the crime scene to formulate the motivations behind the crime itself. Profilers are critical
to providing a psychological assessment of the offender at large and guiding law enforcement on
ways to pursue or interview suspects.

While criminal profilers may not investigate all offenses, they can be most effective in assisting law
enforcement with crimes that indicate or mirror the personality of the offenders. These crimes may
include sexual assault, homicide and arson.

Developing a Criminal Profile

To avoid stereotypes in profiling, criminology professionals must take care to craft a thorough
psychological portrait of the offender. They must be versed in related subjects including forensics,
criminal justice, psychology, mental illness, sexuality and addiction.

At the crime scene, they can start to draft a profile based on:

 When and where the incident took place

 The victim’s identity
 How the crime was committed
Using these initial profiling steps, criminology experts can enhance an evidence-based investigation
by assessing what behaviors might have triggered the crime. These professionals can then start to
look for patterns, motivations and how these might relate to suspects’ subsequent crimes.

How Criminal Profilers Impact an Investigation

According to the FBI, criminal profiling can have advantageous implications for multiple aspects of
an investigation. The initial profile can give investigators a starting point into the lifestyle,
motivations and future behaviors of the suspect. This information can then lead to potential
locations or identification of the offender. A profile can also render hard evidence by providing
necessary information to validate a search warrant.
Criminal profilers can help investigators achieve better answers in the interrogation process of a
suspected offender. A specialized approach or interview environment may change the course of the
information received, allowing law enforcement to benefit from the keen ability of a profiler to
understand the personality, motivations or triggers of the suspect.

Because criminal profilers can utilize hard evidence with their comprehensive psychological outline
of the offender, they can offer comprehensive expert testimony during a trial, evaluate the
likelihood of another crime or assist with prosecution and cross-examination strategies.

Criminal profiling may also be used to analyze the validity of threats from potential offenders.
Evidence may be used in the case of threats to determine whether ability exists to carry them out.

Validity of Criminal Profiling

While criminal justice proponents of evidence-based logic may view criminal profiling as more art
than science, the education of these professionals may suggest otherwise.
Supreme Court case United States v Cortez (1981) suggests profiling is an acceptable tool of
deductive reasoning to determine innocence. The ruling stated that inferences made by
investigators don’t deal with hard fact, but that they are not to be dismissed:
“Long before the law of probabilities was articulated as such, practical people formulated certain
common sense conclusions about human behavior; jurors as fact finders are permitted to do the
same -- and so are law enforcement officers.”

A study on criminal psychological profiling found that professional profilers produce more accurate
offender traits in their work than those without an investigative background.

Criminology Careers
Criminal profiling continues to emerge as a valuable investigative asset to agencies for providing a
more complete picture of potential suspects and motives. Criminal profilers are also vital in the
communication process with offenders, helping officers and lawyers find answers.

To help law enforcement get within arm’s reach of the criminal mind, profilers need a solid
foundation in a criminology education. A Bachelor of Criminology from Regis University online or
on campus can get you one step closer to career goals as a criminal profiler, providing the tools
needed to understand the links between personality traits and crime while demonstrating how that
role can make a positive impact.