Criminal profiling is the act of observing a crime scene and using victimology to generate information about the perpetrator who committed the crime. Details of the crime committed allow the profiler to construct a psychological profile of the perpetrator. Not all crimes can be profiled. Crimes that can be profiled have been committed with a perpetrator who has significant psychopathology. Unlike the portrayal given in popular media, profiles are not given to solve crimes; they are merely designed to assist in an investigation.
One of the biggest obstacles profilers will ever come upon is the belief that criminal profiling is all about wishful thinking, lucky guesses, and pulling all the tricks out. In some aspects they are correct. Many criminal profilers do consider their work to be more of an art than a science. However, this art is backed up my scientific predictions, statistical tests that allow for systematic “guessing”, and theorized research. There are a variety of approaches to criminal profiling including Crime Scene Analysis and Investigative Psychology. Because there are a variety of profiling approaches, it is possible for two different profilers to come up with different profiles, hence the fact that it is not an exact science. However, these profiles, even if different, can limit the suspect list or help investigators to focus their attention on a more limited field of information.
The most popular strategy is Crime Scene Analysis, and that is the technique that was developed by the FBI that you commonly see in the media. It was originally designed by an agent of the BSU (Behavioral Science Unit). CSA is mostly applicable to serial murderers and often categorizes the perpetrator into either an organized or unorganized offender. This categorization is based on the crime scene itself and aspects of the crime. These categories have typical offenders and common victim types. They are correlated to levels of intelligence, social economic status, and conscientiousness. These categories were designed after thorough study of past crimes and current crime statistics. Criminal profiling is, in essence, all based around statistical probabilities and national averages. It is important that we recognize there are always outliers to any grouping of data but using statistics we can gain pretty accurate insight about a perpetrator. Just by analyzing a crime scene and determining what type of offender committed the crime, profilers should be able to provide authorities of relevant characteristics of the offender. It is this profile that can help narrow down a suspect list or geographic location of the next crime. It’s not accurate enough to pinpoint an exact person, but it’s a good tool to utilize to aid authorities in finding the offender.
Criminal profiling has had its downsides. In many cases profilers must rely on their own intuition and instincts in addition to statistical bases. There have been cases in which criminal profiling was not used properly and ultimately led to unfavorable outcomes. In cases such as the D.C. sniper case in 2002 that left 10 people dead, the actual perpetrators did not fit the profile given. On average the majority of snipers are white males. The D.C. snipers did not fit the average age range or ethnicity of a typical sniper. The profile, even though intended only to assist in the investigation, became a prime piece on information leading the investigation and the media. In this case it was not necessarily that the profile was “wrong” but that the profile was accurate of an “average” person who committed this type of crime against these types of people. In this case, the snipers did not represent the average.
There is still a huge field of knowledge that needs to be obtained and a great amount of research that needs to be done to confirm the scientific validity of criminal profiling. However, analyzing the success rate and prior accuracy of criminal profiles, it is hard to deny that there is some sort of significance to this so called “art.” Thanks to media such as the movie Silence of the Lambs and the TV series Criminal Minds; criminal profiling is getting more attention than ever before, the attention that it deserves.
References: DC Sniper Case, Criminal Profiling Academic Paper, Criminal Profiling