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). Offender profiling dates back to 1888 and the spree of Jack the Ripper. Current applications include predictive profiling, sexual assault offender profiling, and case linkage.
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. More recent attempts at research into profiling's effectiveness have prompted researchers to label it as pseudoscientific. Malcolm Gladwell of The New Yorker compared profiling to astrology and cold reading.
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. According to Gregg O. McCrary, "the basic premise is that behavior reflects personality."
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).
Fundamental assumptions that offender profiling relies upon, such as the homology assumption, have been proven outdated by advances in psychology and behavioral science. 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.
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." 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. 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.
Wilson, Lincon and Kocsis list three main paradigms of profiling: diagnostic evaluation, crime scene analysis, and investigative psychology. Ainsworth identified four: clinical profiling (synonymous with diagnostic evaluation), typological profiling (synonymous with crime scene analysis), investigative psychology, and geographical profiling.
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.
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." 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.
The BAU and FBI have six stages to developing a criminal profile: profiling inputs, decision process models, crime assessment, criminal profiling, investigation, and apprehension.
Profiling techniques existed as early as the Middle Ages, with the inquisitors trying to "profile" heretics. The first offender profile 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. 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.
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. 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”
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." 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. In 1964, Brussel profiled the Boston Strangler for the Boston Police Department.
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.
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.:230-231 Douglas and Ressler later created a typology of sex murderers and formed the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime.
The March 1980 issue of the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin invited local police to request profiles from the FBI. An article in the April 1980 issue, "The Lust Murderer," introduced the dichotomy of "organized" and "disorganized" offenders. The August 1985 issue described a third, "mixed" category.
Profiling as an investigative tool has a high level of acceptance among both the general public and police.
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.
In the United Kingdom, 29 profilers provided 242 instances of profiling advice between 1981 and 1994, its usage increasing steadily over that period.
Surveys of police officers in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada have found an overwhelming majority consider profiling to be useful. 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."
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.
In a review of the literature by Eastwood et al. (2006), one of the studies noted, Pinizzotto and Finkel (1990), 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.
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.
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.
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). 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."
- Woodhams, Jessica; Toye, Kirsty (February 2007). "An empirical test of the assumptions of case linkage and offender profiling with serial commercial robberies". Psychology, Public Policy, and Law. 13 (1): 59–85. doi:10.1037/1076-89126.96.36.199.
- Canter, David (January 2004). "Offender Profiling and Investigative Psychology". Journal of Investigative Psychology & Offender Profiling. 1: 1–15. doi:10.1002/jip.007. Retrieved November 19, 2015.
- Eastwood, Joseph; Cullen, Richard M; Kavanagh, Jennifer; Snook, Brent (2006). "A review of the validity of criminal profiling" (PDF). Canadian Journal of Police and Security Services. 4: 118–124.
- Snook, Brent; Eastwood, Joseph; Gendreau, Paul; Goggin, Claire; Cullen, Richard M. (2007). "Taking Stock of Criminal Profiling". Criminal Justice and Behavior. 34 (4): 437–453. doi:10.1177/0093854806296925. ISSN 0093-8548.
- Gladwell, Malcolm (November 12, 2007). "Dangerous Minds". The New Yorker. Retrieved December 7, 2015.
- Berg, B. L. (2008). Criminal investigation. Boston: McGraw-Hill Higher Education. ISBN 9780073401249.
- Vettor, Shannon; Woodhams, Jessica; Beech, Anthony (2013). "Offender profiling: A review and critique of the approaches and major assumption". Journal of Current Issues in Crime, Law and Law Enforcement. 6 (4): 353–387.
- Goodwill, Alasdair M.; Lehmann, Robert J. B.; Beauregard, Eric; Andrei, Andreea (2014-10-01). "An action phase approach to offender profiling". Legal and Criminological Psychology. 21 (2): 229–250. doi:10.1111/lcrp.12069. ISSN 2044-8333.
- Chifflet, Pascale (2014). "Questioning the validity of criminal profiling: an evidence-based approach". Australian & New Zealand Journal of Criminology. 48 (2): 238–255. doi:10.1177/0004865814530732. ISSN 0004-8658.
- Jackson, Craig; Wilson, David; Rana, Baljit Kaur (2011). "The usefulness of criminal profiling". Criminal Justice Matters. 84 (1): 6–7. doi:10.1080/09627251.2011.576014. ISSN 0962-7251.
- Alison, Laurence; Bennell, Craig; Mokros, Andreas; Ormerod, David (March 2002). "The personality paradox in offender profiling: A theoretical review of the processes involved in deriving background characteristics from crime scene actions". Psychology, Public Policy, and Law. 8 (1): 115–135. doi:10.1037/1076-89188.8.131.52.
- Snook, Brent; Cullen, Richard M.; Bennell, Craig; Taylor, Paul J.; Gendreau, Paul (2008). "The Criminal Profiling Illusion". Criminal Justice and Behavior. 35 (10): 1257–1276. doi:10.1177/0093854808321528. ISSN 0093-8548.
- Muller, Damon A. (2000). "Criminal Profiling: Real Science or Just Wishful Thinking?". Homicide Studies. 4 (3): 234–264. doi:10.1177/1088767900004003003. ISSN 1088-7679.
- Ainsworth, Peter (2001). Offender profiling and crime analysis. Devon Portland, Or: Willan. ISBN 978-1-903240-21-2.
- Quoted by Simmons, A. (2015). "What is Offender Profiling" (PDF). Handout from Psychlotron.org.uk. Retrieved November 20, 2015.
- Fulero, Solomon; Wrightsman, Lawrence (2008-04-18). Forensic Psychology. Cengage Learning. ISBN 1111804958.
- Labuschagne, Gérard N. (2006-10-01). "The use of a linkage analysis as evidence in the conviction of the Newcastle serial murderer, South Africa". Journal of Investigative Psychology and Offender Profiling. 3 (3): 183–191. doi:10.1002/jip.51. ISSN 1544-4767.
- Skinner, Keith; Evans, Stewart (2013-02-07). The Ultimate Jack the Ripper Sourcebook. Little, Brown Book Group. ISBN 9781472107855.
- Evans, Stewart P.; Skinner, Keith (2013-07-01). Jack the Ripper: Letters from Hell. The History Press. ISBN 9780750953818.
- McLaughlin, Vance (2006). The Postcard Killer: The True Story of America's First Profiled Serial Killer and how the Police Brought Him Down. Thunder's Mouth Press. ISBN 9781560259091.[dead link]
- Risinger, D. Michael; Loop, Jeffrey L. (2002). "Three Card Monte, Monty Hall, Modus Operandi and 'Offender Profiling': Some Lessons of Modern Cognitive Science for the Law of Evidence". Cardozo Law Review. 24 (195): 193–285.
- Egger, Steven A. (1999). "Psychological Profiling". Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice. 15 (3): 242–261. doi:10.1177/1043986299015003003. ISSN 1043-9862.
- Brussel, James (1968). Casebook of a Crime Psychiatrist. Bernard Geis Associates. ISBN 0-583-11804-6.
- "Behavioral Research and Instruction Unit". FBI.gov. Federal Bureau of Investigation. Retrieved November 9, 2015.[dead link]
- Evans, Colin (1998). The Casebook of Forensic Detection. Science. ISBN 9781440620539.
- Devery, Christopher (2010). "Criminal Profiling and Criminal Investigation". Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice. 26 (4): 393–409. doi:10.1177/1043986210377108. ISSN 1043-9862.
- "Critical Incident Response Group". FBI.gov. Federal Bureau of Investigation. Retrieved November 9, 2015.[dead link]
- Pinizzotto, Anthony J.; Finkel, Norman J. (1990). "Criminal personality profiling: An outcome and process study". Law and Human Behavior. 14 (3): 215–233. doi:10.1007/BF01352750. ISSN 1573-661X.
- Kocsis, Richard N.; Irwin, Harvey J.; Hayes, Andrew F.; Nunn, Ronald (2000-03-01). "Expertise in Psychological Profiling A Comparative Assessment". Journal of Interpersonal Violence. 15 (3): 311–331. doi:10.1177/088626000015003006. ISSN 0886-2605.
- Alison, Laurence; Smith, Matthew D.; Eastman, Oliver; Rainbow, Lee (2003). "Toulmin's philosophy of argument and its relevance to offender profiling". Psychology, Crime & Law. 9 (2): 173–183. doi:10.1080/1068316031000116265. ISSN 1068-316X.
- Alison, Laurence; Smith, Matthew D.; Morgan, Keith (2003). "Interpreting the accuracy of offender profiles". Psychology, Crime & Law. 9 (2): 185–195. doi:10.1080/1068316031000116274. ISSN 1068-316X.
- Canter, David; Youngs, Donna (2003). "Beyond 'Offender Profiling': The Need for an Investigative Psychology". In Bull, R.; Carson, D. Handbook of Psychology in Legal Contexts (PDF). Chichester, UK: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. pp. 171–205. doi:10.1002/0470013397.ch7. ISBN 0-471-49874-2. Retrieved December 7, 2015.
- Canter, D.V. (1995). "The psychology of offender profiling". In Bull, R.; Carson, D. Handbook of Psychology in Legal Contexts. Chichester; New York: J. Wiley. ISBN 978-0-471-94182-8.
- Criminal Investigative Research and Analysis (CiR&A) Group: Current research on evidence-based behavioural investigative practice in police investigations
- Swiss scientific research site on criminal profiling
- University of Liverpool Forensic Psychology - with articles
- History of Criminal Profiling - with links to other sites
- Offender Profiling: An Introduction to the Sociopsychological Analysis of Violent Crime - PDF available
- Dangerous Minds: Criminal profiling made easy, by Malcolm Gladwell