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A Look At Criminal Profiling: Historical To Present Day

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Forensic psychology, specifically, offender or criminal profiling has exponentially increased in popularity since its inception. It has spread though out the United States and internationally and this popularity is due mainly to massive media frenzies that focused on high-profile cases as well as the fictional movie, based on a book by Thomas Harris, Silence of the Lambs (Huss, 2001). Another reason for the wide interest in profiling is that people have a need to know who and why and additionally, have a fascination with the morbid. The flood of popular attention to criminal profiling created several public misconceptions. I will, therefore, generally define criminal profiling, dispelling myths and then will focus on the origins, history and current applications of criminal profiling.

Criminal or offender profiling is a tool used by criminalist, behavioral scientists, forensic psychiatrists and psychologists, investigators, the FBI, the CIA, the CBC, and international law enforcement agencies. However, the practice of criminal profiling is concentrated within the FBI. The mission of offender profiling is to focus a criminal investigation onto more likely suspects (DeNevi & Campbell, 2004; Hicks, & Sales, 2006; Kocsis, 2003; Petherick, 2005). This narrowing serves to better utilize personnel and resources in the apprehension of offenders by investigating suspects and leads that are more accurately assessed (Canter, 2004; DeNevi & Campbell, 2004; Hicks, & Sales, 2006; Kocsis, 2003; Mitchell, 1996-97; Petherick, 2005; 2 Ramsland, 2007; Turco, 1990.

A symbiotic goal of profiling is to restrict investigative efforts to suspects that fall within the realm of the traits assessed to the perpetrator of a particular crime. Traits of a criminal that are addressed in a profile age, race, height, geographic location, personality, and even his or her attire offenders (Canter, 2004; DeNevi & Campbell, 2004; Hicks, & Sales, 2006; Kocsis, 2003; Mitchell, 1996-97; Petherick,2005; 2 Ramsland, 2007; Turco, 1990). This identification of traits assists investigator in narrowing the suspect pools for a crime.

Profilers must be versatile in their approach and knowledge of criminals and crime scenes. They must look at the positions of bodies, types of weapons, degree of violence at a scene, whether bodies were posed, verbal statements made by the perpetrator, if a signature (a detail found at a crime scene that is not needed to commit the crime, but, rather, is a compulsion or needful act by the offender and is unique to him or her) emerges, if messages are left, the time of day of the crime, and information about the victim(s). Another tool used by profilers, is the enlistment of the public's aide. Profilers operate under the idea that if the behavior and personality traits of the offender are made public, someone will recognize these traits in someone that they know (Gudjonsson & Haward, 2000).

All of these factors are assembled by profilers and synthesized with his or her experience in the field. Douglas and Munn describe crime scenes as a story that has plots, heroes, villains, a beginning, middle and end (1992). They state that the end depends on the accuracy of the profile and others assigned to that case (1992).

Criminal profiling has been criticized for lacking empirical testing and employing circular logic when attempt to scientifically legitimize the practice (Hicks & Sales, 2006). One of the concerns is that profiling is limited to data accumulated by experience in the field. This is personally acquired information and subject to gingival perceptual biases (Alison & West, 2004). Another difficulty with validating profiling as a science in the reliance on criminal self-reports. Although useful to degrees, there are wide varieties of personalities to attest for. Some criminals may exaggerate their crimes, others, deny them and even some may lie completely. The basis for profiling is individual interpretation, based on one's experience which is influenced by self-reports of criminal (Canter, 2004). Kocsis has attempted several experiments to try to bring profiling into acceptance by the scientific community (Kocsis, 2003; Kocsis, 2004; Kocsis, R. 2004; Kocsis & Middledorp, 2004). His experiments have brought some validity in to the field with his finding that those currently employed as profilers, have a higher accuracy than those in other fields, including in law enforcement (Kocsis, 2003). As John Douglas, former chief of the BSU, and others believe, profiling is more of an art than a science but this fact does not detract from its usefulness (Douglas, 2007).

Public perception of profiling became synonymous with characters from the movie, Silence of the Lambs. While there was some accuracy to the film, profilers do not daily deal with serial murder cases, but handle several different low-profile, unglamorous cases. This myth, led to an influx of potential employees into the filed of profiling. These persons brought with them the expectations that profiling would be glamorous and land them in the public forum (Huss, 2001).

The public developed an image of profilers that mimicked detective scene in movies. This perception was often of a lone cowboy who had a dark and melancholy personality (Petherick, 2005). The profiler is seen as person who is embodies Humphrey Bogart or John Wayne characters. This idea is far from a realistic depiction of a profiler, who is just as likely to be jolly, married and a cooperative member of society as a politician or an athlete.

Dispelling another public myth, profilers do not have the ability to instantly assess a crime scene and give investigators a suspect. An analysis of a crime takes time and as previously stated, involves several factors. This is one of the difficulties created by public perception. Many people are under the impression that profiling is one-hundred percent accurate and able to be done in much the same manner as psychics are perceived to work.

The public erroneously believes that criminal profilers have the ability to tell what type of person commits certain types of crimes (Douglas & Munn, 1992). For instance, it is expected that if asked "What type of person commits arson?", that a profiler is able to give a specific list traits that can be associated with arsonists ( This concept is far from accurate as offenders are individual and as such unique in their methodologies, personalities, and motives (Holmes & Holmes, 2002). Profilers must then analyze each crime and crime scene as unique because each has its own distinctions (Ebert, 1987). For example, no two rapists, arsonists, or murders are the same, just as no two people are the same. It is easy for the public to destroy the individuality of



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