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The Importance Of Criminal Justice

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The Use of Criminal Profiling

Criminal Profiling is a method of identifying the perpetrator of a crime based on an analysis of the nature of the offense and the manner in which it was committed. It most notably can be traced back to work done in the later part of the last century, and possibly even earlier in a variety of forms. There has been a definite growth since this early work, with many individuals doing a great deal of both research and practical work in criminal profiling. The investigative technique has recently risen in popularity both in practical use and media portrayals.

The first example of profiling available for reference which is referred to as a profile in the contemporary sense were the suggestion made by Dr. Thomas Bond, a police surgeon, who performed the autopsy on Mary Kelly, the last of Jack the Ripper's victims.(4) Bond was initially called into the investigation to make an assessment of the surgical knowledge of the perpetrator. He also engaged in a somewhat crude reconstruction of many aspects of the crime, possibly in an attempt to understand what occurred. He observed that "...the corner sheet to the right of the woman's head was much cut and saturated with blood, indicating that the face may have been covered with a sheet at the time of the attack".(4) The observations made by Bond in the late 1880's were largely the interpretation of the Ripper's behaviors at the crime scene, including the wound patterns inflicted upon the victim. He suggested that investigators look for a quiet inoffensive looking man, probably middle aged and neatly dressed(4)

Crimes that are suitable for criminal profiling are those in which there is much evidence at the crime scene or considerable interaction with the victim wherein the offender displays severe mental disturbance. Ritualistic crimes, torture, and murders involving post-mortem disfigurement are especially conducive to this kind of analysis because they are committed by criminals with pronounced psychological disorders.(3) People exhibiting the behavioral characteristics associated with these crimes are extremely rare. Thus a personality profile of the typical offender would be useful in eliminating potential suspects.(3)

Various aspects of the criminal's personality makeup are determined from his or her choices before, during, and after the crime. This information is combined with other relevant details and physical evidence, and then compared with the characteristics of known personality types and mental abnormalities to develop a practical working description of the offender.

The process this approach uses to determine offender characteristics involves, first, an assimilation phase where all information available in regard to the crime scene, victim, and witnesses is examined. This may include photographs of the crime scene, autopsy reports, victim profiles, police reports, and witness statements.(4)

The next phase, the "classification stage", involves integrating the information collected into a framework which essentially classifies the murderer as "organized" or "disorganized".(3) Organized murderers are thought to plan their crimes, display control over the victim, leave little forensic evidence or clues, and often engage in sexual acts with the victim before the murder. In contrast, the disorganized offender is described as impulsive, his/her murders are opportunistic and crime scenes suggest frenzied, haphazard behavior.(3)

Following the classification stage profilers attempt to reconstruct the behavioral sequence of the crime, in particular, attempting to reconstruct the offender's modus operandi or method of committing the crime. From further consideration of the modus operandi, the offenders signature at the crime scene, and also an inspection for the presence of any staging of the crime, the profiler moves on to generate a profile. This profile may contain detailed information regarding the offenders demographic characteristics, family characteristics, military background, education, personality characteristics, and may also suggest appropriate interview techniques.

This technique was portrayed in the movie The Silence of the Lambs (1991). This movie was actually done with the professional assistance of John E. Douglas and Robert K Ressler, two of the leading experts on criminal personality profiling and pioneers of modern criminal investigative analysis. Douglas and Ressler added the organized/disorganized method to the criminal profiling process. However, this work of fiction is not truly realistic in its portrayal of the serial murderers and their hunters; for instance, it combines attributes of several different sorts of offenders - personality dynamics that would be highly unlikely to coexist in one person in real life.(4)

For 16 years, "mad bomber" George Metesky eluded New York City police. Metesky planted more than 30 small bombs around the city between 1940 and 1956, hitting movie theaters, phone booths and other public areas. In 1956, the frustrated investigators asked psychiatrist James Brussel, New York State's assistant commissioner of mental hygiene, to study crime scene photos and notes from the bomber. Brussel came up with a detailed description of the suspect: He would be unmarried, foreign, self-educated, in his 50s, living in Connecticut, paranoid and with a vendetta against Con Edison--the first bomb had targeted the power company's 67th street headquarters. While some of Brussel's predictions were simply common sense, others were based on psychological ideas. For instance, he said that because paranoia tends to peak around age 35, the bomber, 16 years after his first bomb, would now be in his 50s. The profile proved dead on: It led police right to Metesky, who was arrested in January 1957 and confessed immediately. In the following decades, police in New York and elsewhere continued to consult psychologists and psychiatrists to develop profiles of particularly difficult-to-catch offenders. At the same time, though, much of the criminal profiling field developed within the law enforcement community--particularly the FBI.

The FBI's profiling unit, part of its National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime, advises law enforcement officers, most often local police investigators, in cases of unsolved serial and violent crimes.



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