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Forensics In the Field: the Example of Profiling Criminal Profiling

By: Daniel B. Kennedy, Ph.D., C.P.P., C.C.S. and Dr. Robert J. Homant

Tel: (248) 641-0988
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Criminal or offender profiling in one form or another has existed for many centuries. In more recent history, profiles have been constructed for such notorious criminals as Jack the Ripper, the Boston Strangler, the Unabomber, the Beltway Sniper, the Railway Rapist, the Mad Bomber, and the Green River Killer, all with varying degrees of validity. Although many scholars prefer a tripartite approach to the classification of offender profiling (criminal investigative approach, clinical practitioner approach, and the scientific statistical approach), we divide offender profiling into five major schools. The Diagnostic Evaluation School relies on insight into human nature derived by psychologists and criminologists as a result of their interactions with criminal and noncriminal populations. The Criminal Investigative Analysis School as introduced by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation relies heavily on an application of prior patterns of behavior of known subjects to current cases, and often distinguishes between organized-disorganized criminal types.

The Investigative Psychology School applies sophisticated statistical analysis to criminal behavior based on certain criminal narrative themes as evidenced by behavior during the crime. (Crime Action Profiling is a major variant of this school). The Behavioral Evidence Analysis School relies on a thorough crime scene reconstruction to create a criminal's profile. Evidence of a criminal's skill set and his knowledge of the victim and crime scene can often be deduced. Finally, the Geographic Profiling School investigates the locations of a series of linked crimes in order to draw inferences about the offender's home address or the location of his primary activity node. Profiling has evolved from an earlier concentration on serial sexual murder to include considerations of additional sexual offenses, arson, acquisitive crimes, organized crime and, most recently, terrorism and cybercrime. Furthermore, the concept of offender profiling is continually being expanded to include an array of contributions to the process of police criminal investigations. Behavioral investigative advice is increasingly offered in order to narrow the range of criminal suspects, to improve investigative interviewing, to link crime scenes to the same suspect based on signature analysis and to perform equivocal death analysis.


1. Introduction

Few concepts in criminology have generated as much attention, controversy, and confusion over the past three decades as has the notion of criminal profiling. Ever since the phenomenal worldwide success of the movie "Silence of the Lambs" and various television series of that genre, college students, behavioural scientists, criminal investigators, judges, and the general public have been interested in the process by which the personal, behavioural, and even physical characteristics of a serial killer can be inferred from his actions during the commission of a perverse and sadistic murder (Dowden et al., 2007). As the concept of serial crime has expanded (Petherick, 2009; Schlesinger, 2000), criminologists, psychologists, and crime scene investigators have considered the application of profiling techniques to additional types of crime, such as rape, child molestation, arson, cybercrime, terrorism, and an assortment of property crimes. The term 'profiling' has also provoked negative reaction. Some observers have questioned the efficacy of profiling, while others have argued that its practice equates to racial and ethnic discrimination. Much of this controversy stems from multiple and conflicting applications of the practice, as well as the failure to establish clear definitions of the concepts involved.

2. Defining Profiling

The word 'profile' derives from the Latin word filum, for thread or shape. Profilare, then, meant to bring forth a thread or outline. A common English use of profile is a side view of a face or an outline of an object. To profile an individual has come to mean to summarize a person (e.g., Kennedy, 1956). A criminal profile, then, is simply a summary description of the salient traits and characteristics of an offender. Thus, criminal typologies may be interpreted as profiles of prototypical categories into which criminals may be placed based on the crimes they have committed or the motives that generally drive them (Dabney, 2004; Gibbons, 1987; Miethe and McCorkle, 2001) Studies of modus operandi may also evolve into working profiles (Holmes and Holmes, 2009). Such usages are primarily descriptive rather than inferential in nature. That is to say, they summarize known facts or statistics-based trends.

. . . Continue to article and footnotes (PDF).

Dr. Daniel Kennedy, is FCA's principal consultant and is Board Certified in Security Management. Dr. Kennedy has had extensive specialized training in various aspects of Criminal Behavior, Policing Operations, Corrections Operations, and Private Sector Security Management. He specializes in crime foreseeability issues, appropriate standards of care in the security industry, and analyses of the behavioral aspects of proximate causation.

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