Offender profiling is a method of identifying the perpetrator of a crime based on an analysis of the nature of the offense, the victim, and the manner in which the crime was committed. The origins of offender profiling are unclear. Jacob F. Fries, an obscure author who wrote a handbook on criminal anthropology in 1820, related the nature of the crime to the personality of the individual. The writings of Arthur Conan Doyle may have been one of the more important springboards in bringing psychological profiling into existence. It is well known that the Sherlock Holmes series served as the seminal base for many of the modern scientific methods used in criminal investigations.
The first practitioner in modern times was James Brussel, a New York psychiatrist. Brussel assisted the New York City police and other law enforcement agencies on numerous occasions between 1957 and 1972, including creating the profile of the ”Mad Bomber of New York” and the ”Boston Strangler.”
Depending on the amount of information that can be derived from the crime scene, a psychological profile can often provide an investigator with the probable sex and age of the perpetrator as well as his or her ethnic background, relative social status, marital situation, level of education, occupational category, possible criminal background, and potential for continued criminal activities. The profile can also provide information concerning the probable characteristics of any future attacks and the most productive investigative strategies for locating, apprehending, interviewing, and interrogating the offender.
A major advantage of this procedure is that it can be utilized after all other investigative methods have been tried to jump-start the investigation. (This is the case whether it is one crime that remains unsolved or a series of similar crimes.) Utilized in this manner, psychological profiling not only provides additional leads and direction but forces the investigator to re-examine all existing data on the case. The comprehensive review necessary for preparing the profile will in itself sometimes result in the discovery of previously overlooked evidence and investigative leads.
Unfortunately, this advantage can be completely nullified by a poor or incomplete crime scene investigation. The lack of complete crime scene descriptions, sketches, and photographs as well as accurate autopsy results and thorough background investigations of the victim(s) will severely limit the ability of the profiler to construct a usable description of the perpetrator. As with all forensic disciplines, the crime scene and its competent analysis are crucial.
Although a highly skilled profiler can create an offender profile for any type of offense, offender profiling is typically used when there is little physical evidence that can be used to identify a suspect, when the crime is over the top in unusual methods of commission and appears to be serial in nature, and of course when murder with sexual overtones is involved.
Offender profiling was initially thought to be a panacea, yet significant problems have come to light over the years. Three problems specifically detract from offender profiling being more useful to law enforcement: There has been significant definitional confusion surrounding the term ”profiling”; most profiles that are created are too general and do not assist in the isolation of a particular suspect; there are few benchmarks for the creation of profiles.
The definitional confusion arises from the use of the term ”profiling” to mean ”racial profiling.” Offender profiling is not racial profiling. Racial profiling is based on the biased association of race with certain types of criminal offenses. Confusion has also resulted from a variety of terms being used to refer to offender profiling, including ”criminal personality profiling” and ”psychological criminal profiling.”
Many offender profiles that are created are not based on enough data points to give anything but a very general picture of the offender. The resulting offender profile is so general that it is unnecessary. It does not add anything to what the average police investigator already knows through on-the-job experience; therefore it is unhelpful and wastes both time and money.
Another limiting factor associated with offender profiling is the amount of training and preparation necessary to develop the skills to accurately profile a crime. The profiler must possess an excellent knowledge of abnormal psychology, human nature, crime scene investigative procedures, and forensic medicine. Further, the profiler must review countless cases before awareness of the underlying relationships between the perpetrator’s psychological status and the details of the criminal act begin to emerge.
Profiles generated in the 1970s were generally more successful, assisting about 75% to 80% of the time, than profiles created as the technique became more popular and less qualified profilers began working in the field. Although the FBI has expended considerable money and effort on profiling, its success has been somewhat disappointing. In the 1990s, it has been estimated that only about 50% of profiles are particularly useful to law enforcement.
Some offender profiles suffer from the drawback of having not utilized benchmarks. A good profile should serve several purposes. First, it should narrow the suspect pool. Second, it should assist in the creation of an interview/interrogation schedule. Third, it should facilitate the arrest of the perpetrator.
To increase the usefulness and success of the offender profile, it is suggested that the following nine specific analytic elements be included: an analysis of the crime scene, a demographic analysis of the community, an autopsy review (when the crime is homicide), development of victimology, cross-referencing of how the murder (or crime) was committed, projective needs analysis, cross-referencing the projective needs analysis with known convicted felons, and a specific factor analysis. The end result of the process is the design of a suspect interview and interrogation form.
1. Analysis of the crime scene. The usual crime scene investigation concentrates on the collection and preservation of physical evidence. Offender profiling simply carries the process one step further. Using the same evidence found at the scene plus additional data about the particular type of crime and the victim, the profiler attempts to collect information relating to personality and motives. Both techniques have the same goal and both are dependent upon the ability and thoroughness of the crime scene investigator. The crime scene must be analyzed prior to moving anything. The profiler’s analysis utilizes the standard photographs of where the victim was found, along with photographs of the area surrounding the victims in concentric circles. The profiler also coordinates the analysis of the crime scene with the time of day, the date, and the environmental conditions of when the crime was committed. While the typical crime scene investigation simply seeks to gather physical evidence that will link a suspect to the crime scene, the profiler’s analysis seeks to answer questions such as, Why this crime? Why this community? Why this victim?
2. Demographic analysis of the community. This takes into consideration what the community is like and who lives there. This portion of the profile will take into account how the crime and the victim fit into the wider community.
3. Autopsy review. In a homicide investigation, the autopsy provides critical information. It establishes the time and method of death. It will contain details of specific body conditions and outlines how the victim was destroyed. In the traditional investigation process, this is important to link, for example, the weapon to the crime scene or to the offender. The profiler uses this information to determine what sort of an offender would carry out this sort of destruction of a victim.
4. Development of victimology. In traditional crime scene investigation, the victim is considered as a witness (in the case of a living victim) and/or as a source of forensic evidence. In offender profiling, much more attention is given to who the victim is and what the victim represents. Victimology is developed through interviews with people in significant relationships with the victim. This victimology should strive to understand the victim’s life and understand what the victim was doing up until the point of death (victimization) because the offender chose this particular victim for very specific reasons.
5. Cross-referencing of how the murder was committed. The profiler considers the weapon that was used in the offense, the damage that was inflicted on the body, and the physical and sexual positioning of the body. All of this is coordinated with the demographics of the community. This cross-referencing highlights the fact that the various factors involved in creation of the profile must be considered together and not just individually.
6. Projective needs analysis (PNA). This determines how the psychological needs of the perpetrator were satisfied during the commission of the crime. This is accomplished by looking at who the victim was, how the victim was destroyed, what was done during the offense, and who the victim was within the community.
7. Cross-referencing the PNA with known convicted felons. This is done in concentric circles from the point of the homicide (crime). This should be coordinated with police departments regarding offenders on parole/probation in the area. Offenders who have committed similar actions, of course, are of particular interest.
8. Specific factor analysis. This is done to cross-reference all of the seven factors previously obtained. This correlates victimology, cause of death, and suspect pool. All factors of the profile are brought together.
9. Design suspect interview and interrogation form. The desired end result of the profiling process is the creation of an interview and interrogation form that will be used by law enforcement to obtain a confession through either a direct or an indirect admission.