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In simple terms criminal profiling can be described as the inferential method of offender characteristic determination whereby the characteristics of offenders are determined taking clues from the way they commit a particular crime(Turvey, 2011). The main aim of criminal profiling is to provide crime investigation agencies with specific and effective information about the personality type of individuals who could have committed a particular act of felony. Criminal profiling is also popularly recalled as the psychological assessment, psychological profiling, socio-psychological criminal profiling, geographic profiling, behavioral evidence analysis and crime scene analysis.
Main approaches to Criminal Profiling
Before embarking on the discussion outlining the main advantages and disadvantages of criminal profiling system it is important to describe the two main approaches to criminal profiling, 'the bottom up approach' and the 'top down approach'. The 'bottom up approach' to criminal profiling is also known as the British system of criminal profiling where information gathering and conclusion making is done mainly on the basis of available evidence. The 'top down approach' to criminal profiling on the other hand, is known as the American system of criminal profiling where previous knowledge and information is also considered extremely important while making conclusions about current situation(Bumgarner, 2004).
The Advantages and Disadvantages of Criminal Profiling
Advantages of Criminal Profiling
There are numerous advantages of criminal profiling. It is the result of dedicated and concerted criminal profiling efforts spanning back to the 1970's that today when a crime is committed crime investigation officers can immediately draw few conclusions on the scene. In the ensuing paragraphs a detailed discussion will be carried out on the most important advantages of criminal profiling.
Possible reduction of suspect pool: Criminal profiling greatly assists crime investigators in reducing the possible suspect pool and in the process helps them to catch the real offender. The famous case of 'Adrian Babb' can provide a good example of this particular benefit of criminal profiling at work. This case which occurred between January 1986 and March 1988 involved attacks on seven elderly women in South Birmingham's tower blocks. The offender overpowered elderly women in their late 70s and 80s and took them to the top floor of the nearby tower blocks where he raped them and then escaped. Dataset developed with the help of information collected from the victims suggested that the offender was a black person with athletic build and without body odors(Brewer, 2000). This information helped the famous criminal profiler David Canter to draw out the following profile of the offender:
The person has an athletic build which means he is interested in some kind of sport activity.
The person is non-violent, as victims stated he only used necessary force (for example, for sometimes forcing victims to move through stairs).
The person had no particular body odor which meant he was obsessed with the idea of cleanliness.
He made no attempt to hide his face and carried out no particular safety precautions to avoid leaving forensic evidence meant he was not aware of standard police procedures.
There was also an overwhelming indication of the fact that the offender lived in one of the tower blocks as all the seven criminal acts were carried out in that particular area.
On the basis of the criminal profile the police detectives narrowed their research to the area in and around Tower Blocks. An intelligent police detective looked at the record of all the sexual offenders living in the area and came across Babb when his fingerprints matched with those found on the scene of the crime.
Thus in this case, effective criminal profiling techniques played a main role in cutting down possible suspect pool to get to the real offender.
Providing direction to ongoing investigation: It is next to impossible that developing a criminal profile leads to arresting the criminal offender in all criminal cases however what is possible is the fact that developing a criminal profile ensures that the law enforcement officials at least have a direction to focus their investigation on. A research study has proven that criminal profiling improves investigator's thoroughness, with many investigators opining that it saved them many days of research work(Russell & Jarvis, 2003).
Disadvantages of Criminal Profiling
In the ensuing paragraphs a discussion centered on the disadvantages of criminal profiling will be carried out.
Not an 'Exact Science': The case of 'Skid Row Slasher' provides a good example of this particular disadvantage when a team of expert profilers failed to correctly create the profile of the serial killer responsible for killing a number of homeless men in the Los Angeles of 1975. The profilers described the individual as a lonely guy who was possibly a homosexual and was deformed. The famed criminal profilers further stated that the possible killer was a white man in his 20s or 30s, of stout build and shoulder length hair. However, when he was arrested, Vaughn Greenwood's physical and behavioral characteristics were no where near to what the profilers described. He was an African-American with no visible physical deformities, and his actions were not the result of his internal rage due to being a homosexual (as the profilers previously argued) but he killed the homeless men as a means to fulfill some peculiar occult rituals(Newton, 2003 ).
Reliability of gathered data: The reliability of gathered data is also a main issue being faced by crime investigation agencies as many of the times the unsystematic gathering of offender information leads to a botched up investigation process.
Low efficacy rates for FBI profiling: The effectiveness rate of FBI profiling has traditionally been very low. Howard Teten, a well-known FBI profiler, argued in a research study that out of total 192 cases in which criminal profile was developed, 88 were successfully solved and out of those 88 cases, criminal profile directly helped in catching the criminal in only 15 cases(Turvey, 2011).