Current Techniques Used Within Profiling Criminology Essay

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This essay will outline the current techniques used within profiling and show there is no scientific theory or support as an investigative tool for police officers. There are currently 11 countries using this methodology, nevertheless, this questionable process created by professionals and media will be discussed to show the extent of this impractical tool being implemented as a source to 'solve crime'. It will conclude that this process inherently has a negative effect on any investigation and can create mis-direction for investigative officers within police forces; who should rely more heavily upon their own training and experience in solving illegal acts.

The criminal profiling environment 'typically involves three stages' (Hicks and Sales, 2006; Homant and Kennedy, 1998). Firstly, the gathering of crime scene evidence by a "police officer…is forwarded to a profiler, who makes predictions on the personality, behavior and demographic characteristics of the likely criminal. These predictions are then reported to the investigating officers" (Snook et al, 2008: pp1258). A process that is familiar with the creative 'psychic detective' (Wiseman et al, 1996). Predictions are formulated through what are recognized as orientations. Clinical orientation profilers 'draw on their training, knowledge, experience, and/or intuition' (Copson et al, 1997). Alternatively, statistically orientated predictions are 'derived from an analysis of offenders who have previously committed crimes that are judged as similar to those under investigation (Davies et al, 1997, Farrington and Lambert, 1997; West, 2000)………………….

There are several countries including Germany, Netherlands, Sweden, Finland and Canada, where reports have been made of 'profiling helping to focus the investigation or to locate or prosecute a suspect' (Åsgard, 1998; Jackson et al, 1997). Torres, Boccaccini and Miller's (2006) survey of '92 forensic mental health professionals showed that 86% valued the criminal profiling process as a useful investigative tool'. Furthermore, Pinizzotto (1984) examined 192 profiled cases, 88 (46%) had been solved; 15 (17%) of these were perceived to be aided by profiling and although, it is significant that there is a widespread use of the criminal profiling tool it is not conclusive that it provides additional support to any investigation that police officers have not or could not do independently without requiring the support of a profiler. Conversely, there is a critical view that these results are not substantiated and that the typology used is not only outdated but it lacks empirical evidence and support, both within the professionals that deliver it and the professionals that rely on it to conduct investigations.

Initially constructed through the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) belief of 'organised/disorganised' typology; where the 'organized, well-planned, high functioning criminal could be distinguished from that of the disorganized, unplanned, low functioning criminal'; developed through interviews with offenders, based on background characteristics and an inter-relationship between 'offenses and offenders' (Ressler et al, 1986). This has been the formed typology within the practice of 'criminal profiling'; although it does not suggest any variations in offender behavior, subsets within categories or pure changes within law or society. Similarly, as noted by Mischel (1968) 'classic trait theory', the typology used within criminal profiling assumes that certain tendencies may be present within an individual's make-up who kills, that 'make them behave in a particular way' (Canter, 1995). These theories provide fundamental assumptions that offenses committed are 'traits of offenders and therefore will be displayed throughout their life; therefore accurately providing a link to an individual or type thereof' (Ressler et al, 1986)………………………

Nonetheless, the validity of these assumptions is defective and deficient within psychological literature that promotes 'situational factors exist alongside personality dispositions when predicting behavior patterns' (Bowers, 1973). Bennell and Canter (2002) identified offenders 'displayed low levels of consistency in behavior and high levels of consistency within other crime related data, this eliminated beliefs of across crime consistency'. Yet this process is considered useful whilst profiling (Snook et al, 2007). Commonly, criminal profilers and the police seem to ignore the empirical research and evidence based around the typology they use and rather continue to create predictions; as noted by Douglas et al (1986) as "educated guesswork" (pp405). Likewise, this is a view supported by Dawes (1997) as "subjective interpretations and unsupported methods" (pp39).

The empirical research into this field has shown there is limited effect on the accuracy of psychologists' and psychiatrist's judgments across a range of tasks, which include the analysis and understanding of 'consistency' (Garb, 1998). Additionally, Faust and Ziskin (1988) argue that the 'predictions made compared against hard data show an increase in errors, similar to criminal profiling, where groups of non-profilers have been given a set of situations (Hayes and Irwin, 2002). The non-profilers were tested against experienced personnel; Snook et al (2007) conducted two meta-analyses of these studies. Not surprisingly, the professional accuracy was greater within certain categories; yet the prediction category scored similar to that of the non-professional group. However, overall the professional group including police officers rated higher; yet interestingly, the police officers with their knowledge and roles within the force did show a better understanding of crime scene evidence; together with their knowledge base of local areas far outweighed that of the profiler not so regionally based. The study concluded that the police officers themselves gained higher rates of success in identifying and prosecuting the criminals. Yet, police forces still tend to use the predictions of criminal profilers' to assist them.

In ascertaining the reliability of criminal profiling to be used within police forces; it must be remembered that conclusions cannot be developed from information that cannot be substantiated or replicated within research to provide validation. Unfortunately, within the field of criminal profiling the 'deception occurs when subjective evidence is used to develop a technique in locating the criminal' (Canter, 1994). Snook et al (2007) recalls the most lurid subjectivity used in the case of George Metesky, New Yorks Mad Bomber. Brussel (1968) predicted certain details of the bomber, published in the New York Times, which would have been easily replicated by the bomber himself, prior to his arrest (Berger, 1957b). It was solely the work of the police officers that lead to his arrest and not the hype of the creative predictions of the profiler. Showing that, the rates of criminal prosecutions by police forces severely outweigh those of criminal profiling successes.

Albeit, that police officers tend to rely on the decisions of 'experts' in deducing criminal behavior and feel satisfied with their opinion (Kocsis and Heller, 2004). There are inevitably negative effects and cost effective concerns that are raised when incorrect predictions are followed within any investigation. Metropolitan Police discredited the efforts of Britton in identifying the murderer of Rachel Nickell on Wimbledon Common, blaming him for the pursuit of Colin Stagg and not the killer Robert Napper, who was later found guilty of several other murders. This however has been rejected by Britton who insists predictions were made in the initial 1992 investigation in relation to other crimes believed the perpetrator was responsible for. Regardless, of a profilers skill apparently being 'out of reach' to investigating police officers and their 'failure of show an ability to accurately profile' (Snook et al, 2007). Profilers identify the 'modus operandi' the MO, tools and strategies used by the killer along with a suspects signature, such elements of torture and mutilation, sexual acts, excessive violence or posing of the victim after death and trophies or souvenirs collected. This information helps piece together a picture; but has usually been identified by police officers is the process of investigating the initial crime scene prior to profiler involvement. Consequently, the skills that are so called possessed by the profiler inherently exist within police officers, yet there tends to be a reluctance to use such skills or promote there awareness within the police force.

Police are embedded within Criminal Justice Agencies along with court services, and the reluctance to accept this 'expert opinion' has often been displayed within courts both in the United Kingdom and other countries that use this process. At the trial of Cody Lynn Nielsen profilers where only permitted to discuss the relevance of 'trophies' or 'fetish items'. Gregory Cooper FBI profiler was referred to by the defense as "nothing more than an astrologer who relies on hunches…within a junk science…that is too unreliable to be allowed in court" (Barden, 2003). This shows that profilers are not regarded within the professionalism of the judicial system in the same strengths to which they are used within the police force…………….

Regardless of the skill the profiler suggests exists, Alison et al (2003) identified that if the profiling material is exposed; it then becomes more favorable, related to the Barnum effect. Dawkins (2003) explains as 'individuals believing to gain knowledge indirectly to reduce the cognitive resources of evaluating everything that is observed'. Although this only serves as a stark reminder of public perception and not the scientific evidence it produces……………………..

According to literature, positive opinions of criminal profiling are promoted by police and mental health professionals; media hype in solving crimes and dramatized episodes such as 'Cracker'; however this myth lacks the fundamental theoretical background and empirical evidence it requires within the field of criminal justice processes; nor does it produce evidence that is conclusive in providing advancement in police investigations as success rates are limited. The question whether criminal profiling works, remains controversial, even though many investigating officers 'describe psychological profiles as useful (Ainsworth, 2001). With the number of errors in cases and wrongful convictions remaining 'alarmingly high' (McGuire, 2004); it is little wonder why the majority of other professional bodies remain skeptical of this process. Finally, as identified by Omerod (1996) that there are limitations of the methodology used in criminal profiling as it can only 'describe a type of person and does not identify an individual'; therefore, the investigating officers of such cases need to rely more heavily upon their skills and training in deducing the artifacts of crime scenes, the victim and the perpetrator and develop the ability to recognize the value provided by 'criminal profilers'. Then and only then could the myth that surrounds criminal profiling be evaluated for what it provides.