The purpose of this essay is to critically evaluate the statement made by Hicks & Sales in their paper on Criminal Profiling: Developing an Effective Science and Practice (2006) that “Profilers have a substantial and sustained contribution to make to criminal investigations”
It is this author’s opinion that the field of offender profiling, or criminal personality profiling is, put quite simply, educated guesswork and is not an exact science. However, in many criminal cases, typically those of a violent nature, it has proved useful to the authorities involved by providing a psychological glimpse of, or an insight to, the offender, or criminal mind that committed the offence.
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Prior to 1986, profiling was not in common usage by police forces in the UK and it was the first offender profile created in the UK by a professor of applied psychology at Surrey University, David Canter, in the case of the Railway Killer, John Duffy, that led to the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) setting up a special committee to discuss the results of the Duffy case. In that case, Professor Canter composed a psychological profile of the killer that was accurate on 13 out of the 17 points he made. This was hailed as a breakthrough in the psychological understanding of criminal behaviour and as a result of the special committee meeting a research project was established, led by Canter, to draw up a proper framework for criminal profiling. (Murder Casebook, 1991, p2681)
“Offender profiling should be understood to consist of a range of methods used to develop advice for investigators, based on the study of behaviour exhibited in the commission of crime(s) and the drawing of inferences about the offender(s).”
Association of Chief Police Officers policy on offender profiling from the University of Portsmouth Offender Profiling course handbook, p6
In further accordance with the ACPO guidelines on offender profiling for England & Wales, it may be considered useful so long as the profile is treated with caution. This author suggests a created criminal profile should not be used to lead an investigation, but may support lines of enquiry relating to the investigation.
As already mentioned, there have been many criminal cases resulting in convictions, in which offender profiling has proven useful as an investigative aid, but it should also be noted that there are some cases where an attempt at psychological profiling has proved more a hindrance to an investigation, either by diverting resources away from capturing the actual criminal or creating avenues of fruitless research. For example Richard Jewell as the US Olympic Park bombing suspect in 1996, and in the UK, again in 1996, the case against Colin Stagg in the Rachel Nickel murder. Both were suspected by law enforcement and subsequently treated badly by the media, as a direct result of offender profiles that had been created. Both Jewell and Stagg later successfully claimed monetary compensation from various media corporations that had cast aspersions on their involvement in the two cases cited. (http://medialibel.org/cases-conflicts/tv/jewell.html) and (http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2008/aug/13/law)
In the case of Colin Stagg, the use of deception and false pretences and a profile developed by Dr Paul Britton, at the time the head of the Trent Regional Forensic Psychology Service, resulted in evidence presented to the court being dismissed. Britton (1997, p537) himself has written;
“the notion of a psychological profile being admissible as proof of identity in any circumstances was redolent with considerable danger.”
Whilst the profile created by Britton may have accurately portrayed the “type of person” who could have committed this type of crime, it could not be used as evidence in a court of law that “this is the person” who committed the crime.
Ormerod (1996) agrees, and states both that profiles should be treated as opinion and not as statement of fact, also he writes;
“Profile evidence generates great prejudice for the accused who possessed the stated characteristics, yet it is insufficiently probative to point to the accused as being the guilty man”
Referring back to Canter’s first psychological profile, accurate on 13 out of 17 points, again this appears to be an indication that offender profiling is not an exact science as his assertions were 76.47% accurate, certainly a good indicator but not proof beyond reasonable doubt. A scientific experiment should be reproducible, providing the same results regardless of the individual conducting the experiment. With offender profiling, differing results may be induced, or deduced, depending on the education, experience and knowledge of the person creating the profile.
The UK Coals to Newcastle (CTN) project (1995), jointly developed by the London Metropolitan Police and the Home Office, aimed to provide operational assistance to law enforcement in the investigation of serious crimes, as well as attempt to develop offender profiling as a science. (Gudjonsson & Copson, 1997)
The main question asked by the CTN project was that of whether or not that profiling told an investigating officer only what he or she already knew, or if it could provide information that could assist with an investigation. The report did show that of the 184 instances covered by the project, 88 of them were dealt with by only two individuals, an academic psychologist and a clinical psychologist, both of whom had been accredited by the chief police officers’ committee. (Gudjonsson & Copson, 1997).
The qualifications held by profilers used by law enforcement tend to be in the fields of psychology and psychiatry, for example Dr Paul Britton specialised in psychopathology and sexual dysfunction and Professor David Canter in applied psychology, later developing the field of investigative psychology. (www.ia-ip.org)
So, it is here, that this author feels that proof is presented, that education plays a vital and important role in the development of a profiler, especially if one is to be accredited for use by the police in the UK.
Professor David Canter, in his paper on Offender profiling and criminal differentiation (2000), notes that there are some promising results shown in some areas of study and that these results are most likely to be of value to police investigations if the police officers are trained accordingly and that the methods described are utilized during the construction of the systems that can support the decision making process.
It was Canter’s development of the Radex model (2000) that attempted to offer a different approach to classifying criminal behaviour by identifying dominant themes in behaviour rather than oversimplifying criminals into certain types. Figure 1 shows a general model for a radex as applied to criminal actions with, at its centre, actions that may be considered typical of all criminals and moving to the periphery, actions that are more specific. Figure 2 is a representation that attempts to distinguish the different qualities of behavioural science in criminal behaviour. The Radex model proved useful to Hodge (1998) and lent to the conclusion during her analysis of spatial patterns in serial murder that in crimes of extreme violence there is likely to be a substantial level of interpersonal interaction between victim and offender.
Source: Canter (2000) Offender profiling and criminal differentiation
It was Canter & Heritage’s published study of rape in 1990 that first demonstrated the existence of a radial structure for crime and that using a multi-dimensional scaling (MDS) analysis by correlating the variables collected, they were able to represent these correlations in relation to each other allowing for trends, patterns and a behavioural salient analysis of criminal behaviour. This method of analysis may be described as inductive criminal profiling, in that the information gathered is from limited population samples and is not going to be specifically related to any one single case. Also, inductive profiles can be rather generalised and tend to be averaged from the data. Information is only collected from those offenders that have already been caught and this author notes; from those who agree to interview or answering a prepared questionnaire and those captured offenders that are actually capable of doing so. This would seem to indicate that there is going to be a possibility that those individuals with either no speech or understanding and certain social dysfunctional disorders may have difficulty comprehending the nature of the questioning and would therefore be unable to provide reliable answers. Also, there must be some consideration to the fact that they may not actually tell the truth. In addition, the most skilful and perhaps, most intelligent criminals that avoid being caught are not going to be included in the data set. As a result, information could be missing from the criminal profile. (Turvey, 2001)
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In contrast to inductive profiling, deductive offender profiling relies on the examination of scenes of crime, forensic evidence as well as behavioural motivation for criminal behaviour in relation to a single crime. This is the source for the many successful drama and crime shows on television and film, including Cracker, the CSI series, Criminal Minds and Silence of the Lambs, where, on TV, they usually solve the crime within the hour. This could possibly lead to a false impression in the public eye of just how effective and fast paced offender profiling really is. Deductive profiling takes time and relies on several aspects when the profile is created, such as the offender’s emotional state during the offense, patterns of behaviour and personality characteristics at the crime scene as well as a study into the choice of the offender’s victim, known as victimology. (Kocsis, 2006)
In 1973, Howard Teten, Pat Mullany and Robert Ressler of the FBI used the then new criminal investigative analysis techniques to create a profile of a white, young, male, peeping tom with sexual and homicidal tendencies that led directly to the arrest of David Meirhofer for the abduction and murder of a seven year old girl. The 1978 FBI profile of the so-called “Vampire of Sacramento”, Richard Chase, was created following a study of the disorder of the crime scene, body type and mental temperament and concluded that the offender was disorganized, he’d be unemployed, live alone, would be ethnically white, thin, undernourished and his mid-twenties. (Lerner & Lerner, 2006) Deductive reasoning is useful in establishing a Modus Operandi (MO) and the signature of a particular criminal. Geberth (1996) defined both the MO and signature as being a dynamic method of operation that changes over time as the offender becomes more experienced and that the significant personal identifiers can distinguish the nature of the offender’s crime scenes and methodology respectively.
The classification of offenders as being either organised or disorganised (Ressler et al, 1995) has been debated and Turvey (2001) dismisses this dichotomy of organised versus disorganised for several reasons, including that of psychopathy being a complex personality disorder and should not be assumed simply by the lack of psychotic behaviour or evidence. A disorganised crime scene could be the result of non-psychotic events, such as those created in domestic violence, anger-retaliatory offences, those that involve the use of controlled substances and those scenes that have been changed by the offender for the purpose of staging a crime or possibly as an anti-forensics exercise. Turvey further states that this “false dichotomy” as he describes it, does not take into account the fact that an offender may learn from their mistakes and/or successes and subsequently may develop and modify their criminal behaviour with experience.
The 2004 study by Canter, Alison, Alison and Wentnik of serial killer behaviour through secondary sources showed that most offenders will exhibit, and the crime scene may reveal, a mix of both organised and disorganised characteristics. For example, whilst an attack may initially start as a premeditated organised assault, if it deteriorates or an unexpected event occurs, such as the inability to control a victim, it may lead to an escalation in the level of violence. It is also noted that Canter et al proposed the offender’s emotional state, victim resistance and the fact that more than one offender is involved may create a different emergent patterns.
The Behavioural Analysis Unit (BAU) of the American Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is the result of the initial development by Howard Teten and Pat Mullany in 1969 to try and explain the actions and behavioural characteristics of violent offenders. Robert Ressler, who invented the term “serial killer” (Murder Casebook, p4311) was responsible for founding the National Center for Analysis of Violent Crime (NCAVC) and it is within this section of the FBI that the BAU is a component. Whilst popularised in the media, and specifically the current American CBS TV series, Criminal Minds, it is noted that, despite their appearance on TV and in film, there is no position with the title of “Profiler” within the FBI. (www.fbijobs.gov/114.asp)
The FBI utilises this deductive style of profiling and appears to rely less on clinical psychology methodology than perhaps the British profilers do and has over time created a considerable knowledge base that is used to assist Federal, state, local and international law enforcement agencies. According to former FBI Special Agent Gregg McCrary, and contributing author to the Crime Classification Manual (1992), the FBI methodology is based upon investigators trying to collect information about the offender including the what was the antecedent, or trigger, for the events that took place, the method and manner of the victim and attack, information relating to the disposal, or not, of the victim as well as post-offence behaviour, such as being close to the investigation and contacting investigators or attempting to inject themselves in to proceedings. The FBI methodology for profiling violent crime is a four stage process beginning with the collection of data at the scene, forensic analysis and also coroner, autopsy and witness reports.
Next, the methodology involves classifying and then reconstructing the crime through experienced observations about the MO, signature and motivation for the offence. This will include trying to ascertain why the offender chose this particular victim on this particular day, why they used the tools they did and also the whether the motivation for the crime was that of power reassurance or assertiveness or anger in a retaliatory or excitational way. That is to say, the observations raised will look to answer whether the offender could be a serial psychosexual sadistic killer or if the crime was one of passion or revenge.
The final stage of the FBI methodology is that of creating the profile and this may well involve demographic information, educational background and intellectual functioning, family and personality characteristics, legal and arrest history, habits and social interests as well as any evidence in relation to the actual scene of the crime. (Shalev, 2010)
Offender profiling and crime analysis can also be aided by profiling the geography of an area in which a crime was committed. Research by Holmes & Holmes (2002) attempted to define crime scene locations as being either an encounter site, an attack site, a crime site or a victim and vehicle disposal site. This, when combined with information previously gathered, may give clues as to the residence of an offender and assist with creating the overall criminal profile. Rossmo (2000) had earlier defined geographic profiling as a methodology that can be used to identify locations connected to a series of crimes that may determine the most likely area of residence for an offender.
In conclusion, the author would like to return to the assertion made at the beginning of this essay, that offender profiling is educated guesswork. It has been shown through this essay that education, as well as experience, or life education, plays a vital role when considering all aspects of creating a profile for the purposes of aiding a criminal investigation. Whether this education is that of a clinical, research or field based experience, it can bring with it valuable knowledge that can assist an investigation. Copson (1995) and Gudjonsson & Copson (1997) asked respondents whether they thought that the advice supplied by profilers proved to operationally useful and 82.6% replied that it was. Although, when asked if the advice opened new lines of enquiry, 82.1% replied that it did not and only in 2.7% of cases did the profile lead to the actual identification of the offender.
The author also stated that offender profiling is not an exact science and this has been demonstrated from Canter’s first profile being accurate to around 76% through to the Association of Chief Police Officers’ guidelines that offender profiling should be treated with caution and should be considered as one of many tools that can provide advice and lines of inquiry for the investigative team to follow.
So, if offender profiling, as it is commonly known, is not an exact science, could it be that this field of study is an art form? If it is considered an art, then as Pablo Picasso said,
“Art is the elimination of the unnecessary.”
Perhaps there is a parallel that can be drawn between that statement from the famous artist and the subject of criminal profiling, in that, through being able to eliminate certain aspects of an offender’s personality and behaviour and consider the alternatives, useful information may present itself.
Therefore, it is this author’s opinion that profilers will continue to make valid and sustained contributions to criminal investigations, whether it is substantial will very much depend upon the profiler tasked with the job and the type of offence committed.
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