I am damned and damned and damned. How in heaven’s name could I have done any of it?

— Dennis Nilsen
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What Is Criminal Profiling And Why It Is Important


Profiling is the identification of specific characteristics of an individual committing a particular crime by a thorough systematic observational process and an analysis of the crime scene, the victim, the forensic evidence, and the known facts of the crime. The profiling technique has been used by behavioral scientists and criminologists to examine criminal behavior, and to evaluate as well as possibly predict the future actions of criminals.

Although all investigators who deal with violent crime are experienced, at least to some degree, with criminal profiling, there are behavioral psychologists whose sole job is to profile the criminal mind.

Criminal investigative analysis, or profiling, is currently neither a widely accepted law enforcement practice nor a widespread investigative process, but there is some evidence to support its usage in the investigation of certain types of crime. Furthermore, profiling as a science or as an art is not meant to be a law enforcement panacea or even a replacement for conventional and traditional investigative police work. However, law enforcement agencies are beginning to realize the benefits of this technique as a viable investigative tool.

Within the past two decades, there has been increased use of profiling, although it remains a controversial tool. Not everyone believes that devising a hypothetical portrait of a suspect makes a contribution to solving crimes, but some profiles have been surprisingly accurate. The problem is that it’s difficult to know when you’re working with a good one until the suspect is caught and compared against it.

Profiling has been developed in the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit (a.k.a. Investigative Support Unit) by such people as John Douglas (Mindhunter), Robert Ressler (Whoever Fights Monsters), and Roger DePue (Between Good and Evil). However, it is also used by police departments all over the country — especially those with officers trained at the National Academy — as a tool in their crime-fighting arsenal. The basic idea for a profile is to gather a body of data yielding common patterns so that investigators can develop a general description of an UNSUB (unknown suspect). Profiling involves the psychology-trained expert using his or her knowledge in human behavior, motivation, and patterns of pathology to create a multidimensional report.

Experience in the investigation of crime is typically brought into each new crime scene investigation. Statistics based on data from reported crimes are reviewed and used to build a profile of the offender.

The investigator goes through the following steps or phases in the profiling process(Davis, 1995; Holmes, 1996; Ressler, Burgess, & Douglas, 1988):

  • The evaluation of the crime and the criminal act or acts itself
  • Comprehensive evaluation of the specifics of the crime scene(s)
  • Comprehensive analysis of the victim
  • Evaluation of preliminary police reports
  • Evaluation of the medical examiner’s autopsy protocol
  • Development of a profile with critical offender characteristics
  • Investigative suggestions predicated on the construction of the profile
  • Possible apprehension of the suspect

For an interesting article about The Process of Criminal Profiling when Applied to a Serial Killer written by Susan Jones, go here, and to read An Objective Forensic Guideline to Profiling by Brent E, Turvey, go here