Criminal Profiling

What is criminal profiling and how does it work?

An educated attempt to provide specific information about a certain type of suspect (Geberth, 1981).

A biographical sketch of behavioral patterns, trends and tendencies (Vorpagel, 1982).

Criminal Profiling also known as Psychological Profiling, Offender Profiling, criminal investigative analysis, crime scene analysis, behavioral profiling, criminal personality profiling, sociopsychological profiling and criminological profiling.

‘Offender Profiling’ is a term coined by the FBI in the 1970’s to describe their criminal investigative analysis work.

It entails examining physical and behavioural evidence, reconstructing a crime from beginning to end, and arriving at the best scientific conclusion possible based on the facts available.

“Criminal profiling is used mostly by behavioral scientists and the police to narrow down an investigation to those who posses certain behavioral and personality features that are revealed by the way a crime was committed”, said by Douglas and Olshaker.

There are two types of criminal profiling. The profiling of an offender’s personal qualities comes first, followed by geographical profiling (how the offenders travelled to and from the crime). The geographical profiler attempts to predict the area in which an offender lives by using the locations of the offender’s crimes as a starting point (Canter, 2000). Geographic profiling is relevant to Routine Activities Theory and Pattern Theory. This shows that offenders will commit crimes in areas they are comfortable with. The latter is what most people think of when they hear the term “criminal profiling” (Bull et al., 2006; Muller 2000).

It’s a question of applied logic, which is the result of a combination of intrinsic ability, training and education, and decades of expertise. Learning never stops: learning via knowledge, learning from others, and even learning from one’s own failures. It takes time to become a criminal profiler. A criminal profiler’s expertise grows as a result of the studies, experience, and practical experience, case basis, murder by murder. The learning process is a voyage, either through the FBI, a police department, college, or with one’s own. These skills are polished with time, help to become valuable criminal profilers.

It is mostly common sense or at least it appears to be until the crime has been solved. But arriving at the logical answer demands more than intuition or useful gut feelings; it necessitates a scientific, unemotional, and bias-free examination of the situation and the data.

There are two operating words in offender profiling: Modus Operandi (method of operation) and Signature (Behaviour).

Modus Operandi and Signature

In criminology, modus operandi (Latin: “operating method,” abbreviated MO) is a distinct pattern or mode of working that becomes linked with a specific offender. Criminologists have discovered that a professional criminal, regardless of his specialty—burglary, auto theft, or embezzlement—is very likely to stick to his own method of operation.

It can change and evolve through time. It can be fine-tuned as the offender gains experience, sophistication, and confidence. It can also grow less competent and skilled over time, decompensating when an offender’s mental condition deteriorates or their usage of controlled substances increases.

The term “signature” is used to characterise criminals’ more distinct activities that fit their psychological and emotional need. Criminal profilers can correlate instances and establish an understanding of an offender’s reason for crime by analysing and interpreting a specific offender’s distinctive behaviours in combination with other components such as modus operandi and victimology.

How to become a Criminal Profiler:

Here is one possible path to becoming a criminal profiler:

Step 1: Graduate from high school.

Step 2: Get a bachelor’s degree in forensics, criminal justice, psychology, or a related discipline.

Step 3: Attend a law enforcement academy.

Step 4: Garner experience in the field (several years).

In India a master’s degree in criminology or forensic psychology is required to work as a criminal profiler.

Criminology is a branch of sociology that studies criminal behaviour and crimes in order to learn more about the causes, legal implications, and rehabilitation of those crimes.

In present time criminal profiling has a very limited number of job openings. As criminal investigators or experienced detectives, these individuals often choose to transfer into the field after more training and employer demand. Forensic psychology college graduates are more likely to work as jury consultants, juvenile offenders counsellors or expert witnesses. They are also more likely to teach forensic psychology.

Sources and Reference

Ainsworth, P. (2001). Offender Profiling and Crime Analysis. London: Willan Publishing.

Alison, L. J. (2005). The forensic psychologist’s casebook: psychological profiling and criminal investigation. Cullompton, UK: Willan

Bull, R., Cooke, C., Hatcher, R., Woodhams, J., Bilby, C. and Grant, T. (2006). Criminal Psychology: Beginners Guides. Oxford: Oneworld.

Canter, D. (2000). Offender Profiling and Criminal Differentiation. Legal and Criminological Psychology, 5, 23-46

Davies, A. (1994). Editorial: Offender Profiling. Medicine, Science, and Law, 34, 185-186. Douglas, J. and Burgess, A. W. (1986). Criminal profiling: A viable investigative too against violent crime. FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, 55, 9-13.

Geberth, V. G. (1996). Practical homicide investigation: Tactics, procedures, and forensic techniques (3rd Ed.). Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press

Grubin, D., Kelly, P. and Brunsdon, C. (2001). Linking Serious Sexual Assaults through behaviour. London: Home Office Research Development and Statistics Directorate.

Jackson, J., Van Hoppen, P. J. and Herbrink, J. (1993). Does the service meet the needs? Netherland Institute for the Study of Criminality mimeographed Report.

Jackson, J. L. and Bekerian, D. A. (1997). Offender Profiling: Theory, Research, and Practice. Chichester, UK: John Wiley and Sons.

Muller, D. A. (2000). Criminal profiling: Real science or just wishful thinking? Homicides Studies, 4, 234-241.