Criminal Profiling: The FBI Uses Criminal Investigative Analysis to Solve Crimes

By O'Toole, Mary Ellen | Corrections Today, February 1999 | Go to article overview

Criminal Profiling: The FBI Uses Criminal Investigative Analysis to Solve Crimes


O'Toole, Mary Ellen, Corrections Today


Violent crime scenes tell a story - a story written by the offender, the victim and the unique circumstances of their interactions. Behavioral clues" left at a crime scene can provide insights not only into the rime itself, but also into the type of person responsible for the crime, his or her motivation, lifestyle, fantasies, victim selection process, and pre- and post-offense behavior.(1)

Criminal profiling is a process now known in the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) as criminal investigative analysis. Profilers, or criminal investigative analysts, are highly trained and experienced law enforcement officers who study every behavioral aspect and detail of an unsolved violent crime scene in which a certain amount of psychopathology has been left at the scene. Psychopathology is an offender's behavioral and psychological indicators that are left at a violent crime scene as a result of his physical, sexual and, in some cases verbal, interaction with his victim(s). Violent crimes can be profiled only if residual offender psychopathology can be identified. Such crimes include homicides, sexual assaults, kidnappings, extortions, bombings, product tampering and threats. A profile, or criminal investigative analysis, is an investigative tool, and its value is measured in terms of how much assistance it provides to the investigator.

Police reports, crime scene photographs, witness statements, forensic laboratory reports and, if the case is a homicide, autopsy photographs are provided by the investigating law enforcement agency and are carefully examined for the smallest behavioral detail or nuance. Through this intense review process, a "behavioral" blueprint of the crime and the offender can be constructed. This blueprint allows a profiler to recreate what happened at the scene.

A profile can provide a wide range of information concerning the offender and his or her lifestyle including race and gender, emotional age (rather than his chronological age), marital status, level of formal education or training, and occupation and work history. It also can include details about the offender's ability to relate and communicate with others, the likelihood of prior criminal activity, the presence of mental deterioration, feelings of remorse and/or guilt concerning the crime or the victim, the likelihood of committing a similar crime again and sexual dysfunctioning,(2) which is an impairment either in the desire for sexual gratification or in the ability to achieve it.(3)

When beginning to construct a profile, one must complete a comprehensive review and a close examination of case materials. These case materials include police reports, witness and victim statements, the victimology or extensive background information on the victim, results of the neighborhood investigation, medical examiner's report if applicable, forensic reports and a comprehensive series of photographs of the crime scene, including autopsy photos, if the case is a homicide. This in-depth review allows the profiler to begin to reconstruct how the crime most likely occurred, and the interaction between the offender and the victim.(4) The profiler then examines the crime scene to identify all of the behaviors which, taken as an aggregate, can be interpreted and extrapolated into investigative suggestions and profile characteristics.

Profiler Characteristics

What qualities or traits constitute a good profiler? Contrary to the current television and movie depictions in which a profiler can "just see it happening," a successful profiler is not psychic. An experienced and well-trained profiler is intuitive, has a great deal of common sense, and is able to think and evaluate information in a concise and logical manner. A successful profiler also is able to suppress their personal feelings about the crime by viewing the scene and the offender-victim interaction from an analytical point of view. Most important, a successful profiler is able to view the crime from the offender's perspective, rather than his or her own. …

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