Magazine article The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin

Universal Principles of Criminal Behavior: A Tool for Analyzing Criminal Intent. (Research Forum)

Magazine article The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin

Universal Principles of Criminal Behavior: A Tool for Analyzing Criminal Intent. (Research Forum)

Article excerpt

A 39-year veteran detective of the Cleveland, Ohio, Police Department watched two men walk back and forth in front of a store window. They took turns peeking into the shop and walking away. After several passes, the two men huddled at the end of the street and looked over their shoulders as they spoke to a third person. Concerned that the men intended to rob the store, the detective moved in, patted down one of the men, and found a concealed handgun. The detective arrested the three men, thwarted a robbery, and averted the potential loss of life. This detective's detailed observations became the basis for the U.S. Supreme Court decision regarding stop and frisk. (1) More important, the Court acknowledged that criminals often communicate their intentions prior to the commission of a crime.

A broad analysis of unlawful activity reveals that all criminal behavior shares a common set of universal principles. These principles remain constant; however, they manifest differently for each individual depending on personality, criminal activity, and extrinsic factors. The universal principles of the criminal behavior (UPCB) (2) model does not focus on causal factors but, rather, provides a way to analyze the constituent stages of criminal behavior. Investigators can use the UPCB model as a tool to analyze criminal behavior in its nascent stages. The UPCB, a four-stage model, encompasses ideation, communication, facilitation, and actualization. Understanding the basic tenets of the UPCB model sensitizes law enforcement personnel to the antecedent behaviors that might signal future aberrant or criminal behavior.


Ideation motivates behavior for good or evil when conscious or subconscious thoughts take precedence as a result of intensity or frequency. Thoughts and ideas do not constitute crimes, but they do serve as the genesis for criminal behavior. However, not all repetitive thoughts portend evil. Thoughts of becoming a movie star, doctor, or firefighter inspire people and can become self-fulfilling prophecies. Conversely, compelling or nurtured thoughts of a nefarious nature can result in criminal behavior.

Criminals ideate as they formulate and reformulate plans to rob a bank, blow up a building, or avenge a slight. Even criminals acting on impulse ideate, however briefly. Ideation provides forethought that enables people to regulate their behavior or serves to rationalize criminal behavior. For the antisocial or psychopathic mind, ideation provides a value-free forum within which to develop new ways to take advantage of others or commit criminal acts. Ted Bundy, probably the most written-about psychopath, repeatedly ideated fantasies of sexual control and domination. Bundy meticulously thought and rethought his plans to entice young women and subsequently murder them as he envisioned. (3) Bank robbers, embezzlers, street muggers, and other criminals plan and think about their crimes before they act. Ideation manifests itself physiologically, verbally, nonverbally, symbolically, and behaviorally.

Ideation, a universal experience, presents itself differently for each individual depending on a variety of internal and external factors, including personality traits and personality disorders. For example, such criminals as John Wayne Gacey, the serial killer; (4) Ted Kaczynski, the UNABOMBER; (5) Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber; or Susan Smith, the mother who drowned her own children, (6) all shared one thing in common, ideation. They ideated consciously and subconsciously before they acted out their crimes.


People continually communicate their conscious and subconscious thoughts physiologically, nonverbally, and verbally. Calm thoughts lower the heart rate. Anxiety and fear cause the heart to race, speed up breathing, increase perspiration, or manifest in other forms of outward discomfort. Bored listeners nonverbally demonstrate inattentiveness, disregard, o complete antipathy by rolling their eyes or crossing their arms while standing askance. …

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