Criminal profiling

Criminal profiling - 
A psychological analysis of a criminal’s mind

Guess what is common between ‘Hannibal Lecter’ of The Silence of the Lambs and ‘Dr. Samantha Waters’ from The Profiler? The word “criminal profiling”.

While most of us would be used to associating a criminal profiler as a grim and slightly bizarre individual who spends most of his time in a prison interviewing criminals. In reality, it is far more fascinating and intellectually stimulating than that!

What is Criminal Profiling?

Criminal profiling is a branch of forensics that literally offers a sneak-peek into an accused’s mind. Also known as offender profiling or psychological profiling, it is a popular tool used to identify possible suspects by analyzing patterns. This deductive and inductive reasoning also helps law enforcement agencies predict future offenses and victims. Criminal profiling is commonly applied to predictive profiling, suspect identification by establishing common patterns, and sexual assault offender profiling.

Criminal profilers psychologically evaluate the belongings retrieved from an offender to draw a social and psychological picture of the offender. This also helps provide law enforcement agencies with strategies and suggestions for interviewing the suspect. In simple terms, offender profiling is basically making inferences about the emotional, psychological, physical, habitual and even vocational characteristics of a suspect.

The Eventful History of Criminal Profiling

Offender profiling is believed to be the third generation of investigative science. It started with the study of clues, initially done by the Scotland Yard in the 19th century. It was then followed by the scrutiny of the crime itself. Then came the concept of analyzing the psyche of the offender.

The first use of profiling techniques dates back to 1888 during the serial killings in London. That was when an unidentified serial killer, popularly known as Jack the Ripper, murdered a series of female prostitutes in and around the Whitechapel district of London. He would mutilate their abdomens after killing them and would then slit their throats.

The proficiency and skill with which the victims’ bodies were mutilated to remove their internal organs led to investigators believing that he had some anatomical or surgical knowledge. The then police surgeon, Thomas Bond, was finally asked to examine the case and give his inferences. He studied the case of the most mutilated victim and the post mortem notes of the past canonical murders. He was thus able to create the murderer’s “profile” for investigators based on his modus operandi and signature personality traits. The profile indicated that the murderer must be a physically strong man who was quite cool and daring. He was believed to be prone to periodic attacks of erotic and homicidal mania. Additionally, Bond could also conclude that the murderer may be suffering from an abnormal sexual condition similar to Satyriasis.

The process of profiling started when forensically-inclined psychologists and psychiatrists interested in understanding the criminal mind started publishing psychological profiling and criminal case-study descriptions. This was usually aimed at analyzing the psyche of individuals for strategic gains, such as the psychological assessment of Adolf Hitler during World War II. Early profiling assessments were mostly distributed to mental-health professionals for the purpose of research and theoretical discussions.

Some say that the first modern-day application of criminal profiling was done by Dr. James A. Brussel, a New York-based psychiatrist, in the 1950s. 1940 to 1956 witnessed the city grappling with terror daily as Metesky had set off 37 bombs in different places. New York City was struggling to capture George Metesky, also named “The Mad Bomber” for about 16 years! Being totally frustrated with their vain attempts to capture Metesky, the police finally resorted to taking Dr. Brussel’s help.

On examining the crime scene photos and the notes left by the bomber, Dr. Brussels could draw some ground-breaking inferences. He was able to deduce that the bomber was in his 50s, was unmarried, self-educated, foreign-born, paranoid, and was staying in Connecticut with his sibling! He used a combination of logical reasoning and psychology to gain these insights. For instance, he was able to deduce the approximate age of the bomber knowing that paranoia tends to peak when an individual is around 35. Thus, 16 years after the first incident, the bomber was likely to be in his 50s. When in 1957, Metesky was finally located and arrested by the police, most of Dr. Brussel’s predictions about him was found to be true. What’s more? Even his uncanny prediction that Metesky would be wearing a buttoned double-breasted suit when the police locate him was spot-on!!!

Unravelling the “art” of Criminal Profiling – Criminal Profiling Techniques

A criminal profiler is adept at identifying suspects by analyzing the mental, psychological and emotional characteristics of an individual. In case you are wondering how they achieve that, well it’s based on two basic assumptions – Behavioral consistency and homology. Behavioral consistency is often used to link a crime having little evidence, to a particular suspect by analyzing the similarities with past incidents. Homology forms the foundation of the idea that similar crimes are committed by similar criminals who possess common characteristics.

So what do forensic experts do when there are no eyewitnesses or forensic evidence? That is when forensic profiling comes into the application. Linkage analysis is one of the profiling techniques used for offender profiling. Gerard N. Labuschagne has defined this profiling technique as a method of behavioral analysis to evaluate the possibility of a series of crimes as being associated with one offender. It has often played a crucial role in the trial of serial offenders. Linkage analysis is conducted by carefully examining the offender’s behavior before, during and after the crime. This helps determine his modus operandi. Additionally, it also examines the routine and fantasy-based behaviors and the unique resemblances in each incident as exhibited by the offender.

The Basic Approaches to Criminal Profiling

Criminal profiling techniques are based on 4 main approaches – geographical, clinical profiling, investigative psychology and typological.

  • The geographical approach – This approach is used to deduce links between crimes and suggestions about the place where offenders stay and work. This is achieved by examining the patterns in the location and the timing of offenses.
  • The clinical approach – This approach is mainly directed at offenders thought to be suffering from dementia or other psychological aberrations. It is based on insights from psychiatry and clinical psychology to conduct the investigation.
  • Investigative psychology – This is an extension of geographical profiling which uses established psychological theories and techniques to predict an offender’s behavioral characteristics.
  • The typological approach – This approach analyzes the characteristics of crime scenes in order to categorize offenders into groups of typical characteristics.

Thus, criminal profiling techniques involve an in-depth analysis of the crime scene and finding common patterns with previous incidents. Eventually, criminal profilers are able to draw some conclusions on the possible motives of the crime. However, one must not confuse criminal profiling as a tool that helps identify the specific offender linked to a crime. Rather, it helps deduce conclusions on who is most ‘likely’ to have committed that crime.

Criminal Profiling Technique – Top-Down Approach

This system is commonly used in the US. It was compiled by the FBI through a series of in-depth interviews with 36 convicted sexually oriented murderers. It relies heavily on behaviorist perspective. Also called as the FBI approach, it is built on the following 4 key steps.

  • Data assimilation: This involves gathering information from multiple sources such as interviews, crime scene photographs, police/pathology reports etc.
  • Crime scene classification: In this step, profilers determine if the suspect has characteristic traits of an organized or disorganized offender. Some of the features that profilers associate with organized offenders are – Being intelligent with an IQ score of better than average, the firstborns in their family, socially and sexually competent, working in a skilled profession, being completely composed during the commission of the crime and following the crime in the media after committing it. Disorganized offenders, on the other hand, are described as being of average intelligence, having an unsatisfactory work history, being socially and sexually incompetent, living near the crime scene and showing anxiety during the event of the crime.
  • Crime reconstruction: Based on the analysis done in the previous steps, the crime scene is reconstructed. This involves determining victim behavior, the sequence of crimes etc.
  • Profile generation: In the final step, profilers deduce a sketch of the offender including behavioral, demographic and physical characteristics.

In spite of its widespread use, the FBI approach is often questioned for its reliability. This is because it is based on the interviews with criminals who can actually be very manipulative. However, its use for high profile serial cases has resulted in a well-documented record of its success and failures. Many academic evaluations have also been done to verify the correlation of crimes with the classifications.

Criminal Profiling Technique – Bottom-Up Approach

Championed by David Canter, this is a more recent approach based on psychological theories and methodologies and is more prevalent in the UK. In this approach, no initial assumptions are made about the offender and it relies heavily on computer databases. It is based on observing consistencies in offender behavior during the crime.

The ‘bottom-up’ approach is considered as a more scientific and rational approach as it is not based on previous assumptions. Instead, a researcher puts together all the information and then builds up a logical description based on that. It looks for ways in which the crime may reflect the offender’s routine behavior/personality.

This approach brings to light two aspects of consistency – interpersonal consistency and spatial consistency. Interpersonal consistency relates to interactions between the victim and the offender. And, spatial consistency is related to the geographical area in which the criminal commits the offense. This is based on criminal maps i.e. the possible locations where a criminal is likely to execute a crime. Thus, guiding law enforcement agencies on the correlations between sets of data, such as time, place, choice of victim etc.

The Process of Criminal Profiling

Criminal profiling is more of an art than a science. Drawing a criminal profile requires the perfect marrying of psychological and rational instincts with the details of the crime scene. The process of criminal profiling can be divided into five stages:

  • Profiling inputs: This involves gathering all possible information about the crime to help answer the “how” and “why” of the crime. This also includes collecting the victim’s background information such as employment, friends, social status, habits and criminal history.
  • Decision processing: This involves using the information gathered in the first step to classify the crime by type and style. In this step, answers to important questions are put together to ascertain a particular classification. Some of the questions that are asked are: What would be the primary motive for the person to commit the crime, where did the action take place, why the offender might have chosen the specific victim, does the offender appear to be amateur or professional, and much more. The top-down approach is a technique extensively used by the FBI to classify offenders based on the nature of the crime.
  • Crime assessment: Once the aforesaid questions are answered and the crime, as well as the offender, is classified, crime assessment is done. This enables the reconstruction of the sequence of events that happened before, during and post the occurrence of the crime. It also helps to determine the behavior of both the victim and the offender.
  • The offender profile: With all relevant information in place, a profiler finally starts hypothesizing about the type of person that the offender is. It includes all information such as age, gender, social status, intelligence quotient etc. which describes the offender.
  • Investigative use: This involves putting an offender profile to use for investigations. Criminal profiling plays two important roles in investigations. First, the characteristics of the profile help investigators and law enforcement agencies narrow down their search for the offender. Secondly, it helps to plan the interview of suspects.

In a nutshell, the process of criminal profiling includes gathering basic details by a criminal profiler. These include – the manner, type, time and location of the crimes, choice of victims, the condition of the crime scenes and communications from the suspect. Apart from these, multiple other factors are taken into consideration in order to determine the age, race, mental state and other characteristics of a suspect. These are ultimately sewn together by a criminal profiler to a “profile”.

Incognito Forensic Foundation (IFF Lab) – A step closer towards getting to the roots of a Crime

Incognito Forensic Foundation (IFF Lab) is premier private forensic science laboratory headquartered in Chennai and having an office in Bangalore. It boasts of a repertoire of forensic experts from all domains of forensic science and a state-of-the-art forensic laboratory. It is adept at leveraging criminal profiling to help law enforcement agencies get to the bottom of the purpose of crimes using the profile of the offender(s). IFF Lab has rigorous experience in assisting the government and law enforcement agencies of several states of India in solving heinous and non-heinous crimes by leveraging the latest in forensic technology and criminal profiling techniques.

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