Criminal personality profiling
Criminal personality profiling (Forensic Science)
Criminal personality profiling is based on the notion that serial offenders engage in similar patterns of behavior and that each serial offender leaves a unique trail of evidence with each crime. Profilers believe that the actions of serial offenders are deeply motivated, however bizarre, random, or senseless those actions might appear to untrained observers. The criminal activities in which these offenders engage are windows into their hidden desires, tendencies, and psychological traits. Conversely, these offenders’ thoughts as well as their emotional and sexual needs drive their criminal behaviors.
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Serial Criminals (Forensic Science)
Profiling is most often employed in cases of serial homicides or rapes. These crimes, which tend to receive widespread media coverage, often involve female victims with common physical characteristics. The general profile of serial murderers, which matches the actual characteristics of most of the persons apprehended for such crimes, is as follows: They are white men with average or above-average intelligence, in their mid-twenties to mid-thirties, who have an interest in criminal law and police work. Serial killers also tend to be interpersonally adept; they are typically friendly, charming, and engaging, which explains their success at attracting and luring victims to horrific deaths. Other types of serial criminals have also been the subjects of criminal personality profiling, including arsonists, bank robbers, kidnappers, and child molesters.
Profilers assume that perpetrators leave telltale signs of their psychopathology at their crime scenes (in the case of serial murderers, the locations where they kill, torture, and mutilate their victims) and in the areas where they conceal their victims’ bodies—so-called dump sites. Profilers examine these clues to characterize an unknown suspect (that is, an individual who is likely to have committed the crime given the evidence at the scene). However, they rarely provide police investigators with the specific identity of an actual perpetrator.
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Major Profiling Tasks (Forensic Science)
The three primary tasks of a criminal personality profiler are to generate details about an unknown perpetrator’s personality and sociodemographic characteristics, to predict the items that are likely to be discovered in a suspected offender’s possession, and to recommend various interrogation strategies for suspects in custody. In accomplishing the first of these tasks, the profiler provides police investigators with leads that narrow the pool of unknown suspects with respect to age, race, ethnicity, employment, education, and marital status. Profiling unfolds a biographical sketch of an at-large killer or rapist as the number of that person’s crimes increases and more information becomes available to the profiler. Profiling can also give investigators insights into where a perpetrator might live relative to the locations of the crimes.
The most important aspect of the profiler’s first task is to arrive at an educated guess about a likely offender on the basis of police and autopsy reports as well as the consistent elements found at different crime scenes, such as how the victims were killed (for example, stabbing, bludgeoning, strangling, suffocating) and how the bodies were positioned or displayed (for example, naked, partially clothed, posed). Based on these data, the profiler can help police officers to focus their attention on a certain type of suspect. The profiler can also provide police with information...
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Pioneers in Profiling (Forensic Science)
Cesare Lombroso (1836-1909) was among the first criminal profilers. He and many of his contemporaries believed that criminals, unlike noncriminals, could be identified by physical characteristics such as bushy eyebrows or a receding chin. Early profilers also noted criminals’ tendency to wear shabby clothes and to be tattooed. Dr. James Brussel, a New York-based psychiatrist and the first renowned profiler in the United States, was influenced by these theories in his work with the New York Police Department. From the late 1950’s to the early 1970’s, Brussel helped investigators track suspects in cases of serial bombing, arson, and murder. His most famous criminal personality profile, of the “Mad Bomber,” was uncanny in its accuracy.
From 1940 to 1956, New York City was terrorized by a series of bombs planted randomly in crowded public places, such as busy streets, stores, and movie theaters. These actions were attributed to the ever-mysterious, paranoid, and elusive character the city’s newspapers called the “Mad Bomber.” Over the years, the bombs became deadlier, and the Mad Bomber’s letters to the police and the news media, signed “F.P.” for “Fair Play,” became increasingly hostile and grandiloquent.
Despite the diligent efforts of seasoned police officers and investigators, no viable clues brought authorities any closer to identifying a suspect and ending the terror. Frustrated with...
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Types of Serial Criminals (Forensic Science)
Expert criminal personality profilers trained by the FBI have created several typologies or groupings of serial murderers. One scheme for categorizing these offenders focuses on their mobility. Geographically stable serial killers (examples include Ed Gein, Wayne Williams, and John Wayne Gacy) live in the same areas where they hunt for, kill, and bury their victims. Geographically transient serial killers (examples include Ted Bundy and Henry Lee Lucas), in contrast, move from place to place in search of victims and bury the bodies in areas that are distant from the killing sites. These killers travel to confuse law-enforcement authorities, and they are much less vulnerable to capture than geographically stable serial killers. Another categorization scheme differentiates among four types: visionary serial killers, who have serious mental illnesses and select victims by listening to auditory command hallucinations; mission serial killers, who are driven to murder certain types of people; hedonistic serial killers, who murder for sexual gratification; and power/control serial killers, who achieve sexual pleasure from dominating and controlling their victims.
One of the most widely known criminal profiling methods was developed by FBI agents John Douglas and Robert K. Ressler; their system categorizes serial killers on the basis of whether their crime scenes are organized or disorganized. Organized offenders are likely...
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Caveats and Ethical Issues (Forensic Science)
Criminal personality profiling is more an art than a science. Profilers use a few general approaches that can be readily adapted to fit specific types of crimes, but no tried-and-true profiling techniques have been developed that work in every case. Instead, the formulas that profilers use are based largely on the particular circumstances of each case and the evidence at hand; these yield educated guesses derived from knowledge, practical experience, and clinical acumen.
Despite the fact that profiling has often been glamorized or sensationalized in novels, films, and television programs, it is only one component in a wide range of strategies used by law-enforcement agencies to apprehend serial offenders. Profiling is an adjunctive tool that supplements and complements the investigatory activities of experienced law-enforcement officers. Profilers are consultants to the police; they are generally summoned after officers have failed in their attempts to identify or question suspects. Profilers must be careful not to oversell their capabilities.
Many experienced homicide investigators regard criminal personality profiling with skepticism and disdain. The field is without a sound scientific basis and relies on weak standards of proof, although psychologists have begun to conduct more research on the validity of profiling techniques. The field of profiling is also lacking in professional standards and minimal...
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Further Reading (Forensic Science)
Brussel, James. Casebook of a Crime Psychiatrist. New York: Bernard Geis, 1968. Classic volume presents case studies drawn directly from Brussel’s files. A must-read for profiling enthusiasts.
Hickey, Eric. Serial Murderers and Their Victims. Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth, 2002. Offers an extensive account of serial murder that is grounded in social science research. Examines the lives of four hundred serial murderers and attempts to explain their behaviors from biological, psychological, and sociological perspectives.
Holmes, Ronald, and Stephen Holmes. Profiling Violent Crime: An Investigative Tool. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage, 1996. Solid introductory text on profiling presents the principles and techniques that investigators employ in developing the profiles of violent criminals.
Petherick, Wayne. Serial Crime: Theoretical and Practical Issues in Behavioral Profiling. Burlington, Mass.: Academic Press, 2006. Text designed for advanced students is divided into two sections, one on behavioral profiling—including its theoretical foundations and history as well as discussion of media depictions—and one on specific serial crimes, including arson, murder, rape, and stalking.
Turvey, Brent E. Criminal Profiling: An Introduction to Behavioral Evidence Analysis. San Diego, Calif.: Academic Press, 2002. A definitive source of information on deductive profiling...
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