Criminal profiling is a method that uses statistical probabilities as well as professional insights from criminal psychologists and criminologists to paint a picture of the traits that a criminal might have or what a criminal might do based on data from the crime. The usefulness of criminal profiling is limited to how closely to average for a certain set of statistics the criminal's behavior falls.
The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) claims that profiling has been helpful in solving 84% of the cases where profilers were called in. They also admit that it has hindered 24% of investigations. Profiles are supposed to be guidelines used in tandem with the other evidence in a case. They become hinderances when suspects are assumed to be innocent or guilty based solely on the profile. These profiles may include items such as intelligence, organization, approximate age, career and mental status as well as give a general idea about the type life or lifestyle the suspect leads.
One of the most well known and controversial methods of criminal profiling is racial profiling. This is when someone is stopped and becomes a suspect (sometimes for a crime that is unspecified) based on his or her race. This happens predominantly with people of African-American or Middle Eastern decent. Supporters of racial profiling claim that statistically certain crimes are more likely to be perpetrated by a certain race while opponents claim that it is a form of discrimination.
Criminal profiling is not only useful to law enforcement, but a valuable asset if used correctly. Strict adherence to the profile may cause investigators to ignore leads that do not fit. When used as a guide to filter through to the most likely set of suspects or circumstances, it can mean the difference between finding a new lead based and letting a crime go unsolved.