Is there good research evidence which supports the usefulness of criminal profiling?

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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. 

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Criminal profiling is not a miracle cure. The one time profilers pointed to a specific suspect--for the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Park bombing--they were wrong. (Profilers pointed to Richard Jewell, a frustrated security guard, but it was actually anti-abortion activist Eric Robert Rudolph.)

It still has its uses. Profiling was pioneered by author and former FBI investigator Robert Ressler (1937 – 2013), who developed a technique of interviewing killers who were already in custody. He interviewed most of the famous "serial killers" (a term he coined) of the late 20th Century and noticed certain patterns in their behavior. While he couldn't identify an unknown killer from the evidence, he could discern whether the killer fit the pattern of "organized" or "disorganized," which lent significance to other pieces of evidence and aided in narrowing the search down to specific types of suspects.

It's not the solution to murder investigations, but it's an effective tool to use in conjunction with other methods.

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