Criminal Minds: Behavioral Profiling: Fact or Fiction?
Profiling Science or Fiction
Recently one of my granddaughters did a college paper on Behavioral Profiling. We had a long discussion and I thought it would be a great topic to write about. I'm sure many people have watched the program Criminal Minds, a show based on actual cases. I love how it takes the team about 20 minutes to form a complete profile on an offender and then another 20 minutes to find and arrest the offender. Not quite real-life. It would seem if there were an actual BAU (Behavioral Analysis Unit) that operated as the one on Criminal Minds there would be some differences. For example, I don't imagine a private jet at their disposal or travel in groups of five or six. While Penelope is a genius on the computer I wonder if searches would be as instantaneous in real life?
However, the question is whether or not the BAU and criminal profiling is a true science or is it fiction? Can anyone really pinpoint a perpetrator's motivations? Can anyone really identify a perpetrator's triggers? Lastly, can anyone really stop a perpetrator from committing further crimes?
Greg O. McCrary a former FBI agent, forensic psychology professor, criminal profiler and threat analyst at Quantico, VA said he believed "behavior reflects personality". He thought that profiling needed to examine;
- What possible fantasy or plan there was before the crime
- The type of victims and number of murders
- How the body(ies) were disposed of, in one place or multiple places
- The "post-offense behavior" meaning whether or not the perpetrator tries to be part of the investigation by reacting to media reports and/or contacting investigators during the investigation.
The profiling used in Criminal Minds is often termed 'deductive profiling' which is the science of interpreting the forensic evidence as well as studying the victomology. Using photographs and forensic evidence the profiler then tries to reconstruct the perpetrators behavior at the crime scene and possible patterns that might provide further information about the perpetrator.
Behavioral profiling goes by many names such as, behavioral analysis, criminal profiling, forensic profiling, and criminal investigative analysis. There are detractors who claim that as a result of 'profiling' law enforcement has stopped looking when one suspect appears to fit the profile, enabling the true perpetrator to escape, or, there can be a single incident not providing enough to get reliable information and a true profile. Any method or science has it's detractors.
I would like to look at the benefits and science of profiling. Behavioral profiling is not something new (for brevity sake I will refer to it as profiling throughout this piece). In her book, "The Forensic Psychology of Criminal Minds", Katherine Ramsland gives us a lot of information, many facts, and much food for thought.
Ms. Ramsland points out that Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment exhibits traits of profiling. As the Inspector draws up a list of clients, examines their lives and makes a discovery. Connecting the discovery with other incidents in this possible suspect's life, the Inspector pursues the matter (and the suspect). After extensive questioning the suspect confesses...profiling led to the discovery of this suspect.
Another early proflie Ms. Ramsland points out, was in 1888 when Dr. Thomas Bond assists at one of the autopsies of a young lady killed by Jack the Ripper. His actual profile;
All five murders were no doubt committed by the same hand. In the first four, the throats appear to have been cut from left to right...In each case the mutilation was inflicted by a person who had no scientific nor anatomical knowledge. In my opinion, he does not even possess the technical knowledge of a butcher or horse slaughterer or any person accustomed to cut up dead animals...The murderer must have been a man of physical strength, and great coolness and daring...He must, in my opinion, be a man subject to periodic attacks of homicial and erotic mania....The murderer in external appearance is quite likely to be a quiet inoffensive looking man, probably middle-aged, and neatly and respectably dressed. I think he might be in the habit of wearing a cloak or overcoat, or he could hardly have escaped notice in the streets if the blood on his hands or clothes was visible....
He goes on with more detail. Although the Ripper was never caught, we can see from reading part of Bond's profile that he was definitely pioneering the profiling we know today.
Profilers Aid Investigators
Profilers are indeed used by many police organizations. The true effectiveness, like anything else, depends on the expertise of the profiler.
According to an article, "Psychological Profiling" at http://www.sagepub.ccom
They [Kocsis, Orwin, & Hayes] claim the most accurate groups are, in order of accuracy: professional profilers, psychologists, students, police officers, and self-declared psychics. That psychologists ranked second in the study suggests that psychologists are better at this endeavor than police officers, perhaps because of their understanding of human behavior.
Profilers aid investigations in so many ways. Using the information they gather they also attempt to come up with an interview strategy when a suspect is to be questioned. Often getting the correct motive or response helps to build a case against a subject. So as we see, a profiler alone will not catch a perpetrator nor convict one but will certainly be an aid in the investigation and capture of the true perpetrator.
There have been many books written about profiling and the different types of profiling. Most of those books written by investigators, criminal justice professors, retired profilers or FBI agents. Each making valid points about profiling, citing specific cases where profiling was effective and providing further study into the field of behavior profiling.
Criminal Minds Plane Scene
Criminal Minds and the Reality of Profiling
So as the BAU boards their jet to solve their next case, listen closely to the discussion on the plane between the agents as they review the case and attempt to put the pieces together before they get to the crime scene. Then, stop and think, though Criminal Minds simplifies the matter and makes it look and sound easy (and fake) it really can be done. Starting with basic facts they connect the dots in a one hour series and come up with a solution and arrest. In reality, profiling is truly a fact, and a credible science with no instant results but time, talent, and research.
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