Teresa Clyne

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Offender Profiling

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What is Criminology ?

Criminology examines why people commit crime, these are the pivotal questions in the ongoing debate of how crime should be handled and prevented. It is an area of law that deals with victims of crime, theories explaining illegal and/or deviant behaviour, the social reaction to crime, the effectiveness of anti-crime policies and the broader political terrain of social control.

Areas of expertise of Criminologists(small example)

Anomie, Social Control Theories
Labelling Theory and Critical Criminology
White Collar Crime

What is Forensic Psychology?

(The science of Behaviour)

Forensic Psychology is used within the justice system to assess offenders, identify criminal capacity in young people and to characterise psychopaths. Identify fitness to stand trial and finally they can be used to determine the likelihood of future violence. Can be used to assess the future criminality of offending minors

Areas of expertise of Forensic Psychologists (small sample)

Criminal Responsibility and Psychiatric Defences
Mental Disorder as a Defence
Eyewitness Testimony

What is Criminal Psychology?

Criminal Psychology (The study of criminal minds)

Criminal Psychology is in plain English, the study of why criminals do what they do. In essence, it is the study of the mental processes, motivational patterns, and behaviour of criminals.

Areas of expertise of Criminal Psychologists (small sample)

Offender Profiling
Geographical Profiling
Eye witness testimony


1. Title

‘Profiling is a matter of probability not absolute certainty’ (Alison & Rainbow, 2011, p. xvii). Critically debate this proposition.

2. Abstract

Despite the fact that offender profiling has become a discipline of enormous interest with the general public and in professional and police forces across multiple jurisdictions it continues to draw criticism regarding its development over the past 30 years and in fact its usefulness.
The United States and The United Kingdom are at the forefront of offender profiling despite the fact that each jurisdiction varies their techniques and approaches. Both jurisdictions continue to use offender profiling in their investigations of crimes despite there being no actual empirical studies proving its effectiveness.

3. Introduction

The media by far has a large part to play in the public’s perception of profiling and profilers, dramas such as cracker, and criminal minds would give the general public the perception that the profilers are all knowing and can after a short period of time come up with a suspect or “unsub (unknown subject)”, they identify possible perpetrator and issue a description and following a short investigation the “perp (perpetrator)” is arrested. “So powerful was the narrative of the maverick that even in recent years it has been hard for professionals to distance this (invented truth) from the contemporary reality, and in such, certain naive assumptions about what profilers do remains” (Alison. L & Rainbow. L, 2011). However in reality the effectiveness of profiling is much harder to establish

Offender profiling is an aid to investigation; it is based on probabilities and suspicion. There is no doubt of the usefulness of profiling but what is cannot do is identify a suspect. It can however identify a criminal’s personality type and their likely behaviour. This assignment will attempt to critically debate the statement that ‘Profiling is a matter of probability not absolute certainty’. I will attempt to critically debate the perception this statement and draw a conclusion based on that debate. One of the most famous serial killers in history is Jack the Ripper, this is a serial killer who was never caught, however “he” was profiled by many experts and there were many ideals and opinion on the identity of the “Ripper” but as it was never solved we cannot presume that any of the profiles were correct.

Profiling has four primary goals according to (Holmes R. M. & Holmes, 2002)
• Provide an assessment of the offender
• Reduce the probable offenders which to investigate
• Define the MO and Signature of the offender
• Provide the investigators with suggestions how they can interview any suspects to maximise the success of the investigation

Offender profiling is about investigating an offence by utilising knowledge pools from experts and assessors, clinical, statistical etc.

4. Stages of profiling

4.1 Crime scene analysis, (data, photographs, evidence, police and coroners reports)
Police officers gather the evidence, it is rare that a forensic psychologist will be present at this early stage of investigations, therefore they may arrive after the body (or other victims) are removed. All of this evidence is vital for the profilers to begin the compilation of their report

4.2 Coloration of all data by profilers to predict the personality and behavioural traits of the likely offender, this may also include a geographical profile.
Once the evidence is delivered (or collected) the profilers will decide on the type of profile they will be giving, for instance, it is said that in order for an accurate geographical serial offender profile at least five murders should have taken place. (Rossmo, 1995)

4.3 Transfer of this information to the investigating police officers to take the investigation in the advised route of the profilers (S. Hicks & J. Sales, 2006). Once the offender profile has been compiled it is returned to the Police officer for possible offender apprehension. This sounds straight forward and of course it can be seen by the public or viewers of fictional TV programmes such as Criminal Minds or Cracker that the Police go out after reducing the suspect pool down and arrest the perpetrator. These stages of offender profiling developed over the past 30 years, or in essence the beginning of modern offender profiling which began in the 1980’s. Offender profiling has been in existence for over one hundred years, but its grass roots was basic and hit and miss to say the least.

5. Early offender profiling

One of the first offender profiles which were recorded is that of Jack the Ripper. After a series of murders in London from 3 April 1888 to 13 February 1891 in which (at least) 11 women were murdered the metropolitan police force asked Dr Thomas Bond profiles were sought and given in what became known as the Whitechapel murders. Out of the eleven deaths in the areas at the time police believe that five in particular were perpetrated by the same person. ”All five murders no doubt were committed by the same hand. In the first four the throats appear to have been cut from left to right, in the last case owing to the extensive mutilation it is impossible to say in what direction the fatal cut was made… but arterial blood was found on the wall in splashes close to where the woman’s head must have been lying”, he also assumed from the facts of the case that the offender was “a quiet, inoffensive looking man, middle-aged and respectively dressed, eccentric in his habits, most likely without regular occupation, but financially independent” (Marriott, 1888)

6. Misconceptions about offender profiling

There have been many misconceptions regarding the viability and usefulness of offender profiling. Offender profiling has become increasingly popular due to the media and tv programmes such as Criminal Minds, Cracker etc, the generap public have been fascinated with criminal psychology since the beginning of time, with the first recorded murder being that of Cain by his brother Able in biblical times.

The media have also encapsulated the public’s fascination of offender profiling “by glamorising and misinterpreting the empirically recognised capabilities’ of the technique” (Dowden et al., 2007).

Academics have long since debated the reliability of offender profiling. The following misconceptions surrounding offender profiling cause much deliberation, misconceptions such as profilers being able to establish an offenders

6.1 Personality Characteristics

An offender’s personality is not to be determined from a profiler, this is a misconception which is dramatized by the media and modern tv series, however offender profilers can utilise previous interview techniques to interpret behaviour and the implications of that behaviour. (Alison. L & Rainbow. L, 2011). However, this is not the theory or interpretation of all offender profiler, indeed, some profilers believe that the crime scene actually gives a clear and concise description of the offenders.

6.2 Background characteristics

Extensive empirical research suggests that there is no conclusive link between offence types, offenders and their background. The results show that offender profiling is not a suitable method for obtaining background characteristics. (Mokros & Alison)

7. Successful profiling

Profiling has had its successes in some high profile cases, such as the profile of Adolf Hitler, this profile led credence to the use of profiling in assessing the assumed behaviour of any given suspect. Dr. Langer was asked to give a profile of Adolf Hitler, in his report Langer said that given Hitler’s behaviour to date he was a manic, a sadist and it was more than likely Hitler would commit suicide rather than to face the consequences of his actions when captured. The case of the Mad Bomber, George Metsky who was profiled by Dr. Brussel, made the following profile on the mad bomber. The bomber would be;

• Male
• Middle aged
• Foreign
• Lived in Connecticut
• Wearing a double breasted suit

The one profile aspect which “concreted” his success was the type of suit worn by the bomber; the profile in this case was so accurate that Dr Brussel was brought in to profile other cases. Another psychologist Dr David Canter has given British Police some extremely accurate profiles, for instance Canter’s first offender profile was that of the Railway Rapist, who attacked 18 women and killing three victims, the offences took place in Surrey from 1982 to 1986. Dr. Canters profile had 17 indicators of the offender characteristics and geographical indicators, these indicators led the Police to John Duffy, a construction worker from North London (Canter D. , 2000)

8. Methods of Profiling

8.1 Typologies

Typology is where profilers interpret the crime scene in an attempt to ascertain the characteristics of the offender. However typology focuses primarily on behaviour at the crime scene. First introduced in the 1970’s by the FBI offender profiling has seen a rampant increase in both its use and perceived viability.

8.2 Organised v. disorganised

For instance, a serial killer is usually a person (usually a white male) who enjoys enticing, attacking and murdering his victim, this is done to a strict ritual whereby the killer has his own set routine and array of tools for his/her attack and an organised plan (organised killer) or no plan (disorganised killer). This typology assumes that if an offender is organised they will continue to be organised, and if they are disorganised they will continue to be disorganised, there are many academics who have conducted research on these typologies (Snook. L, 2007) and the typologies which were first introduced by the FBI in the 1970’s has been widely criticised. (Wilson. D & Seaman. D, 2007).

8.2.1 Organised

First typology is, ‘organised’ offenders show apparent signs of forward planning and control, of the offence but also the victim. Typicall it is said that the organised offender brought weapons with them to the crime scene, they removed any evidence when they left, they were in full control of the victim, it is likely that the victim did not know the offender, they are likely to be quite sociable and probably in a relationship and have no sexual inadequacies. Finally, they can get angry quickly but calm down quickly “appears” and have a normal to high IQ. This shows a carefully chosen victim/crime scene (Douglas, Burgess, Burgess, & Ressler. A, 1992)

8.2.2 Disorganised

Second typology is, “disorganised” offenders show no signs of forward planning, and they show sloppy and messy crime scenes with no attempts to conceal their crime. The weapon is usually found at the scene and dropped or left at the scene, there is little or no attempt to hide any evidence and the scene is often left in disarray, the victim is not usually restrained nor is the scene carefully chosen, it is usually random selection processes, the victim is usually known to the offender and the offender is usually socially awkward, they are outside the fringes of society and socially and sexually dysfunctional, they are of low intelligence and can sometimes have some kind of mental illness. (Douglas, Burgess, Burgess, & Ressler. A, 1992)

9. Clinical profiling

Clinical profiling is offender profiling from clinical observation of offenders. Offender profilers use knowledge, experience and training in order to establish and compile and offender profile. Profiler can observe offenders in a clinical (controlled) manner to determine the perceived actions of an offender.

10. Statistical Profiling

Offender profilers also use statistical analysis to determine inferred characteristics of offenders by analysing the actions and characteristics of previous offenders who have committed crimes which are similar in type to the crimes being investigated. (Canter D. , 2000)

11. Failings of Profiling

This statement ‘Profiling is a matter of probability not absolute certainty’ made by (Britton) (Alison. L & Rainbow. L, 2011) came on the heels of another statement made by Britton, “the suspect would merely need to walk into his consulting room and he could recognise them, however this was met with resistance from other experts who’s claimed that such a claim would be unscientific (Alison. L & Rainbow. L, 2011). Offender profiling was only ever meant to be an aid to Police investigations, used with other investigative methods and profiles which had scientific backing, it can be reiterated that profiling is not a stand-alone tool. Britton in the Rachel Nickell case made two separate profiles, neither profile were based in scientific fact, nor was there any scientific backing to the profiles he gave the Police.(Alison & Rainbow),

An incorrect offender profile can lead the investigation of the offence in the complete wrong direction and misinform the Gardai/Police and other possible customers. (Canter, 2004) as stated in (Bartol & Bartol, 2012)

One description of criminal profilers which has created a storm is the statement by Dr Jackson who said of profiling “It is fantasy, it is not science. It results in miscarriages of justice and serial killers that carry on killing for longer.” This is a rather damning opinion of a well-known Professor, who is also known to have likened profiling to shamans or psychic mediums (Jackson & Bekerian, 1997)

It has been claimed that Dr. Brussel in the George Metesky, (Mad Bomber case), used common sense justifications to obtain his profile, (WINERMAN. L, 2004) Defined below

(my explanation of the profile is in bold)

• Bomber would be male
(Common sense would suggest this as explosives would have been a male profession and women, it is a fact rarely kills by explosives, they usually kill by poison)
• He would be middle-aged
(Paranoia is a condition which takes many years to develop; the bomber had been working on this ploy for over 16 years therefore this would make him in his 50’s).
• He would be foreign
(In writing a letter informally most people will use language that is local, as his “stilted tone” (Brussel) suggested he was a foreigner or raised by foreigners and would be catholic)
• He lived in Connecticut
(Many of the bombs were posted from Westchester as this is in Connecticut it is assumed that this is common sense).
• He would be wearing a double breasted suit
(I have no explanation)

The above interpretation is that of an unqualified criminal psychology student so I assume that a qualified and experienced profiler could have lend some more credence to the profile, this shows that the profile came from common sense and not experience.

12. Conclusion

It is difficult to explain why without empirical evidence why offender profiling has become so popular or indeed so widespread by law enforcement. (Snook B. Eastwood J. Gendreau P. Goggin C & Cullen R M, 2007) However, the popularity of offender profiling is still popular and despite many investigations suggestions no empirical findings to support it.

Paul Britton offered the Police in the Rachel Nickell investigation a profile which it can be said that no other profiler in modern offender profiling would have attempted to furnish the investigators due to the fact that he merely supplied the profile, with absolutely no proof as to why the rationale was used. (Alison. L & Rainbow. L, 2011)

Research conducted by Canter, Alison, Alison, and Wentink investigated typologies according to the FBI’s Crime Classification Manual and found no discernible links between offenders and typologies. (Canter, 2004)

Therefore it can be seen that there is much research to give credence to offender profiling insofar as the countless cases which were successful such as George Metesky, the “Mad Bomber” who was successfully profiled by psychiatrist, James A. Brussel and the successful profile of Hitler by Dr. Langer in his report Langer said it was more than likely Hitler would commit suicide rather than to face the consequences of his actions when captured, which of course is an historical fact.

As for typology, there are suggestions that typologies are not stable and can change over time, Wilson et al (1997) and the fact that some crime scene facts are sometime incomplete and have a result of being ambitious therefore limiting the usefulness of some profiles Canter (2000) and most offenders exhibit both organised and disorganised traits in their offences and they may change, or progress, from one to the other amid offences.

However, a review of existing articles has given some backing for a link between specific crime scene details and offender characteristics (Mokros. A & Alison. L, 2002) And research has frequently established that trained offender profilers predicted offender characteristics more accurately than lay profilers (Kocsis.R, Hayes.A, & Irwin. H.J, 2002)

Finally, it can actually be said that offender profiling is not an exact science that profiling is not predictive, but to date experimental research suggests that “profiling might have some validity, efficacy and accuracy” (Kocsis.R, Hayes.A, & Irwin. H.J, 2002)

13. Bibliography

Alison. L & Rainbow. L. (2011). Professionalizing Offender Profiling. London: Routledge.
Bartol, & Bartol. (2012). Current Perspectives in Forensic Psychology and Criminal Behavior. London: Sage.
Canter, D. (2000). Offender profiling and criminal differeiantion. Legal and criminological psychology, 23-46.
Canter, D. V. (2004). Organized/Disorganized Typology of Serial Murder: Myth or Model? . Psychology, Public Policy and law, 293-320.
Douglas, J., Burgess, A. W., Burgess, A., & Ressler. A. (1992). Classification Manual: A standard system for investigating and classifying violent crime. New York: Simon and Schuster.
Holmes R. M., & Holmes, S. T. (2002). (2008). Profiling Violent Crimes: An Investigative Tool (3 ed.). . Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, Inc.
Jackson, & Bekerian. (1997). Offender Profiling: Theory, Research and Practice. London: Wiley.
Kocsis.R, Hayes.A, & Irwin. H.J. (2002). Investigative experience and accuracy in psychological profiling of a violent crime. J Interpers Violence, 811–823.
Lassiter.D, A, G., P, M., R, P.-E., & D, B. (2002). Illusionary causation, why it occurs,. Psuchological Science, 299-305.
Marriott, J. (1888). The Imaginative Geography of the Whitechapel murders. London: Werner,.
Merriam Webster. (2014). Enclopedia Britainna Company. Retrieved 12 12, 2014, from Merriam Webster: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fair
Mokros, A., & Alison, L. (n.d.). Is offender profiling possible? Testing the predicted homology of crime scene actions and background characteristics in a sample of rapists. Liverpool. UK: Centre for Investigative Psychology, University of Liverpool, UK.
Mokros. A, & Alison. L. (2002). Is offender profiling possible? Testing the predicted homology of crime scene actions and background characteristics in a sample of rapists. Legal and Criminological Psychology, 25-43.
Rossmo, K. (1995). Place, Space, and Police Investigations: Hunting Serial Violent Criminals. In: Eck, J.E. & Weisburd, D. Eds. Crime and Place. . New York: Criminal Justice press.
S. Hicks & J. Sales. (2006). Criminal profiling: Developing an effective science and practice. Washington, DC:: American Psychological Association.
Snook B. Eastwood J. Gendreau P. Goggin C & Cullen R M. (2007). Taking stock of criminal profiling: A narrative review and meta-analysis. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 34,, 437-453.
Snook. L, E. J. (2007). Taking stock of criminal profiling: A narrative review and meta-analysis. Criminal Justice and Behavior., 437-453.
Wilson. D, & Seaman. D. (2007). The Serial Killers. London: Virgin Books Ltd.
WINERMAN. L. (2004). Criminal profiling: the reality behind the myth. American Psychological Assocation, Vol 35, No. 7.


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