Criminal Shadows

The Guardian in October an article entitled; Doubts over Killer Profiles in which Duncan Campbell crime correspondent wrote that detectives involved in successful cases believed that offender profiling had led to the identification of the culprit in fewer than three per cent of the investigations. Detective Chief Constable Copson stated that offender profiling was about as accurate as tossing a coin in identifying a criminal.

However this is not as bleak as first believed, Copson goes on to say that profiling had led to the identification of 2.7 per cent of the cases, had stimulated new lines of inquiry in 14 per cent and had 'helped to solve' 16 per cent of cases. Detectives also said that in 84 per cent of cases the presence of a psychologist had been 'operationally useful'. Their use had been mainly as 'reassurance' to officers about the conclusions they were coming to about the offender and in assisting them to understand the bizarre behaviour patterns of the criminals they were pursuing. Offender profiling, in all its various guises, is still very much a discipline that has yet to be accepted.

Unlike much of psychology or criminology, the accuracy of an offender profile may have profound implications. If a profile of an offender is wrong, or even slightly inadequate, police may be misled, allowing the offender to escape detection for a little while longer and innocent people may be dead as a result. This is not to say that we should ignore profiles, or that police should not use them, but that we should approach profiling with caution. We should not blindly accept or rely something that may not have any relationship to the truth.

In asking profiling to be scientific, we are trying to establish with some reliability whether or not it is of any use to us. Many police officers have shown a great deal of scepticism, partly due to the fact that that they see apprehending offenders as their particular area of expertise, but also because it is still such a poorly developed field (e. g. Davies, 1994). Studies such as those conducted by Pinizzotto and Finkle (1990) suggest that profiling may have some validity. Experimental verification is not what will win the police over, however.

Police still insist in using psychics to help them solve difficult cases, although Wiseman and West, (1997) have shown experimentally that there is absolutely no validity to the claims made by psychics in regards to criminal investigations. The research seems to suggest that IP is easily more scientific that CSA, while IP has produced a testable hypotheses and has several empirical studies to back up its claims, CSA is based mainly upon experience and intuition of police officers, and is not particularly amenable to testing.

It is hard to say which approach is the more successful (defining successful as providing information that results in more arrests) as there is no reliable published information on the effectiveness of the various approaches. There is a great deal of anecdotal evidence supporting the CSA, and it is more widely depicted in the press than IP, yet this is not enough to indicate that it is significantly more successful than IP. Clearly the effectiveness of the approaches is a subject in which more investigation is needed.

Building on a solid scientific basis on which profiling can stand, and be empirically testing profiling in both the lab and the field, should not be too difficult. The scientific basis for IP is already present, and rethinking CSA so that it can produce testable hypotheses should not be impossible. However, as long as the FBI has a monopoly on profiling (which it does in most western nations except Britain) and they refuse to share any information, it will be very difficult to prove that it is worthwhile.

However the research suggests the same conclusion, no theorist stated that it is useless, the agreement of the usefulness of profiling is not universal but it is considerable among the theorists, who believe that criminal profiling is a useful tool, it is the approach and the scientific basis that is argued. Eyewitness Testimony. The use of psychologists in the detection of criminals raises some important issues and opinions of whether the input of psychologists is beneficial to the exposure of the criminal, depends upon the results obtained.

The use of psychologists in eyewitness testimony is suggested to be a positive step in improving the eyewitness memory, by using the cognitive interview. Eysenck states that it is now generally accepted that psychologists can make a valuable contribution to ensuring that justice is done in criminal cases. In the instance of the eyewitness testimony, the way in which the witness is questioned can have severe implications to the ways in which the witness recalls events. Geisselman et al used these considerations to develop what they called the basic cognitive interview.

Using these methods the recommendation is that during the police interview the police 'should' proceed from free recall to general open-ended questions concluding with questions that are more specific. The eyewitness reports every thing they see even if they believe that the information to be fragmented. The witness the recalls events from a number of different orders. Geisselman found that using the cognitive interview method, the number of correct statements recalled increased compared to standard police interviews and hypnosis.

The cognitive interview has since been modified and is now termed the enhanced cognitive interview, which produced more correct statement than with the standard cognitive interview. At the practical level, the findings of psychologists are slowly influencing various aspects of the legal process, thus implying that the interventions of psychologists have had an almost beneficial effect in ensuring that criminals are arrested and convicted.


1. Canter, D. (Jan 1989). Offender Profiles. Police Life, 8. 2. Canter, D. (1994).Criminal Shadows, Inside the Mind of a Serial Killer. Harper and Collins. London. 3. Casey, C. (1993). Mapping Evil Minds. Police Review, 101 (5200), 16-17. 4. Copson,G. , Badcock,R. , Boon,J. , and Britton, P. (1997) Editorial, Articulating a Systematic Approach to Clinical Crime Profiling, Criminal Behaviour and Mental Health, 7, 13-17 5. Davies, A. (1994) Editorial, Offender Profiling, Medicine Science and Law. 34, 185- 186. 6. Douglas, J. and Olshaker, M. (1995). Mindhuter, Inside the FBI Elite Serial Crime Unit, Heineman, London.