Offender Profiling Review Example

Canter, on the other hand analyses the crime scene as to how the criminal acts, behaves towards his victim and relays that to aspects he believes will be evident in their day to day life, he places emphasis on how the criminal interacts with his victim "criminals are performing actions that are direct reflections of the sorts of transactions they have with other people.

" (Canter D, 1989, p13) He believes that this interaction together with how the crime is approached and carried out is where clues or 'shadows' can be found giving an insight into the perpetrator. Britton calls upon his experiences of working with offenders, the research available and the four questions he asks to each case "what happened, how, to whom and why. " (Britton, 1997, p83) Though as mentioned both profilers claim to be different there are similarities particularly on the emphasis both place on the interaction between the criminal and his victim.

Both Canter and Britton also share similarities in their theories regarding location in that both draw up geographical frameworks and suggest probabilities as to the criminals location based on the theory that most criminals particularly early in their careers commit offences within areas they have good knowledge about. Rather than seeing huge differences after reading Canter's (1994) 'Criminal Shadows' and Britton's (1997)'The Jigsaw Man' it is easier to see the similarities.

For instance both draw on the same theories regarding serial rapists and the likelihood of them having prior lesser convictions, both also suggest that if rape is committed indoors then the rapist is likely to have a previous history of burglary based on the theory that he is comfortable breaking into someone else's home. Boon and Davis (1992) suggest that the differences in the British and American approaches can be described as such, the F. B. I. use more of a 'top-down' method relying on data drawn from previously interviewed convicts whist a more 'bottom-up' approach is applied by the British profilers.

The latter is seen as the more scientific attempt to connect crimes and criminal characteristics via analysis of crime scenes. A weakness here is that, as psychologists are not usually brought in to assist police until later by which time the actual crime scene is not generally available. However, this approach can dispel assumptions and presuppositions of previous criminals behaviour as the American approach can be seen to focus on. The American approach also can be seen to lead to generalisations. (Applying psychology of crime, chap. 3, 1998)

Offender profiling is by no means an exact science. Whilst at present there have been successful cases such as Canter's involvement in the 'railway rapist' case leading to the conviction of John Duffy and Britton's involvement in the Michael Sams kidnapping of Stephanie Slater again leading to a conviction, it is difficult to say, that without the profiles the offenders would not have been caught. It would seem that where the profile is existent and used as an indicator rather than an absolute it can be an aid to an extent by giving the police some basis to include in their investigations.

However, if taken as fact there can be dire consequences as in the well-publicised case of Colin Stagg arrested for the murder of Rachel Nickell on Wimbledon Common. A large amount of police work and resources were used concentrating on building a case against Stagg largely due to his apparent fitting of the profile created by Britton. The result of which, Stagg was acquitted on the grounds of circumstantial evidence and the whole area of profiling was condemned in the media.

To be fair to Britton and other profilers, at no time do they present their work as fact only probabilities, it is then surely the responsibility of the police force involved as to how the information is used and acted upon. In truth, the profile created could surely have fitted others, however the police obviously felt that Stagg was 'their man' and chose to pursue that line of enquiry backed up by the profile. By narrowing their focus and concentrating on Stagg without 'hard' evidence it would seem that it is highly unlikely that the truth regarding Rachel Nickell's murder will ever be discovered.

It is such high profile cases that bring the psychological approach to crime solving into the spotlight. This, however, only leads to content when correct and outrage if wrong. For many in the police force profiling is still viewed with scepticism. As continuously pointed out though, it must be remembered that the profiles are only probabilities and not fact, they are there to be used as a tool and are never intended to take precedence over more conventional investigative methods. As Jackson and Bekerian (1997) put it " …

The answers that are offered are not solutions. Offender profiles do not solve crimes. Instead … profiles should be viewed as simply one more tool that can be extremely useful in guiding strategy development, supporting information management, and improving case understanding. " (1997, p3) A main pitfall for profiling in general seems to be the way in which psychology is viewed in general, by those outside the field. For some, the ability to understand and predict another's behaviour is seen as an almost mystical ability to see in to another's mind causing suspicion.

The truth is obviously far more down to earth with deductions based on statistical analysis and extensive research. In conclusion, as to the usefulness of offender profiling it would seem that there is no common consensus other than the fact that it is still considered to be in a developmental stage. In particular psychological profiling is still seen to be in its infancy. This reasoning cannot be resolved unless clear guidelines and methods are developed for the role of profiler, as at present there appears to be mixed messages as to what constitutes how to create a profile.

However, it does seem that with the emergence of violent crime comes the profiler and more police forces are employing them as a matter of routine. Where once it was a last call and profilers seen by some as the new psychic it now seems the idea of profiling is becoming more acceptable. The main problems lie with the practitioners themselves and as already stated there needs to be a convergence of theories and methods in order for the whole field of profiling to be taken more seriously. (Ainsworth, 2001, p184) Canter, himself, reiterates this point when summing up in his work with Laurence Alison (1999) "…

whilst we remain optimistic on the contributions that psychology can make to inquires, caution must be observed. Unless combined with ongoing concern with the professional, legal and ethical issues, investigators and psychologists will continue to be blessed one minute and cursed the next by the peaks and troughs of individual success and failures. " (1999, p50) As already seen the public and law enforcement agencies are happy to see profiles aid arrests but are very quick to denounce the use of them when it is seen to go wrong as in the Stagg case.

Surely though in this particular case it could be seen as ' a bad workman always blames his tools. '? Another point that needs to be made is that at the present time, various professionals agree that profiling is only of benefit to those dealing with violent crime, such as murder or with sexual crime such as rape or serious assault, as of yet there appears to be no evidence to suggest profiling can be successfully applied to all crimes.


Ainsworth P, (2000), Psychology and Crime, myths and reality, Pearson Education Ltd, Essex.Britton P, (1997), The Jigsaw Man, Bantam Press, London Canter D, (1989), Offender Profiling, The Psychologist. Canter D. (1994). Criminal Shadows, Harper-Collins, London. Canter D, Alison, L, Eds. (1999), Profiling in policy and Practice, Dartmouth Publishing, Hampshire. Jackson J, Berkerian D, Eds. (1997), Offender Profiling Theory, Research and Practice, Wiley and Sons, West Sussex. McIllveen R, Ed. (1998), Applying Psychology of Crime, Hodder and Stoughton, London.