Police Interest Group

A European school of thought outside the U. K. also has an influence on the way criminal profiling has developed. A look at the work of the Netherlands-based Jackson, van den Eschof & de Kleuver (Chapter in Jackson & Bekerian, 1997: 107-132) shows up admitted similarities with the FBI method of profiling, but adds practical aspects to its structure. In review of their own methods, they summarise that there is a gulf between the perceived use of an offender profile and its actual bearing on detectives' decision making.

This appears a persistent theme in an overall of offender profiling, that the gap between the production of a profile and its relationship to the direction of the criminal investigation are not closely related. The most extensive British study of offender profiling techniques – 'Coals to Newcastle' (Copson, 1995), shows that offender profilers were generally consulted at an early stage or after the direction of inquiry was established, and that 82. 6% of the profilers ' advice was regarded as 'operationally useful' by the police forces who responded to the questionnaires.

Also important in the findings of this study was the prevalence of serious crimes like murder and rape (accounting for 83% of cases between them) in the returned data set. This prevalence of serious crimes could be explained by many variables, not least the previously-discussed popularisation of criminal profiling in popular fiction, where in only the most dramatic cases (i. e. the most serious) are suspected criminals subjected to a psychological profile.

Contrary to findings on this prevalence of serious crime in offender profiling (at least in theory), can be seen in the example of Anne Davies' (in Jackson & Bekerian, 1997: 191) research emanating from Specific Profile Analysis (SPA), a data-based approach which looks burglary as well as rape; and Boon's chapter (in Jackson & Bekerian, 1997: 43), which uses extortion as examples of profiling. Further to this, we can perhaps see how one variable as an effect on the distribution of types of cases, from Boon's statement:

"… The process of operational profiling requires a very significant amount of professional time – at least 40 hours… as a base rate" (Boon chapter in Jackson & Bekerian, 1997: 47) The variable is the time spent on the case and profiling process, and a complicated relationship exists: the more substantial the rewards of solving a case are, the more time will be put aside for profiling, yet the material rewards (i. e. money) are not a large part – money is replaced by the sheer joy of solving a case.

Copson, (1995) shows us that in the 184 cases of profiling he studied, on only 19 occasions were expenses claimed. The 'deductive method' of criminal profiling is best explained by this quote: "A deductive criminal profile is a set of offender characteristics that are reasoned from the convergence of physical and behavioural evidence patterns within a crime or series of related crimes. " (Turvey, 1999: 28) The use of deduction is more than a mere throwback to Conan Doyle's detective's methods, but a logical step forward from the systematic FBI profiling method.

Turvey highlights once again the level of expertise required to carry out profiling by reminding us of the importance of not only the forensic and crime-scene characteristics, but of access to information on the various victims themselves, with a view to looking for patterns in types of victims chosen. With any paradigm comes problems, in this case an inaccurate presupposition of this deductive method is a rationality or order in the criminal mind, and as possessing a logical link to their victims.

This is not to say that we should disregard the characteristics of the victims, but rather that by classifying the offenders as a certain 'type' of serial attacker, we are ignoring the fact that any offence may be their first offence. The downfalls of developing a typology of criminals with no obvious practical use for investigation can be seen in Hazelwood & Warren (2000), where despite extensive description of 'ritualistic' and 'impulsive' sex offenders, there is little to help the general investigative method when attempting to identify the perpetrator of a crime.

This failure of re-explaining criminal behaviour, rather than putting forward a method by which the person responsible can be apprehended is a generalised problem with many classification systems, and can perhaps be traced back to the labelling systems of early scientific observers such as Lombroso. A look back at the deductive method (i. e. not inductive) described by survey gives insight into the failing of classifying into categories that assume absolutes about a criminal:

It is important to remember that descriptions of the offender and victims themselves will be subjective – particularly in the case of the victim's description of their attacker in a serious violent crime. Farrington & Lambert (in Jackson & Bekerian, 1997: 133-158) point out the additional police records' reliability as a central fault to the process of profiling, and encourage profilers to keep in mind this subjectivity.

Their research compares burglary and violent offenders in an exploratory way, looking at levels of agreement observable features, and links to another large area of research, that of memory for characteristics of people between different observers. The SPA work of Davies uses an interesting terminology in the word 'script' (Jackson & Bekerian, 1997: 193-4), where their first hypothesis of the data-based approach to offender profiling is that human behaviour is based on previously acted-out behaviour.

The 'script' is the "way the memory of frequently repeated experiences or 'episodes' is stored cognitively" (Jackson & Bekerian, 1997: 193), and is akin to the schema theories central to much of reconstructive memory research (Bartlett, 1932: cited in Atkinson , 1993). It seems obvious why, when looking at the effectiveness of offender profiling, we must consider the larger implications of the nature of recording description about people we suspect of serious crimes, as well as the possible motivations of those carrying out the observations.

The different profilers catalogued by Copson's (1995) U. K. study range from the clinical psychologist/psychiatrist to the forensic psychiatrist and the police officer or scientist. Qualification as a criminal profiler in the FBI behavioural science unit leads to perhaps a less-varied job title (although the various origins of investigation are just as varied), nonetheless a standardisation of process and expertise appears to be superior to the U. K. methods. A look at recent dramatic fiction in film gives us an idea of the origins of the fear expressed by Copson et al:

"The failure to publicly articulate even a rudimentary account of what they [criminal profilers] do in common has left them vulnerable to readers as unscientific readers of imaginary runes. " (Copson et al, 1997: 13) The 2001 film, 'The Gift' saw a psychic and tarot card reader (played by Cate Blanchett) in the role of an advisory profiler when trying to solve a murder in small-town Southern America. The scepticism of the law enforcers around her concerning her knowledge of the case links to then Copson et al quote, and more overtly to the failing of the standardisation of method seen across the profiling world.

The choosing of a technique of offender profiling with the most to offer must be regarded as fluid and flexible. The practical method most suitable to the case will inevitably be one where the type of investigation is well established for the particular general type of offence. This will not happen until a transatlantic perspective is added to the unification process. The American authorship of Turvey (1999) not only means different ideas, but a positive disregard of most U. K profiling techniques.

Only one reference is made to the work of British-based Canter in Turvey (1999), compared with Copson et al's (1997) placing of his work as one of 'the two' (the other being the FBI's) landmark works on offender profiling. As Jackson & Bekerian (1997: 209) highlight, there is a distinct 'lack of unification'. The use of offender profiling has come a long way since the establishment of an FBI unit over twenty years ago, not least in its widespread use for many different types of cases, yet it remains to be seen whether or not it will bridge the gap to a standardised, clinical scientific basis in the future of law enforcement.


Atkinson, R. L. , Atkinson, R. C. , Smith, E. E. , Bem, D. J. (1993) 'Introduction to Psychology' (11th ed. ). Orlando: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. Bromberg, W. (1965) 'Crime and the mind: a psychiatric analysis of crime and punishment'. New York: The Macmillan Company. Copson, G. (1995) Coals to Newcastle? Part 1: a study of offender profiling. Police Interest Group: Special Interest Series: Paper 7. London: Home Office