The detection of criminals

One of the most controversial methods of using psychologists in the detection of criminals, is that of profiling. The subject of criminal profiling has caught the public's imagination in recent times, with references to it occurring in all forms of media. The most well known example of criminal profiling in the popular media is in the film Silence of the Lambs, based on the Thomas Harris novel of the same name. Several television shows have also recently been based around the premise of criminal profiling, including Cracker and even the X-Files.

Interestingly, all of these popular portrayals of profiling are somewhat inaccurate, suggesting as they do, that profiling is a magical skill somewhat analogous to a precognitive psychic ability. Those who practice criminal profiling have claimed that it is alternatively a science or an art, depending on who is speaking. Even those who confess that it is more an art than a science (e. g. Ressler & Shactman, 1992) still point to scientific studies to support their claim that it is in fact worth using.

Yet one of the biggest hurdles standing in the way of acceptance of criminal profiling is that there is very little authoritative material on this subject, and almost nothing in the way of scientific studies to support the claims of the profilers. Many of the law enforcement agencies around the world are still quite sceptical of the work of criminal profilers. Holmes and Holmes (1996) observe that an offender profile is usually called in when the police have exhausted all other leads, sometimes including psychics and astrologers.

Techniques, such as forensic DNA analysis have become essential to modern criminal investigation, possibly because one can point to the strong scientific basis on which they are founded. Yet, most people have no idea how effective profiling is, let alone how it works, apart from what was picked up from the media. Criminal profiling is designed to generate information on the perpetrator of a crime, usually a serial offender. Through an analysis of a crime scene left by the perpetrator.

There are two main approaches to criminal profiling, Crime Scene Analysis developed by the FBI and Investigative Psychology, developed in Britain, are described, as the phenomenon of the serial offender. What is Criminal Profiling? Criminal profiling is the process of using available information about a crime and crime scene to compose a psychological portrait of the unknown perpetrator of the crime. The information that the profiler uses is taken from the scene of the crime, and takes into account factors such as the state of the crime scene, what weapons (if any) were used in the crime and what was done and said to the victim.

Other information used in criminal profiling can include the geographic pattern of the crimes, how the offender got to and from the crime scene and where the offender lives. The actual process of profiling differs from one profiler to the next, depending upon the training of the profiler, but the aim remains the same. This is to figure out enough about the behavioural personality and the physical characteristics of the perpetrator to catch them.

According to Holmes and Holmes (1996) psychological profiling has three major goals, to provide the criminal justice system with the following information: a social and psychological assessment of the offender (or offenders); a psychological evaluation of relevant possessions found with suspected offenders; and consultation with law enforcement officials to whom they are consulting. Also not all crimes are suitable for profiling. Holmes and Holmes (1996) state that profiling is only appropriate in cases in which the unknown offender shows signs of psychopathology, or the crime is particularly violent or ritualistic.

Rape and arson are considered by Holmes and Holmes to be good candidates for profiling. Wilson and Soothill (1996) state that a profile will rarely by itself solve a crime or catch a criminal, but it is designed to be an aide to the investigating police. The profile will rarely be so accurate as to suggest a certain individual as being responsible for the crime, but should point the police in the right direction and help reduce the possible number of subjects. When the police have no leads, a profile might suggest some potentially helpful area that the police may have overlooked.

It is important to note that criminal profiling is not just one technique, and that there are several distinct approaches to profiling. Wilson, Lincon and Kocsis 91997) list three main paradigms of offender profiling: Diagnostic Evaluation (DE), Crime Scene Analysis (CSA) and Investigative Psychology (IP). The two later approaches both of which have been adapted and modified by various practitioners depending upon their needs. The first method of diagnostic evaluation, is not so much as a discipline as a adaptation of the psychotherapeutic (Freud) theory to crime by individual practitioners.

As the DE approach relies mainly on clinical judgement, and is approached in many different ways, there is no body of work that can be examined to determined whether it is scientific. Copson, Boon and Britton, (1997) describe the DE approach in more depth and is sometimes used by these profilers. The Crime Scene Analysis, the American Approach. The more widely known approach Crime Scene Analysis (CSA) was developed by the Behavioural Science Unit (BSU) of the American Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The FBI approach has been popularised by films such as The Silence of the Lambs.

As mentioned before, the FBI approach is the more popular approach to offender profiling. While many people will have heard of offender profiling, the is very little publicly available information into what it is and how it works. Within the last few years however several books have been written by those who developed profiling within the FBI. Both the former head of the BSU, Robert Ressler (Ressler and Shachtman, 1992) and the current head who changed the name of the BSU to the Investigative Support Unit (ISU) John Douglas (John Douglas and Olshaker, 1995, 1997) have written books with journalists describing their experiences as profilers.

There still seems to be very little authoritative information on the actual mechanics of the FBI profiling process. Holmes and Holmes (1996) provide what is probably the best description of the underlying rationale that the FBI use to profile offenders. The CSA approach, which is primarily applicable to serial murderers, place offenders into two broad categories based on their crime and the crime scene. The two types of offenders are the disorganised asocial offender and the organised non-social offender, although in recent time the FBI tends to refer to these as simply disorganised and organised offenders respectively (e. g.

Ressler et al 1988) Ressler states that the simple dichotomy was to enable police who had little or no knowledge of the psychological jargon to understand what the BSU thought was a basic differentiation between the two distinct groups of offenders (Ressler and Shachtman, 1992). Holmes and Holmes (1996) note that this categorisation is particularly applicable to crimes such as rape, sexual assault, mutilation and necrophilia. The categories. The disorganised offender will be of low intelligence, often demonstrating some sort of severe psychiatric disturbance, and will have probably have had some kind of contact with the mental health system.

He will be socially inept, with few interpersonal relationships out side his immediate family, and will be sexually incompetent, if he has any sexual experience at all. The crime scene of the disorganised offender will often show little or no premeditation, with whatever is at hand used as a weapon, which is usually left on the crime scene. The victim, selected more or less at random will have been quickly overpowered and killed, the killing often showing extreme overkill and brutality (what the FBI refer to a blitz attack, Douglas & Olshaker, 1995).

The victim's face will often be severely beaten in an attempt to dehumanise her, or she will be forced to wear a mask or blind fold. If the victim is sexually assaulted, it will often be post-mortem, with mutilation to the face, genitals and breasts not uncommon. The body will often be left at the murder scene, but if it is removed, it more likely that the offender wants to keep it as a souvenir than to hide evidence. Holmes and Holmes, 1996 Ressler et al. , 1988, Ressler & Shachtman, 1992).

The types of offenders who make up both the organised and disorganised dichotomies are relatively straightforward, and are, as the name suggests, organised and disorganised personalities. The organised offender is unusually reasonably intelligent, but an underachiever, with an sporadic education and employment history. He is often married and socially adept, at least at face value, but usually has an antisocial or psychopathic personality. The crime scene left behind an organised offender will show signs of planning and control. The offender will often bring his own weapons and restraints, which he will then take with him after the crime.

The victim will be a targeted stranger, ver often female, with the offender either searching for a particular sort of victim or just a victim of convenience. The victim will be often raped and the offender will control the victim by using threats and restraints. The offender will usually torture the victim, killing in a slow painful manner, which the killer will have fantasised about extensively beforehand. The body will be usually hidden, often transported from the place where the killing occurred, and may be dismembered by more forensically aware killers in order to delay identification.