Crimnal Profiling, Science or Not?

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“Criminal Profiling: Science or Not”

Jennifer Dean
Forensic Psychology
Tcherni
November 2012

The FBI officially began criminal profiling in 1970; the profiling program was introduced by Howard Teton. However, this is not where criminal profiling began. The first verified introductions to profiling were demonization of the Jews, witches and puritans; some dating back to 1144. (Turvey 2011)

Criminal profiling is the tool of investigation used by skilled law enforcement professionals to provide a possible psychological mentality and behavioral profile of an unknown offender. (Strano 2004) Criminal profiling doesn’t give the identity of a person, but provides the description of what type of person may have committed the crime by focusing on the analysis of the crime scene.

The problem with criminal profiling is that it is completely based on interpretation. Characteristics of the suspect tend to be based and expressed through vague expressions, which are uncertain and can often lead to misinterpretation and unintentional problems. (Muller 2011) While a crime scene can tell a lot about the person who committed the crime, it can also leave things to be interpreted incorrectly.

There are many popular portrayals of criminal profiling. One such famous film is Silence of the Lambs, based on the popular novel by Thomas Harris. Recently many television shows as well; Millennium, Profiler, and The X-Files. These films, novels and television series have created false security; however, causing many to believe that criminal profiling is a “magical skill somewhat analogous to a precognitive psychic ability.”(Muller 2000)

Even though criminal profiling does not have much scientific studied support and there is not much authoritative material on it, it has worked well in some widely known criminal cases. In the case of “The BTK Strangler”, the following profile was given in August, 2000, by Dr. Deborah Schurman-Kauflin, President of the Violent Crime Institute (Bardsley 2004): "From the information provided to me which is limited (no crimes scene photos, police report, etc), I have constructed the most likely type of person to have committed the murders in the 1970s. I do not believe the murders from the 80s were connected." 1. Single, white male 28-30

2. Resided near Oteros or spent time in the area to form fantasy about Josephine (this was his main target). Lived in a house, not apartment. 3. Over 6'1, tall and trim. Neat in appearance with short hair. Clothes darker by choice. 4. Considered quiet and conservative by those who would know him. Modest. I believe people would mistake him as kind because of his quiet demeanor. But he suffers from extreme pathology -- psychopath…”( The rest of this criminal profile can be found in Article A)

This profile was used to find suspects and eventually bring in the man who was found guilty of the crimes, Dennis Rader. He was sentenced by Judge Waller of Kansas, nine life terms, a total of 175 years in prison with Hard 40 – 40 years in prison with no chance of parole. (Bardsley 2004)

The use of criminal profiling has continued to expand, especially in the past decade, even despite limited empirical evidence of its effectiveness. In attempt to try and find some evidence, “a narrative review and 2 part meta-analysis of the published criminal profiling literature were conducted.”(Snook 2007) To try and prove whether or not criminal profiling has scientific support, the following is about a study that took place.

In constructing a profile, three steps are generally put into place. The first step is the collection of crime scene data, which is sent to a profiler. Second, the profiler conducts a data analysis. In the third step, the profiler makes predictions about what type of person would have committed the crime; mentally and physically. Profiling can be classified as clinical or statistical. (Snook pg.3) Either type has problems of their own. Clinical...
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