A Look at Criminal Profiling: Historical to Present Day

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Forensic psychology, specifically, offender or criminal profiling has exponentially increased in popularity since its inception. It has spread though out the United States and internationally and this popularity is due mainly to massive media frenzies that focused on high-profile cases as well as the fictional movie, based on a book by Thomas Harris, Silence of the Lambs (Huss, 2001). Another reason for the wide interest in profiling is that people have a need to know who and why and additionally, have a fascination with the morbid. The flood of popular attention to criminal profiling created several public misconceptions. I will, therefore, generally define criminal profiling, dispelling myths and then will focus on the origins, history and current applications of criminal profiling. Criminal or offender profiling is a tool used by criminalist, behavioral scientists, forensic psychiatrists and psychologists, investigators, the FBI, the CIA, the CBC, and international law enforcement agencies. However, the practice of criminal profiling is concentrated within the FBI. The mission of offender profiling is to focus a criminal investigation onto more likely suspects (DeNevi & Campbell, 2004; Hicks, & Sales, 2006; Kocsis, 2003; Petherick, 2005). This narrowing serves to better utilize personnel and resources in the apprehension of offenders by investigating suspects and leads that are more accurately assessed (Canter, 2004; DeNevi & Campbell, 2004; Hicks, & Sales, 2006; Kocsis, 2003; Mitchell, 1996-97; Petherick, 2005; 2 Ramsland, 2007; Turco, 1990. A symbiotic goal of profiling is to restrict investigative efforts to suspects that fall within the realm of the traits assessed to the perpetrator of a particular crime. Traits of a criminal that are addressed in a profile age, race, height, geographic location, personality, and even his or her attire offenders (Canter, 2004; DeNevi & Campbell, 2004; Hicks, & Sales, 2006; Kocsis, 2003; Mitchell, 1996-97; Petherick,2005; 2 Ramsland, 2007; Turco, 1990). This identification of traits assists investigator in narrowing the suspect pools for a crime. Profilers must be versatile in their approach and knowledge of criminals and crime scenes. They must look at the positions of bodies, types of weapons, degree of violence at a scene, whether bodies were posed, verbal statements made by the perpetrator, if a signature (a detail found at a crime scene that is not needed to commit the crime, but, rather, is a compulsion or needful act by the offender and is unique to him or her) emerges, if messages are left, the time of day of the crime, and information about the victim(s). Another tool used by profilers, is the enlistment of the public's aide. Profilers operate under the idea that if the behavior and personality traits of the offender are made public, someone will recognize these traits in someone that they know (Gudjonsson & Haward, 2000). All of these factors are assembled by profilers and synthesized with his or her experience in the field. Douglas and Munn describe crime scenes as a story that has plots, heroes, villains, a beginning, middle and end (1992). They state that the end depends on the accuracy of the profile and others assigned to that case (1992). Criminal profiling has been criticized for lacking empirical testing and employing circular logic when attempt to scientifically legitimize the practice (Hicks & Sales, 2006). One of the concerns is that profiling is limited to data accumulated by experience in the field. This is personally acquired information and subject to gingival perceptual biases (Alison & West, 2004). Another difficulty with validating profiling as a science in the reliance on criminal self-reports. Although useful to degrees, there are wide varieties of personalities to attest for. Some criminals may exaggerate their crimes, others, deny them and even some may lie completely. The basis for profiling is individual interpretation,...
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