Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Criminal Profiling: Part 1 History and Method

The Mind Hunters

The early profilers, those who entered the BSU during what many refer to as its golden age, were bold, innovative, and instinctive. They knew they were pioneering a program that would have to be nurtured along and carefully introduced to those law enforcement agencies that resisted changeespecially a change that involved an area they did not know or trust. Somehow, the right personalities came together synchronously to produce what many today regard as an important contribution to understanding the most brutal and extreme human behavior. Unlike technicians who could clearly compare fibers or fingerprints, the profilers were evaluating the indirect results of elusive and sometimes clever minds.

When asked what traits a profiler should possess, former BSUer Roy Hazelwood has a quick response: Common sense. Another term for that is practical intelligence. An open mind - you have to be able to accept other people's suggestions. Number three is life experience. Number four is an ability to isolate your personal feelings about the crime, the criminal and the victim. Number five would be an ability to think like the offender thinks - not get into his mind. All you have to do is reason like he does. You don't have to get into his mind.

At this stage, criminal or behavioral profiling is considered more an art than a science, based in a combination of analyzed data and extensive law enforcement experience. The method certainly has its critics, but it also can claim some success. Because profiling is based on patterns derived from knowledge about past cases, assuming that human behavior tends to show commonalities, it can seem to be uncannily accurate. But it can also go wrong and sometimes this type of analysis is no help at all. It is just one tool among many in police work. Its a guide, but profilers are quick to point out that the totality of details are not intended, and should not be taken, as gospel.

To devise a multi-dimensional profile, psychological investigators examine such aspects of the crime and crime scene (usually murder but other types of crime as well) as the weapon used, the type of killing site (and dump site, if different), details about the victim, method of transportation, time of day the crime was committed, and the relative position of items at the scene. "I use a formula," says former profiler John Douglas, "How plus Why equals Who. If we can answer the hows and whys in a crime, we generally can come up with the solution."

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