Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Criminal Profiling: Part 1 History and Method

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Once an agent is selected into one of the behavioral analysis units, Hilts says, they go through a 16-week classroom-based program, taught by both agents and outside professionals.   "We try to start with a basic foundation of psychology," he points out, "and then go to specifics.  By the last several weeks, we get into the specialties of specific types of crimes."  The coursework involves such subjects as:

  • Basic psychology
  • Criminal psychology
  • Forensic science
  • Body recovery
  • Criminal Investigative Analysis
  • Death investigation
  • Threat assessment
  • Statement/document analysis
  • Crimes against children
  • Child abduction and homicide
  • Sexual victimization of children / Internet issues
  • Interview and interrogation procedures
  • Serial murder

In addition, a limited number of internships in research are available to both graduate and undergraduate students in law enforcement and mental health.  "They're an indispensable part of our research program," says Hilts.  He suggests that interested students contact Violent Crime Resource Specialist Cynthia J. Lent, at

About the current status of what the agents in the BAU-2 do, Hilts states that their goal is the same as it always was: "We're simply one of the tools in the toolbox.   In some cases, we play a bigger role than in others in the resolution of the case."  Currently, he supervises seven agents, including two retired homicide detectives from major cities, and at any given time they can have as many as one hundred fifty open cases.  "Some may be serial murder cases that we work on for months, with multiple trips, and some may involve only a consultation on interview strategy with an identified offender."  Their work includes consulting on international cases, as well as assisting other countries set up their own behavioral units.

When dealing with the media, they all realize that there are misunderstandings to resolve.   "The public's interest in profiling has been intertwined with an interest in serial murder," Hilts offers.  "With the television depiction of profiling as something mysterious and different, that has become the image of what it is.  Some people in the media--and in law enforcement as well--don't make the connection that that's not reality.  There are many different types of serial killers and many different motivations.  When I'm involved in a case, I view a portion of my job as being to educate. The public gets the impression from fictional depictions like Hannibal Lecter, who get away with multiple murders, that serial killers are smarter than the rest of us and have unlimited resources.  People are looking for that type of individual, and that's not what most serial killers are.

Hannibal Lecter
Hannibal Lecter

"We look at the facts of every case individually. There is no single answer or formula that fits every case.   We don't have a template that fits every serial killer.    What's appropriate is to address serial killers in a multi-disciplinary way, with law enforcement joining with experts in the academic and mental health worlds.  We try to look at all aspects of serial killers, from how they commit their crimes, to developmental factors that influenced their violent behavior.  There are many different theories regarding serial killer development.  Is it biological, environmental, chemical imbalance?  Do their brains function differently?  The bottom line, I believe, is that there is no single answer.  We won't be able to look at one factor and say this is what creates a serial killer."

In pondering the future of what the Unit may do about serial murder investigations, Hilts says, "It's not just a law enforcement problem.  Certainly, law enforcement has a responsibility to catch them, but we need to look outside law enforcement for some of the answers that will help us do that.  That's what we do here.  We have a research advisory board made up of outside experts from the academic world that we meet with regularly as part of our program.  Our research program supports our operational effort, and we are creating empirical studies of closed and solved cases, as well as interviews with incarcerated offenders.  In every type of crime that we're involved in operationally, we have some type of research project going.

"Over the past few years, we've also hosted several international symposia on different topics, such as school violence, domestic violence, workplace violence, and sexual exploitation of children.   We bring together multi-disciplinary experts and talk about what the commonalities are, what we know and what we still; need to know in all these areas.  We are doing the same thing in the area of serial murder."

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