Investigative Criminal Profiling
Criminal profiling has become a well-received concept in Hollywood and the general public. Sadly, the portrayal of profiling on television and in literature includes the use of psychic measures or presents profiling as an infallible science that requires only the input of variables to obtain an exact description of the suspect. Either viewpoint greatly discredits the critical involvement of law enforcement's investigative inputs and experience and greatly discourages investigators from bringing in profilers to aid in the investigation.
Because criminal profiling so greatly depends on the accuracy of information connected with the crime and the community, profiling should not be viewed as a process that can be properly conducted separate from investigative effort. Also, because additional information may be incoming and previously acquired information may prove to be erroneous, profiling should be considered an ongoing process that does not end until a suspect is arrested and convicted. Therefore, I view the proper title for this field of endeavor to be "Investigative Criminal Profiling."
Investigative Criminal Profiling is a combination of four skills. Investigation, forensic analysis, psychological assessment and the application of cultural anthropology.
To date, the general procedure has been to send in crime scene and autopsy information and limited details concerning the crime and the victim to a profiler who then sends back a report. The process pretty much stops at this point. The investigators add it to their pile of data using whatever they feel has some merit. Often the profile serves no purpose at all. Vague descriptions that do not narrow down the suspect pool, descriptions that are useful but are misunderstood by the investigator on the case, useful information but no practical integration of the facts into the investigative process and worst of all, profiles that are completely wrong or ludicrous.
The fact that there is no literature proving profiling to be of any measurable benefit to the investigative process is disturbing. Personal successes are touted in books written by profilers for the mass market unfamiliar with the actual investigative process. We never see the actual profile turned in to the investigators at the time of the request. We never are able to compare the percentage of details the profile contained that accurately matched the offender. It is never explained how the profile impacted the course of the investigation. Did the profile make a difference in investigative choices? Did it open up new avenues of investigative inquiry? Did the profile throw the investigative process off track? Also, even if the profile came up generally correct, was this a matter of luck or perhaps common sense? Did the profile give information that was not already surmised by the investigators on the case?
Investigative Criminal Profiling should be considered a support mechanism for the investigators of sexual homicide and should be an ongoing integral process of the investigation from beginning to end. The lead profiler on any case can be someone from within or without the department depending on the skill levels available internally and preferably, a teamwork approach to case analysis would create a continuing dialog that would not entirely hinge on the opinion of one investigator or profiler. While it is desirable to narrow the suspect list down to a workable size for the investigators, it is also necessary to prevent personal whims from causing tunnel vision and causing the exclusion of viable suspects.
The four basic skills necessary for good Investigative Criminal Profiling - investigations, forensics, psychological assessment and the application of cultural anthropology - are necessary to a complete an accurate profile. It should be recognized, however, that some criminal profilers and investigators are not completely proficient in all of these areas and for this reason, experts should be consulted to fill in the gaps. A homicide investigator with limited skills in profiling might combine his skills with that of a professional profiler and as a team, increase the success of the investigation. On the other hand, investigators are much more experienced and knowledgeable of the cultures and behaviors of residents of their area than outside profilers. This application of cultural anthropology is extremely critical in the analysis of the suspect's behavior and actions.
Many times, a profiler unfamiliar with the area, will draw erroneous conclusions based on statistics that have no bearing on the local situation. Investigators inside the department may also be able to more clearly explain the conditions under which certain information was obtained in relation to the investigation such as crime scene photos, autopsy photos, information received concerning the victim, the victim's environment and relationships. Some profilers have a good background in psychopathology but little forensics knowledge. Therefore, a team member would need to fill in that deficit in order to put together a proper profile. With all aspects of Investigative Criminal Profiling covered as a team by department investigators and outside consultants, the chances of creating a useful profile are increased dramatically.
This approach also reduces the exclusivity of a case ordinarily handled by one or two investigators or profiled by just one outside profiler. Often, this desire to be the "one" who solved the case causes the case to actually go unsolved because of the refusal of the investigator or profiler to share information. There is a tendency in this situation to bestow upon one profiler or investigator the entire responsibility for the success or failure of the case. Blame or glory can be assigned without regard to the true investigative process and without regard to the nature of lady luck.
In some cases profilers have been raised to a level of superhuman status when their profiles have closely matched the perpetrator arrested. While the skills of the profiler may indeed have enhanced the investigation, the outcome depends heavily on all parties involved.
Profilers should be called in to work as a member of a team; they should neither be considered outsiders to the investigative process nor should they be considered infallible in their profile analysis. All investigating and profiling is an ongoing, speculative process that must be evaluated and reevaluated, checked and double checked, so that no questionable stone is left unturned and no viable avenue is left unexplored. Investigative Criminal Profiling is an extremely useful addition to any serial sexual homicide investigation if it is included with the proper attitude and understanding.