Criminal Profiling

Criminal profiling

There are many interpretations of what criminal profiling is.  Most of the common definitions focus on art rather than a science.  Many books have explored this and many authors have indicated that to truly understand profiling, one must step inside the mind of the criminal.  More aptly put by John Douglas & Mark Olshaker (1995, p. 12),  “Put yourself in the position of the hunter.” 

There are many interpretations of criminal profiling but in this paper, focus will be placed on specific areas and practices.  Each of the models includes important views and will allow the reader to decide which model(s) are most appropriate or rather which model the reader agrees with. 

Overall profiling is an “educated attempt to provide investigative agencies with specific information as to the type of individual who committed the crime” (Holmes & Holmes, 2009, p. 4).

Inductive profiling

According to Holmes & Holmes (2009) the inductive type of criminal profiling finds its logic in the “assumption that if certain crimes committed by different people are similar, then the offenders must also share some type of common personality traits” (2009, p. 7).  The data collected with this approach emanates from prior crimes, offenders with known history, and especially from the newspapers, television, and other media outlets (2009).

Inductive criminal profiling appears to be a quick fix and is said to be less expensive.  Additionally, “there is no need to blend the academic disciplines of sociology, psychology, criminology, and psychiatry” (2009, p. 7).  No exceptional skills are required on the part of a profiler with this particular approach and no formalized knowledge of basic human behavior is essential (2009).

According to Hicks & Sales (2006), inductive profiling is something of a comparative process that relies on subjective knowledge.  The inductive model employs generality in a very large sense (2006).  Furthermore, assumption is the foundation for this particular model. 

An excellent example was presented by Hicks & Sales (2006).  A scenario of a female rape victim was presented in which an assumption was made that most rapists will assault and perpetrate on individuals of his own race as well as the assumption that most rapists do not have history of military services (2006).  The conclusion was that the victim was “raped by a white male with no military experience” (2006, p. 42).  The obvious problem with this is that a person must base the conclusion on conjecture in a broad, general sense and not upon solid evidence to prove or disprove the ultimate conclusion.

Deductive profiling

In stark contrast is Deductive Profiling.  This methodology takes into account evidence from the scene of the crime as well as the study of the scene (Holmes & Holmes, 2009).  Victimology also plays a vital role in this model (2009).  The Deductive Profiling model is very slow moving in comparison with Inductive Profiling and much more time is spent combing through reports of forensic findings (2009).

There are four factors associated with this particular method, which are forensic evidence, behavioral evidence, victimology, and crime scene analysis (Hicks & Sales, 2006).  Forensic evidence deals with the reconstruction of the criminal events (2006).  Facts such as eye witness reports, the victim’s statements (if he/she survived), photographs, of the crime scene, wound patterns, blood spatter, ballistics, and any other physical proof (2006).

Victimology plays its part in this model by providing the profiler with the victim’s general features as well as physical characteristics (2006).  Also, the victim’s daily habits, general lifestyle, status of interpersonal relationships, and level of risk are very important to understand and study (2006).  In fact, not enough information can be received about the victim.  Understanding who the victim was seems to receive less attention than it should.  When studying the victim, marital status can reveal an upheaval in the personal relationship or a calm one, telling the profiler whether the spouse or significant other should be considered as a suspect (Holmes & Holmes, 2009).  The lifestyle of the victim also gives the profiler insight into possibilities (2009).  For instance, was the victim a prostitute?  Was she a heavy drinker or a drug user?  Did she lead a quiet, healthy life?  Answering these types of questions will help establish a suspect pool or find direct answers from friends and acquaintances.   Demographics, medical history, mental health history, psychosocial history, and psychosexual history must also be considered in addition to any criminal history and the last activities the victim engaged in (2009).

In spite of this model being so time consuming it seems only fair to the victim that great care and consideration be taken regarding all of the evidence?  If the victim did not survive the attack by the offender, using this model may allow a profiler to hear the victim beyond the grave.

A crime scene is like a puzzle.  When the pieces fit, much can be learned and predictions can be made about the type of offender.  The crime scene is crucial in finding the offender.  Although crime scenes can be utterly destroyed by well meaning law enforcement officers, there will still be clues to help profile the offender.  Crime scene analysis includes but is not limited to the method in which the victim was attacked, any sexual violence, and any other type of violence (2006).

Deductive profiling deals with tangibility.  Another excellent example of this method was given by Hicks & Sales (2006).  The scenario referenced a dump site in which a body was found in a very isolated mountain area (2006).  At the scene were tire tracks, which can be made into molds and can possibly be matched to the vehicle of the offender (2006).  The tracks were also indicative of the offender’s mobility (2006).  This example demonstrates exactly how physical evidence can help solve a crime.

The last factor is the “deduction” (2006, p. 44) of the offender’s uniqueness based on the first three factors.  This is when the artistic nature of profiling becomes evident for this model.  One must take into account the whole picture as well as think outside of the box.  Characteristics of the offender such as general skill, for example staging, can tell a profiler whether the offender was organized, disorganized, or mixed (a combination of both types).  Was the UNSUB careful to dispose of any identifying evidence?  Was there evidence of overkill?  Was there forced entry if the crime was committed in a home?  There are many more questions that can be asked and for a talented, smart, artistic profiler these questions can be answered.  In other words, the point is that the profiler knows exactly which questions to ask in order to construct a prediction (2006).

Nonscientific profiling

Although there are many problems noted by Hicks & Sales (2006) in direct reference to this method, this paper will focus on the dependence of intuitive thinking.  This is quite similar to inductive profiling and can perhaps be seen as one in the same.  Some profilers seem to have a gift or a gut feeling that leads him/her to make all of the right assumptions.  This gut feeling is the foundation of the nonscientific method of profiling.  Judgments made in a case based purely on intuition will often yield dangerous and disastrous results as discussed by many authors.  The use of intuition as a driving force has two major flaws (2006). 

The first major flaw is the lack of reliability (2006).  This is self explanatory in the fact that each profiler is different and uses different methods of composing a profile (2006).  Using an intuitive sense can pinpoint an innocent person as opposed to the real offender (2006).  If this happens, the results could prove catastrophic and often do.

The second major flaw is that absolutely none of the nonscientific methods try to corroborate the profile with real evidence (2006).  Only one conclusion is correct when it comes to solving crime and the more time that passes, the greater the risk that the crime will occur again (2006).  The UNSUB would likely victimize more people and remain at large creating more danger to society.  The UNSUB could also be very mobile and due to linkage blindness as well as many other factors, mainly a lack of communication, the UNSUB remains active in the public.

Scientific method

The Canter Model uses science as a foundation to developing a profile and through empirical psychological research a profile is developed (2006).  In this model examining behavioral elements of the crime, noting certain differences between offenders, examining characteristics of the offender, and past offenses of the same perpetrator, conclusions and predictions can be made (2006).

The Canter Model centers on the objective of assistance of law enforcement, as all profiling methods do (2006).  The key is to find similarities and differences in the offender as well as the situation.

A formula has been composed for this model and as detailed by Hicks & Sales (2006, p. 73) appears as follows:

                        F1 A1 + … Fn An = K1 C1 + … Km Cm

This equation is broken down in several parts.  The left part of the equation focuses on the crime information available to the police or other authorities and the right portion focuses on the features of the perpetrator which are helpful for investigative purposes (2006).

As seems to be true with this equation, as is with most statistical or mathematical formulas, the use is often complicated and dependent upon accurate information obtained for each variable (2006).  To make the formula work “theory is key” along with “scientific study” (2006, p. 74).

Things to consider when rendering a profile

To understand criminal profiling it is important to understand the types of offenders that are being profiled.  Typology in general comes from the esteemed work of Robert Ressler and John Douglas as well as another associated agent, Burgess (2006). 

According to the work conducted by the above mentioned individuals, there is a disorganized asocial offender who is portrayed as being completely disorganized in every piece of his life (2006).  This includes his physical appearance, his living conditions, his state of mind, and his crimes (2006).  This person is likely to be a recluse and he would have few interpersonal relationships (2006). 

The organized nonsocial offender is the opposite, naturally.  This offender has a very well put together life, home environment, and physical appearance (2006).  Very macho in his dealings, he still has limited social interaction because of his narcissistic overtones (2006).  Essentially, no one is good enough for him.

To compose an accurate picture of the offender, much must be measured.  Personality, biology, culture, environment, and experiences of the offender must be considered.  First, personality, calls together what makes up the person as a whole  (Holmes & Holmes, 2009).  The traits that are believed to make up someone’s personality consists of principles and outlooks on life (2009)  Many feel that personality is reflected in crime scenes as well as in direct association with pathology (Hicks & Sales, 2006).  Biological make up is said to be a proven component of one’s personality (Holmes & Holmes, 2009). 

Culture is an important factor to the development of any human being.  Upbringing, religious practices, values, beliefs, and other core cultural norms influence each person differently.  This applies to criminals, too.  Who an offender becomes appears to directly correspond not only with personality and biological make up, but also to cultural practices.  Culture and a person’s upbringing provide guidelines for daily life (2009).  “Culture provides the normative structure for the society in which a person lives” (2009, p. 44).

Subculture also exists and consists of such things as gender, socio-economical status, and criminality (2009).  Subcultures are unique and have features that make them different from the generalized culture (2009). 

There has been much controversy over nature versus nurture.  Does a serial killer develop as a result of his environment or is he dictated by his genetic predispositions?  There is no definitive answer to these questions, unfortunately.  However, much research has been done to show that environment does play a major part in the total outcome of a child into adulthood.  “It is not only these day-to-day experiences that become an integral part of the personality, but the social class of an individual also places that person into an arena where he or she will come in contact with a far different set of experiences and opportunities that other people in other social classes could ever experience” (2009, p. 44)

Experiences teach choice making skills.  A child who has touched a hot skillet will probably not do it again.  A person who is always successful will likely have the attitude that cannot lose.  There are common experiences as well as unique ones (2009).  The common experiences are daily encounters that one comes accustomed to (2009).  There are certain sports, customs, and many other activities that are common place in American society (2009).  Not everyone has experienced divorce or attended “the same school” (2009, p. 45), but there are a majority of Americans that have “developed a modal personality type” (2009, p. 45).

Unique experiences are experiences that set one apart from the commonalities.  These types of experiences explain who we are as a people and as individuals (2009).  These experiences can consist of good and bad things.  Not everyone grows up in situations of domestic violence.  So, when a child is taught about this phenomenon, shock sometimes can be the reaction.  However, for a child that experiences this daily, there is little to no shock.  To the child who is being reared in the non-violent home, the experience is unique and definitely not common.        

Goals of profiling

Profiling has specific goals and it doesn’t seem to matter which model is used to attain those goals.  Profiling is not always appropriate and is dependent upon the type of crime.  As stated, one of the main purposes of developing a profile is to assist authorities in an assessment of the offender (Holmes & Holmes, 2009).  The assessment should include the race, possible age, whether the offender is employed and if so what type of job, any religious affiliations, whether the offender is married, the level of education, and any other details relevant to apprehension (2009).  Use of the elements is also essential with scientific models as well as nonscientific models.

Whatever tangible items are found on the offender require explanation as well, so providing this estimate is the second goal (2009).  The break down can include photographs found on the person and keepsakes from the scene or the victim (2009).

How will the perpetrator be interviewed?  What questions should be asked?  Should the interview be composed of compassion or should it be aggressive?  These are questions that profilers can help answer.  Therefore, the third goal is to assist with interviewing by presenting suggestions and strategies (2009).

Military profiling

Profiling is not limited to use by law enforcement.  In fact, it can aide in many areas, one being the military.  The military has found it to be extremely useful in many ways.  In the year 1943, during World War II, Dr. Walter Langer was called upon by Colonel William Donovan to provide a profile of Adolf Hitler (2009).  With the help of three assistants and the psychodynamic model, a profile was composed (2009).  The profile predicted possible future behavior if the war did not fall into Hitler’s favor as well as other elements (2009).  The intention of Langer’s profile was also to educate military personnel in what would happen or how Hitler would behave if captured (2009).

The military has used profiling for “practical application” (Hicks & Sales, 2006, p. 7).  Indeed the military has begun to rely on profiling to find flaws in the adversary (2006).  Additionally, profiling has been used to assess soldiers, specifically through the use of personality inventories (2006).  The inventories were used primarily during the Vietman and Korean War with the purposes of determining which soldiers were not appropriate for service (2006). 

Moreover, profiling was utilized by the military for predicting “the dependability and success of criminals who were paroled into military service” (2006, p. 8).  The military has used profiling to link soldiers with specific abilities to specific jobs (2006).  For example, if a soldier is tested and it seems that he/she has a knack for unraveling codes, then he/she can be utilized in that operation (2006).

Another important factor of personality profiling in the military was to find soldiers who could tolerate adverse conditions as prisoners of war or just as soldiers in a general sense (2006).  Which men could tolerate pain and which men couldn’t?  Which women would be able to survive torture if captured?  These, along with many other questions, could be answered with use of a personality inventory used by the military.

The difference between profiling for the military and law enforcement is quite easy to see.  The military is often required to keep profiling practices classified whereas law enforcement usually shares the profiles in effort to catch criminals.  The use of military profiling led to criminal profiling utilized by law enforcement (2006).

The dawn of modern profiling in law enforcement

The subject of criminal profiling and its benefits to law enforcement is somewhat controversial with mixed reviews.  As stated, profiling is not always appropriate for the crime.  Profiling alone will not solve crimes but the insight offered by profilers can be valuable to law enforcement (Holmes & Holmes, 2009).  In fact the Federal Bureau of Investigation was resistant to profiling at first and was compared to witchcraft (Douglas & Olshaker, 1995).

Profiling can first be seen as a tool used by law enforcement in 1956 involving the Mad Bomber (Hicks & Sales, 2006).  James Brussel was approached to render a profile for the Mad Bomber who had been terrorizing New York since the early 1940’s (2006).  Law enforcement needed help in apprehending the assailant.  George Metesky was the Mad Bomber.  Metesky had eluded authorities but had left evidence at the crime scenes as well as wrote letters to police (2006). 

Brussel was a psychiatrist by trade but he had experience with criminals and his first task after being approached by New York Police Department’s Inspector Finny was to go over the evidence (2006).  After doing so, Brussel presented his profile which was then published in the newspapers on December 25, 1956 (Holmes & Holmes, 2009).  Because the letters from the Mad Bomber referenced his past employer, Con Edison, records from that company were directly involved in solving the case (2009).

Brussel’s profile of Metesky was very specific filled with details and predictions.  Brussel indicated that the offender was middle aged, specifically around age 50, with a good eye for detail in his work (2009).  He was predicted to be “sensitive to criticism” (2009, p. 31).  He predicted that the offender would not to be an American and his educational background would be no higher than high school level (2009).  He was believed to live in Connecticut and not New York and probably suffered from an “Oedipal complex” (2009, p. 31).  The profile went as far as to say that when the offender was found he would be “wearing double-breasted suit” (Hicks & Sales, 2006, p. 9) and the suit would be buttoned.  Additionally, Brussel said that the offender would be residing alone or with an elder female family member (2006).  

As mentioned, employment records were researched.  This was after an employee read the publication of the profile and consulted employee records (2006).  An injury on September 5, 1931 was noted and the file had multiple threats made by Metesky (2006).  The employee alerted law enforcement.

When Metesky was found and arrested he fit the profile exactly.  He was Polish, not American, was 54 years of age, and lived with two older sisters (2006).  He was also wearing a buttoned double-breasted suit (Holmes & Holmes, 2009).

This case seemed to give validity to psychological profiling and the use of it as a tool for law enforcement (2009).  The Metesky case and the profile provided by Brussel seemed to open a door, one that would prove useful in other cases.  Brussel’s personal triumph attracted attention from Howard Teten (2006).  He requested Brussel to educate him in methods of profiling, which then led to the FBI employing its use (2006).  Teten then partnered with Patrick Mullany which then led to Robert Ressler joining the team in 1974 and John Douglas joining in 1977 (2006).

The first case solved by use of Teten’s profiling methods was that of Susan Jaeger, a 7 year old who had been taken from her tent while camping with her family (2006).  The profile led to the apprehension and conviction of David Meierhofer (2006).

Law enforcement is an essential part of profiling.  The officers collect and provide the profiler with crime scene data so the profiler can work his/her magic (Bartol & Bartol, 2008).  Criminal profiling is now quite common and used by law enforcement agencies throughout the world (2007).  Nonetheless, because of the success observed in law enforcement’s use of criminal profiling the Behavioral Science Unit was formed through funds given to the FBI (2000).  Since the BSU became a reality, law enforcement agencies have been seeking assistance from their qualified experts in criminal profiling.

Value of profiling in criminal investigations and personal measures of success

One of the ways success and value is seen is criminal profiling is the apprehension and prosecution of an offender.  If the profile assisted in the process, then the profile was valuable to the case.  The profile is meant to provide a framework for the type of person law enforcement should be targeting and, as stated a few times throughout this paper, profiling is a tool to be used by law enforcement to help capture perpetrators (Hicks & Sales, 2006).  It is not a solve all-end all concept. 

Another measure of value is seen when conventional and established methods of investigation are not enough to identify an offender (2006).  As discussed, some believe that it is impossible to see the value of profiling if science is not used and others believe the intuition and instinct are the foundations for successful profiling (2006). 

Another way to measure a profile’s success is in regards to the victim.  When a detective or officer can sit down with the families of victims and provide closure, then true success can be observed.  Closure and the freedom to heal should be a measurable success of profiling.

Sometimes it can take a considerable amount of time to apprehend an offender (2006).  The waiting would certainly be difficult, but when the “right person” (2006, p. 129) is caught a sense of pride and accomplishment would surely follow.



Bartol, A., & Bartol C.  (2008).  Taking stock of criminal profiling.  In Current perspectives in forensic psychology and criminal behavior. 

Douglas, J., & Olshaker, M. (1995). Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s elite serial crime unit. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Hicks, S., & Sales, B. (2006). Criminal profiling: Developing an effective science and practice.  Washington DC: American Psychological Association.

Holmes, R., & Holmes, S. (2009). Profiling violent crimes. Thousand Oaks: Sage.