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Criminal Profiling 101: Behavioral Evidence Analysis


Criminal profiling, which is considered a scientific method, is still a relatively new field. There are multiple definitions and boundaries for the term; however, the goal of each current criminal profiling method is similar, and that is to develop a description of the perpetrator based on the examination of the given evidence. In some ways, it is still considered a technique that combines art and science, although there has been an effort in recent years to bring more science into it. This series of articles will describe some of the most used criminal profiling methods, their scientific base, and the different approaches from which they stem. The series begins with an introduction to criminal profiling, its brief history and development, its current state, and the used methods.

The Criminal Profiling 101 series is divided into six chapters:

  1. Criminal Profiling 101: Introduction

  2. Criminal Profiling 101: Criminal Investigative Analysis

  3. Criminal Profiling 101: Behavioral Evidence Analysis

  4. Criminal Profiling 101: Misconceptions vs. Reality About Serial Killers

  5. Criminal Profiling 101: Spree Killer

  6. Criminal Profiling 101: Mass Murderer

Criminal Profiling 101: Behavioral Evidence Analysis

One of the common misconceptions about criminal profiling is that it produces fixed and constant results in the form of a profile of a typical offender. However, this assertion does not take into account the development and learning of humankind which evolves with time as well as the fact that various cultures interpret specific behaviors differently. It is, therefore, essential that methods of criminal profiling are adapted to these changes so that their meaning is beneficial. One of the current methods of criminal profiling, called behavioral evidence analysis (BEA), attempts to incorporate these variables into its scheme. BEA is referred to as an objective analysis in contrast to other methods of criminal profiling, mainly because it is based on facts rather than statistics. BEA is a dynamic process that is constantly changing, as the methods of successful criminals improve or deteriorate over time (Fintzy, 2000). Although BEA is 'ahead' of other current methods of criminal profiling because of its objectivity, its implementation in practice can often flounder because of the incompetence of those who carry out the method. The goal of BEA is not to identify a specific offender but to narrow the pool of suspects based on the identification and categorization of the offender's characteristics, and this requires specific skills and training (Petherick & Turvey, 2008). The purpose of this article is to provide a thorough description of the BEA approach, along with its aims, benefits, and limitations.

Figure 1: Demonstration figure illustrating multiple BEA processes (VectorMine/Shutterstock, 2022).

Behavioral evidence analysis is one of several criminal profiling methods currently in use. It is an ideo-deductive method of criminal profiling and crime scene analysis. The term "ideo" stands for an idiographic method that in the context of criminal profiling examines aspects of individual cases and perpetrators through forensic analysis. Deductive profiling is based on direct observation of the crime scene. BEA examines and interprets physical evidence, victimology, and crime scene characteristics, which are then used to analyze patterns of behavior that suggest offender characteristics with forensic significance. This process results in what is referred to as behavioral evidence. Behavioral evidence is physical evidence, documentation, or testimony that can help evaluate how, when, and if the crime occurred. All of this evidence can be viewed as behavioral evidence if there is an objective relationship between them. For example, if semen is found at the scene of the crime, it indicates that a man was present at the scene. It may also signal the primacy of sexual behavior during the crime. Fingerprints found at a crime scene may suggest the presence, contact with, or use of an object. Toxicology results may show the presence of drugs, alcohol, or other toxic substances in the victim's or offender's systems and how these substances may have affected their behavior. Injuries may imply the type of weapon used. Footwear marks found at the scene of a crime may be an indicator of the manner of walking or running and the direction in which the perpetrator or victim was moving. This information will then assist in the crime scene reconstruction. For BEA to be truly applicable, behavioral evidence must be properly examined and evaluated in context as a whole. Unlike other criminal profiling methods discussed in previous articles in this series, BEA does not rely on average offender types but is based on a thorough examination of the crime scene and associated behaviors to determine which characteristics are evident (Turvey, 2008).

Data drawn from forensic analysis, crime scene analysis, and forensic victimology are the basis for the development of the BEA profile. Forensic analysis is considered the first step because it examines, tests, and interprets all physical evidence and then determines how it corresponds to the behavioral evidence. There is a strong correlation between physical and behavioral evidence. The existence of this correlation is only possible if behavior can be inferred from physical evidence; therefore, not all physical evidence can serve as a basis for behavioral evidence. Furthermore, this correlation must be grounded upon a strong supportive foundation, in which relevance and objectivity should be assessed solely by an individual with the appropriate forensic science background. Crime scene analysis investigates, identifies, and evaluates all behavioral evidence from the crime scene. The crime scene characteristics to be determined in this context are the method of approach, attack, or control as well as, location type, used materials, verbal activity, and type and sequence of any precautionary actions. A lack of understanding of this information can potentially reduce the results of the overall profiling, as a profile is only as good as the information it is composed of (Turvey, 2008). The characteristics of a crime scene are based on evidence that cannot always be obtained, and therefore may not be established, which could limit any further findings. Forensic victimology is the study of the victim. Its importance in criminal profiling lies in the fact that through the characteristics of the victim, information about the offender can be ascertained by the way the victim was treated or what trace evidence was left on the victim. This includes information regarding the offender's imagination, motive, knowledge, skills, and modus operandi. Victimology in criminal profiling also assesses the level of exposure to harm and, therefore, how the victim's lifestyle influenced the exposure to harm. The time of exposure to harm is considered a significant factor as well (Petherick & Turvey, 2008).

Figure 2: Criminal profilers acquiring information from a forensic scientist (A little bit human, 2022).

BEA has two distinct contexts that differ primarily in the priorities and goals they seek to achieve. The first context is known as the investigative phase, which involves profiling of an unknown perpetrator, a phase before the suspect is arrested. The second phase is the trial phase in which the suspect is being prosecuted for a crime; thus, it is the profiling of a known offender. Both of these phases are equally important, but the investigative phase has received more attention in the media and in literature. The investigative phase evaluates the nature and value of behavioral evidence from the crime scene, narrows the pool of possible perpetrators based on this evidence, and prioritizes the investigation of the remaining suspects. Furthermore, it links potentially related crimes based on the modus operandi and signature of the perpetrator and assesses the possibility of escalating negative behavior of the perpetrator. It provides investigators with objective leads and strategies and, last but not least, offers insights to help guide the investigation with detachment. The trial phase of BEA is still profiling, but the difference is that it is profiling an already known perpetrator. This phase aims to elicit the nature and value of physical and behavioral evidence. It develops an interrogation strategy, and it helps investigators learn about the perpetrator's motivation, imagination, and intent before, during, and after committing the crime. It also detects and links potentially related offenses based on modus operandi and the perpetrator's signature (Petherick & Turvey, 2008).

As in other fields of study, certain principles apply to behavioral evidence analysis. BEA principles are deduced from behavioral and biological sciences. They mainly include the principle of uniqueness which states that every individual in this world is unique because each individual has a specific genetic make-up, which in turn is influenced by the environment in which the individual grows up. This constellation evolves and springs into a unique form with time, in which the individual perceives pain, aversion, pleasure, and other behavior-related factors differently than others. Another principle is the principle of separation, and as the above statement describes the individual's perception, the same is applicable to profilers. Profilers have their own perception; therefore, they need to be able to detach themselves and not treat victims or perpetrators as a mirror. Oftentimes, the profiler projects unwanted thoughts and emotions onto perpetrators and victims. Projection is a subconscious process, and it can sometimes be difficult for the profiler to recognize that this is happening, but implementing the principle of separation is indeed a skill that is integral to the process of BEA. The principle of behavioral dynamics relates to the evolution or devolution of the perpetrator's behavior or modus operandi. A perpetrator's behavior and modus operandi are dynamic and may alter depending on psychological factors including mental illness or other factors such as the use of drugs, alcohol, and other intoxicating substances. This means that the same offender may not necessarily leave the same distinctive characteristics at different crime scenes, which is something that a profiler needs to account for when conducting an analysis (Turvey, 2008).

A metal desk in a room with tiled floors with a police officer sitting on one side and a prisoner sitting on the other with their hands chained to the desk

Figure 3: Interrogation: Part of the trial phase of BEA (CBS ALL ACCESS, 2020).

The principle of behavioral motivation that is applied in BEA is that all behavior is driven by a motive, whether that motive is conscious or subconscious. Decisions that are motive-conditioned are influenced by emotions, mental disorders, and drug and alcohol use. Another principle that applies to BEA is the principle of multidetermination, which refers to the proposition that offense-related behavior is complex and multidetermined. It aims at multiple purposes and goals. A single expression of behavior, choice, or action may be the outcome of a combination of motives. This means that the offender will bring one instrument that will serve multiple purposes in the perpetration of a crime; the instrument represents the single expression of choice, and multiple purposes represent the combination of motives. The principle of motivational dynamics is that an offender can have multiple motives for committing different crimes and the same applies when committing a single crime. For example, the perpetrator may rape the victim, which is one motive, then subsequently the perpetrator may rob the victim, which is in fact another motive. The principle of behavioral variance is that different offenders have different motives for the same behavior or decisions. The principle of unintended consequences is based on the fact that accidents happen and not all behavioral responses are intentional; therefore, the profiler should approach the crime scene in this manner. The final principle is the principle of memory corruption and, as the name implies, it states that witness statements are not always objective and truthful. Memory changes and is shaped with each new interaction as memories are formed. Among other things, witnesses may withhold information, either intentionally or unintentionally. This is why a profiler should not rely solely on witness statements (Turvey, 2008).

To ensure that the aim of BEA is truly met, the profiling needs to be carried out by someone who is competent and educated in the subject. The profiler ought to possess critical thinking skills and the ability to detach from their fantasies, experiences, and desires. In addition to these fundamental skills and abilities, the BEA methodology presents core practice standards for the profiler. These standards include the ability to avoid bias and accountability in requesting all necessary documentation. If possible, profilers should visit the crime scene personally. They are also responsible for assessing whether the evidence on which they undertake these variables is sufficient and adequate. Based on the collected documentation and evidence, a profiler should conduct a written form of victimology, crime scene analysis, and the profile. Knowledge of the scientific method and behavioral and forensic sciences is crucial. All reconstructive conclusions must be supported by established facts; in no case must they be merely the profiler's assumptions. Profiling conclusions must have a logical basis supported by analytical reasoning and must be reached through scientific methods. All data on which crime scene analysis and criminal profiling is based must be made available and provided in the form of a presentation or citation (Petherick & Turvey, 2008).

Figure 4: A criminal profiler in a state of work (Maryville University, n.d.).

Deriving behavioral evidence from physical evidence is a difficult process that requires the analysis to be conducted by professionals with forensic education, training, and experience. This means that profilers must apply scientific methods when interpreting behavioral evidence. The same applies when conducting crime scene reconstruction, which should imperatively be done by a forensic scientist. However, the reality is different, and it is often the practice that criminal profilers think that by being a profiler they are automatically competent to perform activities such as crime scene reconstruction. It is important to note that if a criminal profiler is not also a forensic scientist who is educated in the field, then they should not be conducting these reconstructions solely by themselves when trying to understand offenders' crime-related behavior based on physical evidence (Turvey, 2008).

The aim of BEA is an objective analysis of behavioral patterns inferred from physical evidence gathered from the crime scene. It is by no means founded upon data drawn from statistics. This specific approach, based on an individual evaluation, is precisely what distinguishes this method from others. Although the BEA method tries to be innovative, especially in its objectivity and in basing its results exclusively on existing evidence, this method has its limitations. One of these limitations is its execution, which is often attempted by people without the necessary training, or who are educated only in some of the areas that BEA requires for its implementation. As the above facts show, the job of a good criminal profiler is indeed a challenging one. A profiler is an individual like any other, and despite this fact, a profiler must be able to detach themselves in order to be able to conduct profiling objectively. Given the knowledge gained, behavioral evidence analysis has potential, but it requires an infallible human factor for it to produce successful results.

Bibliographical References

Fintzy, R. T. F. (2000). Criminal profiling: An introduction to behavioral evidence analysis. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 157(9), 1532–1534.

Petherick, W. A., & Turvey, B. (2008). Behavioural evidence analysis: Ideo-deductive method of criminal profiling. In B. E. Turvey (Ed.), Criminal profiling: An introduction to behavioural evidence analysis (3rd ed., pp. 133-153). Elsevier.

Turvey, B. E. (2008). Criminal profiling: An introduction to behavioral evidence analysis. Academic Press.

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Greta Nachajova

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