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: 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:
Criminal Profiling 101: Criminal Investigative Analysis
Criminal Profiling 101: Behavioral Evidence Analysis
Criminal Profiling 101: Misconceptions vs. Reality About Serial Killers
Criminal Profiling 101: Spree Killer
Criminal Profiling 101: Mass Murderer
Criminal Profiling 101: Criminal Investigative Analysis
In the last few decades, the term “criminal profiling” became known thanks to movies and crime series such as Silence of the Lambs, Mindhunter, and Criminal Minds. Based on these and other films and TV series, people have come to think that a person engaged in criminal profiling must have special abilities or superhuman powers. However, this claim is false, and criminal profiling is based on different foundations, in particular evidence and statistics, depending on which profiling method is used. Criminal investigative analysis (CIA) is a multidisciplinary analytical procedure that involves an indefinite number of interrelated processes that consist chiefly of organizing and analyzing data (Hasselt & Bourke, 2018). Given that criminal investigative analysis is considered one of the methods of criminal profiling that is now commonly presented in entertainment, the true meaning and definition of this method may be compromised if there is a lack of supporting literature addressing this concept. It is for this reason that this article will be devoted to a description of its meaning and methodology.
Figure 1: Image from the TV series about criminal profiling, Criminal Minds.
The use of criminal profiling as an auxiliary method to help catch an unknown offender dates back to the 19th century (Kocsis, 2006). It has been used to resolve cases that at first glance seemed bizarre and unsolvable. To solve these cases, investigators and experts combined their knowledge from psychiatry, psychology, and criminology, and applied their expertise to criminal profiling. This example of profiling is now commonly known as a Diagnostic Evaluation (DE). Since many of the elements of the criminal profiling method of the past are similar to those of the present, criminal investigative analysis cannot be claimed as the inventive method of criminal profiling. However, it is justly considered one of its kind as it represents the first conclusive body of research that specifically and systematically assesses violent crime profiling (Kocsis, 2006). The primary reason CIA was developed in the first place was to create a pragmatic method of criminal profiling that would be easily understandable and accessible to police personnel. Although CIA does not have any agreed-upon definition, the FBI refers to it as an investigative process that helps solve violent crimes by identifying the perpetrator's crucial personality and behavioral characteristics following the crimes the perpetrator committed (Hasselt & Bourke, 2018).
Like any other criminal profiling method, CIA is composed of several steps that gather information about the offense by which a profile of the offender can be created. These steps were introduced by the Crime Classification Manual as a process that is “quite similar to that used by clinicians to make [a] diagnosis and treatment plan” (Devery, 2010). The process consists of the following steps: evaluation of the criminal act itself, comprehensive evaluation of the specifics of the crime scene(s), comprehensive analysis of the victim, evaluation of preliminary police reports, evaluation of medical examiner's autopsy protocol, development of a profile with critical offender characteristics, and investigative suggestions predicated on the construction of the profile (Devery, 2010). Following these steps does not identify the real perpetrator, rather, it indicates the type of person who most likely committed the crime based on unique characteristics (Devery, 2010).
Figure 2: One of the steps of the Crime Classification Manual: evaluation of preliminary police reports (UC San Diego, 2023).
Later on, as criminal investigative analysis developed, it extended to further applications significant to the investigation of complex crimes. Such applications include sexual assault offenders, sexual homicide, interview/interrogation, reconstruction of a crime scene, typology, forensic pathology, blood analysis, and equivocal death analysis, which is used to determine if the death was an accident, homicide, or suicide. As part of CIA, analysts also study normal and abnormal behavior and provide construction analyses. Currently, CIA represents a multidisciplinary analytical process that represents any number of interconnected processes. Because CIA contains so many different processes, one person simply can not possess so much of the necessary knowledge to conduct a whole CIA process alone (Hasselt & Bourke, 2018). Criminal investigative analysis carries out many activities, but momentarily these activities and their methodological procedures have not been published; however, one case example will be demonstrated (Devery, 2010).
It is important to note that this case example shows how CIA services were provided in one case and that methods change and adapt individually in every case. In the 1980s, a male perpetrator was convicted of two murders and suspected of three more. Both of the murders the perpetrator was convicted of shared similarities: each victim was hitchhiking at the time of the murder, which turned out to be fatal for them, and later on, both bodies were found in similar manners at the side of the road. These two murders were approximately two months apart. The investigators spotted these similarities and sought help from criminal investigative analysts. Firstly, a general crime analysis was provided; it consisted of the identification of the shared characteristics and evaluation of the connection between the cases. Next, the victimology assessment and the analysis of the crime signature process were provided (Scherer & Jarvis, 2014).
Figure 3: Collecting evidence for criminal profiling purposes from the crime scene
(Police Oracle, 2020).
After evaluating the above variables, a profile of the unknown perpetrator was created which enabled the investigators to focus on the specific characteristics outlined by the analysts. According to the threat assessment conducted, it was clear that the perpetrator would kill again; therefore, the public had to be warned through the media. In the meantime, two more murders were unveiled. The investigators believed, based on the evidence they collected, that it was the same perpetrator. This led to further steps in the investigation, and a female decoy from the FBI was set in place to gather important information. Based on the information and evidence she collected, law enforcement was able to identify the perpetrator and convict him of those first two murders. At the same time, another victim was found in a body of water. This suggested that the perpetrator was watching the media and tried to change his modus operandi, which is a particular way of doing something, in this case, killing. As a result of this, investigators had to modify their investigative suggestions. Luckily, the investigators were successful, and the perpetrator was taken into custody where further methods of criminal investigative analysis were used. (Scherer & Jarvis, 2014). This example illustrates how this wide range of processes that fall within the CIA's remit can help detect an unknown perpetrator and, among other things, prevent them from committing further crimes.
As a result of the fact that CIA currently carries out several activities, debates have arisen as to whether this analysis can be directly linked with the term criminal profiling or whether, on the contrary, criminal profiling is only a certain part of it. According to Donald Cochran, an FBI profiler, while criminal investigative analysis consists of a detailed examination of all aspects of a specific crime committed by either a known or unknown perpetrator, criminal profiling is an analysis of a crime or a series of crimes committed by an unknown perpetrator, resulting in a detailed description of the type of person most likely to commit such crime, known as a "profile" (Devery, 2010). Cases with unknown perpetrators are generally unsolved cases involving murders and sexual assaults. Known offender cases are those where the offender has been identified and convicted, and thus involve the analysis and subsequent processing of data for future unknown offender profiling. Although the goal of criminal investigative analysis is not always to create an offender profile of the unknown perpetrator, CIA is generally acquired by the law enforcement community as a behavioral-based analysis of a crime; therefore, it will always, at least to some level, include profiling aspects (Hasselt & Bourke, 2018).
Figure 4: Criminal profiler analyzing profiles of possible perpetrators (Ignjatovic, M., n.d.).
The primary goal of CIA was to create an understandable and clear methodology that would be available to police personnel, thanks to which they could participate in the profiling of criminals and perhaps save some time and financial resources for law enforcement. However, this method has evolved over time and currently encompasses a wide range of related processes; therefore, a single person cannot perform an entire CIA alone. Criminal investigative analysis undoubtedly has many positive benefits in terms of criminal profiling, but it was not intended to serve as a substitute for a proper investigation. Currently, there are many different opinions on criminal investigative analysis. Some experts do not respect CIA as a method of criminal profiling, while others consider it a very helpful tool during the investigative process. Although the CIA cannot be considered a method used solely for profiling unknown offenders, it consists of various processes that are modified exclusively for this purpose. The criminal investigative analysis contributes to the expansion of criminal databases by examining and assisting in resolving closed cases and provides future potential profiling for unknown perpetrators, which makes it integral to the success of the justice system.
Devery, Ch. D. (2010). Criminal profiling and criminal investigation. Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, 26(4), 393–409.
Hasselt, V. V. B., & Bourke, M. L. (2018). Handbook of behavioral criminology (1st ed. 2017). Springer.
Kocis, R. N. K. (2006). Criminal profiling: principles and practice. Humana Press Inc.
Scherer, J. A. S., & Jarvis, J. P. J. (2014). Criminal investigative analysis: Practitioner perspectives (part one of four). FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin. https://leb.fbi.gov/articles/featured-articles/criminal-investigative-analysis-practitioner-perspectives-part-one-of-four
Cover Image: Orion Pictures via Everett Colle. (1991). [Close-up of Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter in the film Silence of the Lambs]. Retrieved from: https://www.today.com/popculture/silence-lambs-turns-25-see-8-facts-you-may-not-t71156?fbclid=IwAR30NL522FkzV5Aa68SNvkbr1RB_PMwHwz98FkcyDi49_noHRMVDh1ldDtQ
Figure 1: PARAMOUNT+. (2022). [Close-up of characters from the television show Criminal Minds]. Retrieved from: https://www.denofgeek.com/tv/how-criminal-minds-evolution-finally-deals-with-mental-health/
Figure 2: UC San Diego. (2023). [Photograph of one of the steps of the Crime Classification Manual: Evaluation of preliminary police reports]. Retrieved from: https://police.ucsd.edu/services/copies.html
Figure 3: Police Oracle. (2020). [Photograph of collecting evidence for criminal profiling purposes from the crime scene]. Retrieved from: https://www.policeoracle.com/news/Forensic-investigations-The-steep-path-to-accreditation_104099.html
Figure 4: Ignjatovic, M. (n.d.). [Photograph of criminal profiler analyzing profiles of possible perpetrators]. Retrieved from: https://www.appliedbehavioranalysisedu.org/forensic-behavior-analysis/how-to-become-a-criminal-profiler/