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Criminal Profiling 101: Introduction


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: Introduction

Even though criminal profiling has been applied for centuries, for instance in the 19th century to catch the infamous Jack the Ripper, the term was first used by a small group of FBI analysts in 1974 due to the rising number of cases of rape and homicide (Winerman, 2004); they founded the Behavioral Science Unit (BSU) that same year. Later on, in 1990, it was re-established as the Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU), which was created as a part of the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime (NCAVC) and it remains until the present day.

Image 1: Illustration of one of Jack the Ripper's victims (Le Petit Parisien, 1891)

To frame the term "criminal profiling": it is an investigative tool used to help investigators identify the probable perpetrator based on the information gathered from victims' testimonies and crime scene analysis. Nowadays, some crimes can be easily solved due to advanced technologies such as DNA tests or fingerprint matches. However, this forensic evidence is not always obtainable; in such cases, criminal profiling can be a very useful tool to help solve the crime (Ibe et al., 2012).

This method comprises the identification of personality traits, behavioral tendencies, geographic locations, and demographic or biological descriptions of the perpetrator (Kocsis, 2006). The goal of criminal profiling is to narrow down the circle of possible suspects according to age, intellectual level, sex, etc. Instead of identifying the exact person who committed the crime, police specialists construct hypotheses about how the crime was committed and what the perpetrator might have felt or thought (Kubík, 2019).

Image 2: Criminal profiling in Mindhunter, a psychological crime thriller series about interviewing serial killers (Patrick Harbron: Netflix, 2017)

Criminal profiling entails creating an image of the perpetrator, their manners, attitude, way of thinking, and feelings. This process can be conducted by using one of the two main approaches in criminal profiling: inductive and deductive profiling. On the one hand, deductive profiling is based on the profiler’s direct observations of the crime scene. The crime scene reflects the suspect’s behavioral signature, mood, IQ level, and physical and mental stage. Multiple characteristics can be drawn from the crime scene observation such as the perpetrator’s height, sex, or, for example, signs of deviant behavior. On the other hand, inductive profiling is based on statistical data collected from crimes that occurred in a certain period prior to the crime which is being investigated (Kubík, 2019). Currently, there are no universal guidelines for criminal profiling methodology, but each of the existing types of criminal profiling is grounded in either an inductive or deductive approach.

With regard to the application of scientific methods, criminal profiling can be divided into two types: the idiographic and the nomothetic method. Idiographic means the study of a particular thing; if applied to criminal profiling that would represent a study of a concrete person. The current idiographic method of criminal profiling is Behavioral Evidence Analysis. By contrast, nomothetic implies the study of the characteristics of a specific group of offenders. There are four main types of nomothetic criminal profiling methods: criminal investigative analysis (CIA), diagnostic evaluation (DE), investigative psychology (IP), and geographic profiling (Petherick & Turvey, 2008). The criminal investigative analysis is currently the most frequently used method, along with behavioral evidence analysis, which is based on an opposite approach and will be discussed later in the following articles.

Image 3: Crime scene (Freepik, n.d.)

According to Holmes and Holmes (Muller, 2000), only some crimes are appropriate for criminal profiling. It should be mostly used as a tool to investigate crimes such as rape, arson, and violent or ritualistic crimes with signs of the psychopathology of a perpetrator. It is important to bear in mind that criminal profiling is used only as an aid in solving the crime. In most cases, criminal profiling will not be accurate enough to point out a certain individual; rather, it should indicate the right direction when there are no clues (Muller, 2000). To increase the chance of successful and reliable results of criminal profiling a variety of information must be given. This includes statistical data and physical evidence, depending on the method used (Petherick et al., 2010). The data must be accurate otherwise they can give false leads to the investigators, and as a result, this can prolong or compromise the investigation, and it can even have life-threatening or fatal consequences.

Although criminal profiling can be traced back to the blood-labeling of Jews in Rome, in 38 CE, it is a discipline that still needs to be investigated and its efficacy still must be proven. It can be a very useful tool when there are no clues to further the investigation process, but, at the same time, it can be equally destructive when the acquired information is inaccurate. Regardless of which criminal profiling method is being used, it is necessary to be attentive to the accuracy and credibility of the information on the basis of which the method evaluates the given criminal profile.

Currently, there are multiple criminal profiling methods, all using a different approach. None of these methods are considered faultless or completely wrong; experts and scientists from various fields continue to refute or confirm the plausibility of these methods. It is important to understand that every criminal profile needs to have a theoretical and an empirical basis, otherwise it is just an allegation. To acquire proper theoretical and empirical data which will determine the most significant criminal profiling method much more work, time, and cooperation between criminologists, psychologists and the FBI are required.

Bibliographical Sources

Ibe, P. I., Ochie, Ch. O., & Obiyan, E. O. (2012). Racial misuse of "criminal profiling" by law enforcement: intentions and implications. African Journal of Criminology and Justice Studies, 6(1 & 2), pp. 177–196.

Kocis, R. N. K. (2006). Criminal profiling: principles and practice. Humana Press Inc.

Kubík, O. K. (2019). Investigatívna psychológia (2nd ed., Vols. 54–59). Wolters Kluwer.

Muller, D. A. M. (2000). Criminal profiling: real science or just wishful thinking? Sage Journal, 4(3), pp. 234–264.

Petherick, W.A., & Turvey, B.E. (2008). Criminal profiling. In B.E. Turvey (Ed.), An introduction to behavioral evidence analysis (pp.75-111). Elsevier Academic Press.

Petherick, W. A., Turvey, B. E., & Ferguson, C. E. (2010). Forensic Criminology. Elsevier Academic Press.

Winerman,L.W (2004). Criminal profiling: The reality behind the myth. American Psychological Association, 35(7), p. 66.

Visual Sources

Cover Image: Freepik. (n.d.). Crime scene diagram board. [Illustration]. Retrieved from: Image 1: Le Petit Parisien. (1891). Illustration of one of Jack the Ripper's victims. [Illustration]. Retrieved from:

Image 2: Patrick Harbron/Netflix. (2017). Mindhunter: Psychological crime thriller series about interviewing serial killers. [Photo]. Retrieved from: Image 3: Freepik. (n.d.). Crime Scene. [Photo]. Retrieved from:


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Greta Nachajova

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