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Criminal Profiling. © 2006 by Nelson, a Division of Thomson Canada Limited. What is a Criminal Profile?.

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Criminal Profiling

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Criminal profiling l.jpg

Criminal Profiling

© 2006 by Nelson, a Division of Thomson Canada Limited


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What is a Criminal Profile?

An educated attempt to provide specific information about a certain type of suspect (Beberth, 1981) and as a biographical sketch of behavioural patterns, trends and tendencies (Vorpagel, 1982)

(cited in Wrightsman & Porter, 2006, p. 75)


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  • Profiling is “a technique for identifying the major personality and behavioural characteristics of an individual based upon an analysis of the crimes he or she committed” (Douglas et al., as cited in Pozzulo, Bennell & Forth, 2006, p. 106)


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The Criminal Profiler

  • Criminal profiler: the individual who examines evidence from crime scene, victims, witnesses

    • Goal: attempt to construct an accurate description of the perpetrator

© 2006 by Nelson, a Division of Thomson Canada Limited


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Criminal Profiling:Observations of Skeptics

  • Training is controlled by law-enforcement

  • Number of criminal profiling jobs is small

  • Most profilers have not done graduate work in psychology but have advanced through the ranks of law-enforcement

  • Experienced profilers acknowledge that profiling is more of an art than a science

  • Expert testimony is not admissible attrial

© 2006 by Nelson, a Division of Thomson Canada Limited


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Why Develop a Criminal Profile?

1. Problems of Serial Criminal Behaviour

  • Serial crimes are a major concern to the Canadian public

    • e.g., Clifford Olsen and Paul Bernardo

© 2006 by Nelson, a Division of Thomson Canada Limited


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Why Develop a Criminal Profile?

2. False Stereotypes and Simplified Assumptions

e.g., bank robber

e.g., embezzler

e.g., murderer

© 2006 by Nelson, a Division of Thomson Canada Limited


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Why Develop a Criminal Profile?

3. Recurring Mysteries

Matching info from the crime scene with characteristics of a specific suspect

  • E.g., Jeffrey MacDonald

© 2006 by Nelson, a Division of Thomson Canada Limited


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Early Criminal Profiling

  • Documented history can be traced to Malleus Malificarum

  • First modern example: “Jack the Ripper”

© 2006 by Nelson, a Division of Thomson Canada Limited


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The “Mad Bomber”

  • Over 16 years (starting in 1940), homemade bombs were being detonated in public places


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Dr. James A. Brussel’s Profile

  • Bomber believed that some grave injustice had been done him by Consolidated Edison

  • He was “symmetrically built; perpendicular and girth development in good ration; neither fat nor skinny”

  • He distrusted police and despised male authority


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Criminal Profile Procedures

  • Examine the crime scene, knowledge of victim, & all forensic evidence

  • Sequence of events & behaviour of both the perpetrator & victim are reconstructed

  • Classify the crime

  • WHAT + WHY = WHO


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Criminal Profile Procedures

  • Deductive vs. Inductive


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Profiling: Crime Scene Characteristics

  • Is the pattern of behaviour similar to that seen in other cases?

  • Modus Operandi

  • Signature

© 2006 by Nelson, a Division of Thomson Canada Limited


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Homicide Classification

  • Mass murder

  • Spree murder

  • Serial murder

© 2006 by Nelson, a Division of Thomson Canada Limited


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Homicide Classification

  • Organized vs. Disorganized Homicides

© 2006 by Nelson, a Division of Thomson Canada Limited


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Can Criminal Profiling Help?

  • Viewed as operationally useful by 82.6% of police officers

    • only 2.7% said this was because the profile led to identification of the offender

© 2006 by Nelson, a Division of Thomson Canada Limited


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Dangers of Profiling

  • Investigator Myopia

  • False Confidence

© 2006 by Nelson, a Division of Thomson Canada Limited


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Effectiveness of Profiling?

  • Are Professional Profilers Better?

    • Pinzzotto and Finkel (1990)

      • Professionals were:

      • 2X as accurate in predictions as detectives

      • 3X more accurate than psychologists

      • Almost 5X more accurate than students

© 2006 by Nelson, a Division of Thomson Canada Limited


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Evaluating the Benefits of Profiling

  • can lead to more efficient use of the detective’s time

  • Not a panacea; a tool to facilitate the work of the investigators

© 2006 by Nelson, a Division of Thomson Canada Limited


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Profiling Advancements in Canada

Violent Crime Linkage Analysis System (VICLAS)

  • allows police in every province to record the information for all solved and unsolved homicides, sexual assaults, and unidentified bodies

  • potential linkages with other crimes in Canada

© 2006 by Nelson, a Division of Thomson Canada Limited


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Profiling Advancements in Canada (cont’d)

Geographic Profiling

  • A computer-based program developed by Kim Rossmo

  • Considers the pattern of documented crime scene locations to provide a statistical estimate of the probable residence or base of operations of a serial offender

© 2006 by Nelson, a Division of Thomson Canada Limited


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Racial Profiling

-any police initiated action that relies on the race or ethnicity of an individual, rather than that individual’s criminal behaviour


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