Category: Law Essay
Criminal Profiling

Criminal profiling stands on the brink of a practical application in the law-enforcement authorities’ service and a theoretical work in the field of psychology. It is a relatively new field of activity, which still does not have a unified system of concepts and its methodological base. The term ‘profiling’ has become widely known among the general public mainly because of such movies as Silence of the Lambs and several television shows. The FBI uses this term as a form of crime actions profiling. Sometimes, criminal profiling is replaced by investigative psychology or crime scene reconstruction. Various names of the discussed tactic that is used in a criminal investigation do not change its essence. It focuses on the study of material evidence from the crime scene, communication with victims and potential witnesses, and comparison of events and facts. Profiling development takes into account such variables as psychological and psychiatric indicators, demographic and geographic data, as well as national and religious information. For this reason, criminal profiling is a controversial, but useful tool for studying an unidentified person and is designed to assist investigators by constructing a psychological image of a criminal.

History of Criminal Profiling

Initially, profiling as a method was created to compose a psychological representation of a criminal on the basis of crime circumstances. It is believed that the first psychological profile of a perpetrator was created by an English surgeon Thomas Bond and a physician George Phillips in 1888. Based on available evidence and known consequences of the circumstances, they described the elusive identity of Jack the Ripper.

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In the twentieth century, criminal profiling was widely applied by officers of different security services. Members of the Israeli secret service developed a technique that allows to assess the emotional state of plane passengers and to identify possible potentially dangerous intentions. Such kind of system can be efficient in reducing a terrorist threat. For the most part, it is a system of questions that are aimed at identifying non-standard reactions of passengers on seemingly simple questions. This technique combines a small set of basic psychological behaviors and is more like a procedure for psychological testing. However, the use of profiling techniques has helped Israeli airline, El Al, to achieve a status of one of the safest in the world.

In the US, criminal profiling has been used since the last century and has justified and proved its existence and usefulness. One of the most striking examples is the story of George Meteski’s detention. He was known as the mad bomber. Since 1940, he was persecuted by the police of New York for 16 years. The criminal detonated 30 bombs in such public places as cinemas and others. In 1956, psychiatrist James Brussels, who assisted the New York state commissioner in mental health issues, was invited to support the investigation. His task was to study a manner of an unknown perpetrator and to examine crime scene photos and other documents. Brussels presented a detailed profile. According to the offender’s description, he was a married foreigner and an autodidact with paranoid tendencies. The psychiatrist also determined his hatred for Con Edison given the fact that the first bomb targeted the main building of the company. Brussels used a mixed method, which was based on empirical knowledge and guesswork. He suggested that the peak of paranoia was at 35 years and at that time the offender was about 50 years old. The profile was really effective because it helped the police to arrest Metesky in 1957 who immediately confessed.

In 1974, the FBI established a department for serial murders’ behavior study and the psychological analysis of rape cases. From 1976 to 1979, the FBI agents, including John Douglas and Robert Ressler, developed theoretical models and different categories of criminals based on the experience of 36 interviewed serial killers. At the modern stage, in the broadest sense, profiling is a complex socio-psychological technique for the diagnosis of personality characteristics, revelation of hidden motives, and evaluation of reported information based on the assessment of the non-verbal behavior of an object.

Criminal Profiling Influence on Evolving Investigation

The successful investigation of a crime depends on the ability not only to describe a typical murderer but also to make a detailed portrait that includes all of his or her features. Profiling experts base their activities on the collection and analysis of materials from crime scenes.

Profiling could be identified as the development of a criminal’s psychological portrait. It is not only science but also an art, which is practiced by certain individuals in the security sphere. Famous detective characters (Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, and others) have been created in their prototypes. Skeptics argue that modern professional methods of investigation differ significantly from the methods of criminal profiling. At the same time, both directions focus on a study of crime details that forms a basis for successful profiling

Initially, profiling was directed at finding underlying or background data, which provided an opportunity to make a bibliographical sketch of a suspected person. This approach contributes to the improvement of the criminal investigation as it is able to determine possible psychopathologies in criminal behavior. Profiling is an integral part of the CSI experts’ work. The American police continue to consult with psychiatrists in the investigation of crimes. However, the majority of criminal profiling is developed within the framework of law enforcement agencies like the FBI.

The method of the scene analysis developed by Douglas and Ressler and based on an organized-unorganized dichotomy has greatly influenced evolving investigations. The terms ‘organized’ and ‘unorganized’ related to the classification of crimes were firstly mentioned in 1980. According to this technique, offenders are classified according to the degree of their private organization and the sequence of their actions at the scene. It allows making significant conclusions about the characteristics of criminal personalities.

One of the important innovations in the process of investigation is geographical profiling. On the basis of circumstantial evidence, this type of profiling helps to build a map of criminal movements and identify perpetrator’s location as well as the area of residence. Geographic profiling is a system of strategic management of information based on the analysis and evaluation of the total and individual parts of the crime scene, victim assessment, and other material and non-material evidence aimed at supporting the production of violent criminal investigations. This model is not a direct way to build a psychological portrait, but it is directly related to the profile creation of an unknown offender. The geographic profile helps to clarify the psychological portrait and the focus of its application for increasing its usefulness since it analyzes various factors of crime combined with environmental elements.

If psychological profiling involves hypotheses about demographics, motivational, and psychological aspects of an offense, geographic profiling focuses on the crime scene and answers the question of how it can be related to the place of residence and/or principal place of business of an offender. The basis of geographic profiling is an assumption that serial offenders prefer to commit crimes in the vicinity of their domestic area or that they are at least familiar with a location where their crimes are committed. Therefore, geographic profiling can be useful in the investigation process of an unknown offender by determining the intended area of residence or narrowing the following crime alleged commission field. Geographic profiling could be useful not only in searching for serial perpetrators of violent crimes but also in finding performers of such property crimes as serial robberies.

Profiling Use Mechanism in Inquiry of Committing Crimes

A skillful profiler is able to reconstruct a whole process of a crime and its dynamics, as well as create an outline of what was happening at the scene. It helps to determine the personality type of the offender and numerous other aspects that can narrow down the circle of suspects.

The process of the expert’s profiling elaboration is very similar to the work of a physician who uses similar methods to plan diagnostics and treatment. Firstly, there is a detailed data collection and analysis provided. Secondly, the reconstructed situation provides an opportunity to consider the stages of the criminal’s behavior. Thirdly, a profile is developed and discussed with a wide range of professionals for improvement. All three phases allow reaching maximum success. The created profile can be used for searching an offender, his or her approximate place of residence, a range of interests, habits, features of behavior, etc.

Drawing up a professional profile should be based not only on the study of evidence from the crime scene. The mechanism of its creation also includes such aspects as the environment and weather conditions. For this purpose, profilers often use statistics. Moreover, a significant role is played by the victim. Particularly important issues for the personality research are the following: reputation, habits, fears, social circle, sphere of activity, physical and psychological characteristics, financial status, family relationships, social behavior, and interests. Thus, the creation of the criminal profile can be sold only if the study of all participants is conducted.

Adherents of traditional investigative techniques learn the basics of profiling through the methods of scientific assumptions and brainstorming. In many respects, profiling is based on the use of intuition. It gives some reason to believe that it does not have a solid scientific basis. Quality profiling does not depend on particular education, but on rich experience gained over the years. A specialist, who has studied many unique cases in practice, improving a mastership in designing psychological portraits of criminals, becomes more attentive to details. By studying a crime scene, the profiling expert can make the first approximation to determine the motives of a murderer and critical factors that have played a key role in committing a crime.

Profiling is especially useful in the case of serial sexual crimes such as serial rape and serial killings. This is due to the fact that in the area of sexual offenses the more extensive research base than in killings is available. Moreover, profiling is often ineffective in identifying criminals in such types of criminal activities as fraud, burglary, robbery, political crimes, petty theft, and crimes related to drugs because of the limited research background. However, in recent years significant successes have been achieved in this field.

Criminal Profiling as a Tool of the National Security Service

Criminal profiling is one of the support methods used to identify offenders at the national level. Among the most dangerous threats to national security, terrorism, trafficking in persons, drugs, and weapons can be highlighted. Cybercrime also represents one of the global threats. However, profiling is ineffective in this area because criminals do not act directly, but through Internet networks. Such offenders could be identified with a small probability in the case of their registration on official Internet portals through a detailed analysis of the data provided by them. However, no one can be sure that the account information is accurate. Thus, consideration of profiling application in this direction is not a priority.

At the international level, profiling techniques are subject to serious criticism due to certain circumstances. Locally, criminal profiling is used to catch a single criminal. After examining the place of a particular crime, an image of a specific person is created. At the national level, large groups of people who belong to a certain race and nationality could come under suspicion for terrorism or trafficking. Precedents give grounds to subject the criminals’ compatriots and the same-nationality representatives to undeserved doubts. For example, after the terrorist attacks on 9/11 in New York and on November 13, 2015, in Paris, all the Muslims have become a priori suspected of committing a potential terrorist attack. In 2009, an American citizen, Abdul Aziz, who worked as an advocate for the United States Library of Congress, was quarantined with his friend and family because of the American airport security service’s suspicions.

The racial and ethnic profiling encompasses clear and accessible and, at the same time, unacceptable practices because it gives an opportunity to detain citizens not because of reasonable grounds, but because of stereotypes. The principles of equality and non-discrimination are concerns of the human rights law and standards that are recognized as jus cogens. For example, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights stated that the tenet of equality, the supremacy of law, and non-discrimination principles apply to the norms of jus cogens because the entire legal structure of the national and international social order is grounded on this primary idea, which runs through the system of law.

Using a set of indicators for profiling of potential suspects, in principle, could become a permissible measure of investigation, which can be an important enforcement tool. However, profiling is the process of selection on the basis of one or more indicators, which together reflect characteristics of a person, a passenger, or even cargo that poses danger. When law enforcement officials use broad profiles that reflect unexamined generalizations for the purposes of combating terrorism or trafficking, such practice may be a disproportionate intervention in the sphere of human rights.

Criminal profiling should evolve to new (cyber-terrorism) and growing (international terrorism and trafficking) threats to national security in the next ways.

Firstly, considering cyber systems, profiling techniques must be oriented to preventing crimes. Offenders must be determined after personal communication with a suspected person. This approach requires a certain flexibility of the security system and innovative approaches to address the situation. To prevent crime, a suspected individual must be examined by psychologists and a profile can be created on the basis of direct contact.

Secondly, the principles of racial or ethnic profiling should be corrected based on the combined approach. Its application may be allowed by additional verification factors. Probably, some terrorist attacks could have been prevented if performers had been detained beforehand. However, due to ethical reasons, it was impossible. However, a middle-ground solution can be found. For example, if there are any suspicions concerning a few individuals, the security can arrange conversations and testing for a specific group of people, which the suspected persons belong to (e.g. passengers). This approach cannot be regarded as an act of discrimination, but in conditions of high volatility in international security, it can be a necessary measure to be adopted by conscious citizens.

Using profiling or similar devices must comply strictly with international principles of necessity, proportionality, and non-discrimination and should be subject to close judicial oversight and periodic review.


Criminal profiling is a specific technique that provides essential help in investigating crimes. Despite the fact that it is not recognized as an official science, profiling is widely used by security services in all developed countries. Criminal profiling combines psychological approaches for the modeling of the criminal’s portrait. Profile development takes into account such common characteristics as nationality, race and age data, religious accessories, etc. An accurately constructed profile is able to significantly narrow down the circle of suspects and accelerate the process of crime detection. Criminal profiling has qualitatively impacted the evolution of the investigation process. It has given an opportunity to make broader examinations of the perpetrator’s identity and to expand the set of conclusions, which are made after studying the material evidence. Profiling can be used to ensure national security. At the same time, it becomes a subject of intense debates because it can violate human rights and international agreements on the fight against discrimination. Thus, profiling techniques used at the national level must be supported by the additional evidence base.

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