Offender profiling is a key tool in the study of
criminology and forensic psychology that has shaped the way law enforcement
identifies potential suspects allowing for increase in success of preventing future
attacks by the same perpetuator. It is a tool that police frequently turn to
today in order to tackle tough and high-profile cases (Young, 2006). Generally,
the idea behind offender profiling is that one can recognize major personality
and behavioral characteristics of a person based on analyzing the crime they have
committed (Douglas, Ressler, Burgess and Hartman, 1986). Two methodological
approaches to offender profiling that will be discussed in this paper are the
FBI approach, commonly known at the clinical approach, and the British
statistical approach. The approaches are quite opposite from one another, as
the FBI approach is referred to as more of an art than science and is more
clinical, while the statistical approach is heavily reliant on statistics and
quantitative data. Both of these approaches take information from the crime
scene, looking closely into how the crime was executed in order to make
predictions about the person who perpetrated the crime. This paper will be evaluating
the effectiveness of both of these approaches when it comes to developing an
The FBI Clinical Approach
In the United States, the FBI uses the clinical approach
when forming offender profiles. This approach was introduced in the FBI in
1970, when Robert Ressler formulated a plan to study the behavior of serial
killers (Gutzeit, 2001). In this approach, there is a large emphasis on motive
and reasons, where it is possible to identify the behavioral characteristics of
an offender through examining the visual characteristics of the crime scene and
offense. An offender profile is a psychological portrait of a killer; it
establishes a map of the mind of the killer (Gutzeit, 2001). If you can get
into the mind of the killer, you can begin to understand their intentions and reasoning,
which could allow for connections to be made between crimes. This would
potentially allow for capture of the perpetuator and prevention of any future
In order to get into the mind of the
offender, profiler experts look into the thinking patters and motives behind
each crime or offense. They then in a way begin to emphasize with the criminals
in order to really try to understand the criminal. The process of linkage
analysis is also key for this approach, as profilers compare previous cases in
an attempt to find connections and similarities between crimes and previously
identified personalities in hopes of connecting crimes that are committed by
the same person. Within the clinical approach, there are several typologies
used to classify offenders. According to the FBI (1985), an organized killer
will exert a greater amount of force in an offense that was well thought-out, being
mindful of leaving as little evidence as possible in order to not be detected. On
the contrary, a disorganized killer will most likely commit the crime
spontaneously, more messily, and with little to none force, leaving a great
amount of evidence behind. The organized and disorganized typology of serial
killers was taken and developed further through the investigative interviews of
36 killers who were sexually driven when committing their crimes (Ressler et
al., 1988). Based on this typology, the killer lives an orderly life, reflected
in the crimes committed by him (Ressler et al., 1988). The following would all
be concluded based on the crime scene found: he would be of high intelligence, would
be socially adequate, and would exert force when needed. The disorganized
killer would show opposite characteristics, as the crime scene would reflect.
The organized and disorganized typology has been used in many law enforcement
investigations across the United States as well as other countries throughout
the world (Snook, Cullen, Bennell, Taylor, and Gendreau, 2008).
Another greatly known typology is that of Holmes
and Holmes (2002) which developed off an earlier typology (Holmes and Holmes,
1998). Initially, they outlined five different types of serial killers: the
visionary killer, the mission killer, the hedonistic-thrill killer, the
hedonistic-lust killer, and the power/control oriented killer. In a most recent
publication, they were only 4 typologies, the hedonistic-thrill and
hedonistic-lust killers got combined into solely the hedonistic lust serial
killer (Holmes and Holmes, 2002). While these typologies are not exclusive, Holmes
and Holmes claim that when analyzing an offender’s behavior, it is more than
likely going to tie more closely to one of the four types and thus be able to
be classified (Canter and Wentink, 2004).
The British Statistical
When looking at the approach founded by David Canter,
there is a distinct shift from the criminal mind to emphasis on behavior in the
sense of how the perpetuator selects and “treats” the victim. In the statistical
profiling approach, both geography and behaviorism are looked at during crime
scene analysis (Ainsworth, 2001). This
approach uses data from previous crimes committed to estimate probabilities of
an outcome as well as contrasts new cases to cases that have been investigated
in the past (Snook et al., 2008). A data base was created using the concept of
base rates, where one can find occurrences of certain behaviors in a particular
group of individuals over time. Specifically, in a data base about rape and the
behaviors it involves, the data can be used to explain behaviors associated with
a crime of rape that deviate from the “standard” rape case thus showing unique
behaviors that could be searched for in past rape cases.
In Canter & Heritage’s Strange Rape Study
(1990), 66 rape cases were examined where they identified 33 types of behaviors
that either occurred or did not occur in the investigated rape cases. A method
tied to Facet Theory was used to identify five “facets” of sexual offending
based on the behavior of the offenders as they committed the crimes (Dancer,
1990). This allowed for the creation of behavioral patterns of rapists leading
to the formation on themes based on the categorized behaviors. As the statistical
approach builds on past cases, this was an important step in advancing offender
profiling specifically to rape offenders. Identifying an offender profile
according to Canter is simply looking at the lifestyle of the offender (Canter,
2000). Some ideas to keep in mind include: important behavior features of the
crime that may help identify the offender, appropriate ways to specify differences
between crimes and offenders, inferences made about characteristics of offender
that could identify him, crimes committed by the same individuals (Canter,
The five facets found, intimacy
sexuality, violence, impersonal, and criminality were important in that they served
a crucial step in connecting offenders’ behaviors and characteristics portrayed
in differentiation to their assumed motives (Canter and Heritage, 1990). Several
years later, through analyzing 105 additional rape cases, Canter (1994)
discovered that rapists’ behavior can be based on the role the victim plays to
Evaluation of Approaches
As the FBI approach is
completely opposite of Canter’s, it is not surprising to learn about his
criticisms. “The typologies were not quantitatively tested,” and deficiencies were
found in the profiles produced by members of the FBI (Alison and Canter, 1999).
Canter strictly has an issue with how
this approach is not scientific. Holmes and De Burger (1988) stated that the
profiling that was initially conducted based on interviews was strictly guessed
and did not appear accurate or representative. When looking at the organized and
disorganized typology, it can be said that it is based on an extremely minimal
sample group of sexual murderers who were interviewed, which lacks the ability
to be compared (Coleman and Norris, 2000). In many cases it has been shown that
crime scenes are usually mixed when it comes to organized and disorganized
typologies, thus it is hard to show evidence that the typologies are valuable.
Even though typologies
may have descriptive principles, they have not been able to provide profilers
and experts with the necessary tools to effectively assess crime scenes (Keppel
and Birnes, 2003). Keppel adds that he has seen very few law enforcement
personal use the typologies published by Douglass et al. Furthermore, the
typologies are not used by major homicide tracking systems due to the lack of
detail of the approaches.
(2004) claims that the interviews were based on the offenders self-reporting
which is prone to bias and inaccuracy as the qualitative data is based strictly
on what they say, which they could be remembering wrongly or there is even the
possibility of them lying. Canter is also rejecting of the idea of being able
to get into the minds of criminals. Also, as material from crime scene in most
cases can be incomplete, behavioral characteristics such as why the victim was
chosen and what was done to the victim must be looked at, rather than trying to
figure out the motives and thoughts of the criminal.
Overall, the clinical approach entirely relies
on the reasoning, experience, and intuition of the perpetuator to provide clues
that would allow for valuable development offender profiles. However, this is a
very subjective and biased process, that no matter how skilled a profiler can
be, perspectives and conclusions will vary from person to person and this will
appear to be extremely inconsistent and be heavily criticized. Also, as skilled
as a profiler can be, regardless of how much they are willing and able to
emphasize with perpetuators, they will never be able to truly place themselves
in the shoes of a serial killers. They will never know the true thoughts and
feelings experienced by serial killers, that motivate them to commit the crimes
that they do, it is simple as that. This will always be a negative aspect to
taking the qualitative route, as there will not be concrete evidence like you
would be able to find in statistical and quantitative data.
While many limitations
were found for the clinical approach, the statistical approach is not perfect
either. Statistics alone do not predict the future, and even if having past occurrences
accessible to try and find connections to current cases, it cannot be expected that
the past will be similar to or in any way be able to predict the future (Copson
et al., 1997). You also cannot assume that people who may share characteristics
will commit crimes in the same ways. Humans are extremely complex, and as many similarities
may be found in the behavior of one serial killer to another, it is impossible
to know their true intentions and that this crime was committed due to those
behaviors or as a result of something entirely different that will not be
possible to be known.
The Canter and Heritage
study (1990) was tried to be replicated by Sturidsson et al in 2006 in regards
to the five facets of sexual offense behaviors, however due to sampling
differences, the replication was not successful. Some of the offenders in
Canter and Heritage’s study were sexual offenders with repeated convictions
which poses as an issue since the subjects were not controlled and there will
now be an issue of generalizability as well as inconsistency of the
Offender profiling has played an immense
role in helping police officers and agents being able better analyze crime
scenes and create offender profiles in the hopes of catching the perpetuator and
preventing future crimes. As the statistical and clinical approaches are some
of many other profiling approaches, they are both important in shaping the
history and advance of offender profiling. Overall, I can confidentially say
that I do not think that either approach should be used alone when creating
offender profiles. Both approaches are entirely opposite from one another, one scientific
and one entirely based on experts’ assumptions.
It is still important to keep in mind
that although there are many limitations to the FBI approach, the FBI after all
were the first ones to develop offender profiling with the purpose of catching
individuals whose behaviors compare to behaviors of the perpetuators identified
in crime scenes.
Something that would be important to keep
in mind is to limit assumptions when creating profiles, as assumptions can
distort and take away from the validity of profiles. For example, when assessing
a crime scene, an offender’s behaviors could be immediately assumed to be based
on their characteristics rather than by the situation and the larger picture.
In general, it would be useful to use an approach that takes a route combining
both approaches, so that there are factual statistics as well as more
observations and a case-by-case application as this would ensure a greater
accuracy in finding and arresting the right person. Of course it would be more
time consuming, but combining both approaches could provide more accurate
results that will provide a greater success and turn out rate of catching
offenders based on profiles.
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