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Criminal Profiling

What is criminal profiling?

Criminal profiling is an important part of a criminal psychology. This part of an article will partially answer questions about what criminal profiling is, what it is used for, what is aim of it, in which cases it is mostly used, what are it’s types and what kind of approaches it has.


In short, Criminal profiling (also known as offender profiling and specific profile analysis) is to create a psychological and not only psychological portrait, determine location of the offenders  by gathering their personal attributes from crime scene behavior in order to assist in detection of them.

Criminal profiling is typically used when offender’s identity is unknown and with serious criminal offences such as murder, sexual assault. Profilers also work on crime series, where is considered, that the crime is committed by the same offender.

What creates an offender profile is not clearly agreed, but the process of profiling draws both,  physical and nonphysical information. This includes the layout of the crime scene in terms of disposition of the victim and the presence or absence of significant items, evidence on what was done to the victim and the sequence of events,and the perpetrator’s behavior before and after the crime. From these data, inferences are drawn about the possible meaning and motivation of particular acts. For example, tying up a victim may mean a necessity for control, while stabbing the victim before sexual intercourse may mean a need for arousal from pain or blood. Characteristics of the victim, location of the crime, use of a vehicle, and relation to previous crimes may also suggest social and demographic features of the offender, such as race, age or occupation.

The goal is to narrow the field of investigation, basic assumptions are, that an offender’s behavior at the crime scene reflects consistencies in personality and method of committing crime  (Holmes, 1989). In the majority of cases Criminal profiling is used in serial crimes and sexual assaults and 90% of profiling attempts involve murder or rape. Holmes suggests, that profiling is most useful when the crime scene reflects psychopathology, such as sadistic assaults, rapes or satanic and cut killings. However, there have been cases of it’s use in arson, obscene telephone calls and bank robbery.

There are two main directions of Criminal profiling: The profiling of an criminal’s personal characteristics and geographical profiling. Most commonly, the first one is what people most commonly associate with criminal profiling.

A geographical profiler could be asked to identify the location of an offender’s home, an offender profiler might be asked to construct profile of an unknown offender based on his/hers behavior at the crime scene. A profiler may also be asked to advise police about which particular suspect should be interviewed and how. In addition to it, Ainsworth has identified four main approaches to criminal profiling, these are:

The geographical approach – this looks at patterns in the location and timing of offences to make judgements about links between crimes and suggestions about where offenders live and work.

Investigative psychology – this grew out of geographical profiling and uses established psychological theories and methods of analysis to predict offender characteristics from offending behavior.

The typological approach – this involves looking at the characteristics of crime scenes to assign offenders to different categories, each category of offender having different typical characteristics.

The clinical approach – this approach uses insights from psychiatry and clinical psychology to aid investigation where an offender is thought to be suffering from a mental illness of other psychological abnormality.

The Process

The basic assumptions

When profiling characteristics of a person, a offender profiler assumes, that the offender’s behavior is directed by the way he/she thinks and  his/her characteristics. Although, “how they think how they behave” principle is not flawless, because sometimes an offender’s behavior may be affected by involvement of another person, such as victim or witness and in result a drawing of an his/her characteristics becomes more complicated. It is the job of a criminal profiler to infiltrate a behavior that is indicative of a person rather than of the situation.

The process of criminal profiling can be divided into five stages:

  1. Profiling inputs
  2. Decision processing
  3. Crime assessment
  4. The offender profile
  5. Investigative use

Profiling inputs

This step involves gathering all the information about the crime. This may be any kind of information that would help understand what happened, how it happened and why. On this stage gathering of background information about the victim such as his/her employment, activities, friends, habits, social status, criminal history is also very important.

Decision processing

During this step, all the information gathered in the first stage is being organized in order classify the crime by type and style. A correct classification will assist profiler in determining the direction of investigation.

For the purposes of this step the answer to relevant questions about the crime will help. These may be:

  • Where did the action take place?
  • Why would a person commit the crime, what would his primary motive be?
  • Why offender might have chosen the specific victim?
  • What did he/she do in order to reduce the risk of detection, does the offender seem to be amateur or professional, or at least how intelligent he/she may be?

The FBI has developed its own manual of classification and  they have a checklist of symptoms and by accumulation of their presence the offender will be assigned to a specific classification.

The more specific classification a criminal act falls in the better. For example, a murder can be divided into many types of classification, such as:

  • Constant murder (third party)
  • Gang-motivated murder
  • Kidnap murder
  • Drug murder
  • Insurance related murder with sub-classifications of individual profit and commercial profit
  • Personal cause homicide with sub-classifications such as domestic homicide, argument/conflict murder, revenge, nonspecific motive murder, extremist homicide, mercy/hero homicide.
  • Sexual homicide, which can also be classified as organized, disorganized, mixed, sadistic, elder female sexual homicide.

Crime assessment

After summarizing all the information gathered in previous steps, the crime assessment is made. The primary aim of this stage is reconstructing a sequence of events that took place before, during and after committing a crime and determine the behavior of both, victim and offender.

The offender profile

This stage focuses on hypothesizing about the type of a person who committed an offence. The created profile will include information, which describes offender. In some examples this information will include age, sex, location, social status, intelligence, physiological characteristics, etc.

The investigative use

There are two main ways in which an offender profile can help in investigation. Firstly, criminal profilers make a report for investigators so that they will concentrate their efforts on finding an offender, that matches characteristics in the profile and secondly it will be used for planning an interview process of suspects.

It is worth admitting also, that the profile may change during the investigative use.


The use of offender profiling is controversial. Many people don’t believe in it, because it is not an exact science. One of the flaws of offender profiling is “Stereotyping.” this occurs in a case, when profiler starts believing something about a person based on small number of characteristics. Many unsuccessful profiles are created if they are based solely on Stereotyping.

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