When people hear something about criminal profiling, they tend to think of TV programs, such as “Criminal Minds” and “Profilers”, and movies, such as “Silence of the Lambs”. Well, these productions portray a rather glamorous means of capturing criminal minds, unlike in the real world. The ability to analyze crime scenes and then use the discovered information to determine prospective perpetrators is the foundation of modern criminal profiling.
First used in the 1950s when patterns and similarities in specific criminal behaviors were discovered, criminal profiling follows crime scene patterns and applies the information learned to develop profiles used to help law enforcers with finding unknown criminals. While there are some clear pros to this process, there are also cons to it. Let us take a look at them, shall we?
List of Pros of Criminal Profiling
1. It provides useful investigative information.
If no one was able to see who committed a crime and there is no CCTV available, then the best way to get an idea of who to look for based on gathered evidence is criminal profiling. It can even predict where a future unlawful act may take place.
2. It gives investigators some information to work on how little it may be.
Even with the modern technology today, such as internet tracking and facial recognition, criminals can still escape the network. But by examining the criminal conduct at the crime scene, it would be possible to get an idea of the kind of person who is capable of committing it, allowing for leads to be pursued even if there is a lack of the actual identity of the offender.
3. It creates a heightened level of victim protection.
If law enforcers know that an unknown criminal is targeting a particular demographic, then they will be able to warn this group of people and move to protect them from becoming victims of a crime.
4. It is a helpful resource for serious crime.
Most of the time, criminal profiling occurs when there is a homicide and other serious crimes, such as rape and robbery, committed. It performs evaluation of the potential offender’s characteristics to develop a profile of an individual who might be the culprit. This resource can help with catching violent offenders, and the existence of profiles has even helped to proactively prevention certain crimes from happening.
5. It identifies personal characteristics to help solve investigations.
Criminal profiling often includes potential criminal history, age demographic, marital status and other important details of potential suspects. Though there is no physical description coming from a certain profile in some cases, common criminal traits can allow for an investigation to start.
6. It even requires no physical description to begin investigations.
Mostly, crimes are committed by someone who is living in the locality. Through criminal profiling, it is possible to start investigating individuals within the area who might have committed the crime. Under the assumption of possible guilt, this practice would involve calling in innocent people, but it also allows investigators to potentially find the guilty party.
List of Cons of Criminal Profiling
1. It profiles based only on educated assumptions.
For an offense that is being investigated through criminal profiling, the suspect can just be outside of the profile to get away with it. Law enforcers would be looking within the assumed but wrong profile, instead of one where the real culprit is in.
2. It adds information to a profile that is not based on facts.
One definitive drawback of criminal profiling is making personal assumptions about the perpetrator. It should be considered that not all bank robbers are living in poverty and not all serial rapists are single. As you can see, including stereotypes can lead to looking for the wrong suspects and excluding those who are guilty from suspicion.
3. It relies on facts about a crime scene that may not actually be facts.
Somehow related to the previous con, there are easy assumptions that are made when creating criminal profiles. For example, people steal food because they are hungry and steal money because they are broke. However, this is not always the case. Sometimes, people would steal certain things just for fun, while others would do it for the thrill.
4. It is based on consistency.
Though people tend to be oriented with certain routines, a different situation can cause them to react differently as well. A criminal who does what he does best on a regular basis would not do the same thing again if he finds out that law enforcement officers are looking for him.
5. Its methods are limited.
Up to this day, there are just seven methods and six scientific approaches that are used in criminal profiling. Individual profiles are created from these base units, and if someone fits outside of these methods, then developing an accurate profile is not possible.
6. It would sometimes employ unclear language.
An article by Malcolm Gladwell that was published in “The New Yorker” in 2007 describes the development of criminal profiling, especially the one practiced by the FBI, as a largely useless exercise that often relies on an ambiguous and unverifiable language that is more commonly used by physicists and astrologers. His claims are supported a psychologist at the University of Liverpool, England, Laurence Alison, who studied one FBI profile and found that it allowed for multiple interpretations to be made, rather than giving a clear description of the culprit.
As the pros and cons listed above suggest, criminal profiling can be helpful, but it is not perfect as well, as there is no solid proof that we can predict human behavior. Of course, we can examine decisions and patterns made in the past to create a likely solution that would work in catching criminals, but it may snag the innocent as well. Nevertheless, criminal profiling has been successfully used in tracking down unknown suspects and solving many crimes around the world. The question whether it is a perfect psychological science depends on our individual perspectives, and by weighing its pros and cons, we can decide on our own the merits of this practice.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.