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Criminal Profiling: Controversy or Confusion?

The controversy over the use of profiling techniques seems to be more a miscommunication about the different types of profiling techniques available and how these techniques are used rather than by a difference in ideology among Americans concerned about stereotyping.

The combination of forensic evidence and behavioral analysis has served as the foundation for crime scene analysis and suspect apprehension since Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created the fictional character Sherlock Holmes and, thus, introduced the idea of using science as an aid in criminal investigation. This same collection of information serves as the basis for the development of an effective criminal profile when combined with an accurate analysis of human behavior.

Criminal profiling is distinguished from psychological profiling although each group is somewhat dependent on the other to share information and statistical data regarding human behavior and the generalizations we draw from murder statistics or psychological studies.

Professionals from the psychological community develop “psychological profiles” or personality assessments as an aid to diagnosis patients and recommend potential treatment options. Law enforcement agencies, however, develop “criminal profiles” based on previous and current offender behavior which has been gathered from statistical data and crime scene analysis of similar crimes or behavioral conduct. Criminal profiling is used by the police and other law enforcement agencies to help determine a person’s level of “dangerousness” as opposed to their psychological well-being or level of “normalcy,” explains John Douglas, co-author, Mind hunter: Inside the FBI’s elite crime unit.

Criminologist versus Psychologist

Criminologists gather evidence, interview suspects, and evaluate behavior which may help predict or prevent future behavior. The difference between the criminologist and psychologist, explains Douglas, is further complicated because neither the average person nor the healthcare professional has the background or orientation of the issues facing law enforcement to be able to make informed judgments about criminal behavior.

The criminologist and the psychiatrist also serve distinct functions within the legal system requiring each group to interact among individuals whether as patients or perpetrators, as well as within the legal system. The function of the criminologist and the function of the psychiatrists often have conflicting interests and each has a distinct purpose or mission. The psychiatrist analyzes a patient, the psychologist counsels a parent, whereas the police interview a suspect. Whichever group they represent or job they hold, they serve a distinct purpose, use different terminology to analyze or explain human behavior, and each provides a unique perspective on an individual’s motive or mental capacity. A representative from either side may also testify in court as an expert witness.

Psychiatrists and psychologists “must use their expertise with human behavior, motivation, and psychopathology to provide psychological services for the courts, and may also consult in criminal investigations,” explains forensic psychologist Katherine Ramsland, The C.S.I. Effect.

Criminologists, however, develop criminal profiles to narrow the focus of an investigation to locate and apprehend an unknown suspect. The suspect’s guilt or innocence must still be proven in court. To be effective the psychological community must be familiar with the criminal justice system and the criminologist must be familiar with psychopathology.

Crime Classification Manual

In response to the differences between the needs and purposes of these two distinct groups, law enforcement agencies developed the Crime Classification Manual. This manual is used by law enforcement agencies to organize and classify serious crimes based on behavioral characteristics of offenders and “explains these characteristics in a way that a strictly psychological approach has never been able to do,” explains Douglas.

The Crime Classification Manual serves as a primary resource for law enforcement the way the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders serves the field of psychiatry.

Forensic Evidence and Behavioral Analysis

The combination of forensic evidence combined with behavioral analysis has served as the basis for crime scene analysis and suspect apprehension since Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created the fictional character Sherlock Holmes and, thus, introduced the idea of using science as an aid in criminal investigation. This same collection of information serves as the basis for the development of an effective criminal profile when combined with an accurate analysis of human behavior. To remain effective, however, each group must continue to share information to remain current with trends and techniques while simultaneously remaining experts in their field or discipline in order to serve and protect – whether patient or perpetrator.

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