Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Criminal Profiling Topic of the Day: What is Wrong with Criminal Profiling?

Here is sound intelligent thinking I found at Socrates' Academy blog posted by Loren Heal. This nonprofiler very concisely itemizes the problems of much of how profiling is used (or misused).

The trouble comes in several areas.

1. A profile gets too broad, fitting such a large segment of society as to be ineffective
2. A profile is too narrow, clearing a guilty party
3. A profile is used to match people who have no connection to a crime other than fitting the profile, rather than against only those who are already selected by other factors
4. A profile is used to look for people of a particular type, because they might commit an unknown crime
5. The profile is treated as evidence, rather than as an investigative aid

I posted back:

Dear Loren,

I have to commend you for your very fine analysis of profiling! You may be a layperson but a very astute layperson concerning the subject of criminal profiling.
However, I cannot fault others for having a misunderstanding of what criminal profiling should be as they no doubt are swayed by the misinformation and misuse of profiling that has been egregious and embarrassing. Much of the problem has been exacerbated by criminal profilers themselves.
Yes, criminal profilng should be an investigative tool supported by solid evidence and no one should be made a suspect based solely on a profile nor excluded solely on a profile. The information gleaned from analyzing crime should allow us to put more or less focus on specific persons of interest, thereby using our time and resources as wisely as possible. Should new evidence come in, then the profile should be updated.
Thanks for your fine explanation of profiling, Loren. I appreciate the added clarity on the subject.

Criminal Profiler Pat Brown

I guess the only addition I would want to make to the above points would be to number three. When one is investigating a stranger crime like a serial homicide or rape or mugging, it can be helpful if the public can identify persons of interest based on a profile IF that profile is based on evidence. For example, if one is looking for a Caucasian male who has a vehicle, and used a large knife to stab a woman to death at around 3 AM in the morning in a brutal sexual assault near the elementary school, then it helps to give that information to the public along with the description of a psychopath. This may help Mary may realize she should give a tip to the police that her creepy nephew Eddie who works as a janitor at that elementary school borrowed her butcher knife from the kitchen the night before because he said he had to cut up some deer meat and he disappeared for the rest of the evening and came back home to his basement room about 4 AM in the morning. This is the number one way to solve stranger crimes simply because the lack of connection from the victim to the offender is nonexistent and we need to get some clue as to who might be a good suspect.

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