Monday, March 19, 2007

Criminal Profiling Topic of the Day: Real Cops, Real Profilers

I just read some profiling bashing on the Internet that gleefully points out how profilers are sometimes wrong. These bashers like to use any theorized trait of the offender that doesn’t turn out to be an absolute match as proof the profiler is a fraud, or that profiling is useless. Many times the quoted points are taken out of context or aren’t even what that particular profiler said. Such is the problem with second hand information. But, even if the profiler did indeed make such a statement, it was likely in the context of television with limited information given to the profiler upon which he could base his conclusions. Also, it must be understood that a theory of a crime is still only a theory, not a foolproof crystal ball reading of the event. If such a belief of perfection in developing a theory about a crime were likewise required for the police, then they should be chastised for spending so many hours running down false leads during investigations and they should be sued for arresting the wrong man, and the whole of law enforcement should be castigated if ever a man is found innocent in court. I guess the tendency to think of criminal profiling as a kind of mystical methodology bordering on psychic ability is still embedded in the minds of many and, therefore, any failure of the profiler to be right on the money is cause for complete discrediting of the field.

The other big problem lies in a misplaced trust in the perfection of research and statistics, and a belief that profilers not involved in some lofty academic pursuit, but who do more down-to-earth types of analysis, are incapable of drawing intelligent determinations. This disrespect of experienced criminal analysts again leaves police detectives in a similar position. Most of these investigators do not have higher degrees nor are they spending large portions of their lives doing research and studies in investigations. They have to work for a living and many do fine investigations just by going out and doing their jobs without a lot of fanfare. Sometimes, these profiler bashers (and some of them are profilers themselves, attacking other profilers!) don’t actually know the facts or the truth about a particular situation or case they have not worked on or spent much time analyzing themselves. Oftentimes, information about the case or the suspect is held back or misinformation is given out about the offender. While a profiler can sometimes be off in his analysis (and one of my favorite profilers, Dr. Ronald Holmes, once joked to his audience "...and those are the profiles I won’t be presenting today…"(slightly paraphrased), it is also possible that the individual convicted of the crime in question wasn’t even the right person and this is why the profile is not correct. At other times, the evidence that matches the profile was never allowed to be seen by the public, or the offender or his family, or even the prosecutor may have lied about certain aspects of the crime, making the profile appear incorrect.

Finally, occasionally law enforcement will claim that the profiler is wrong about a suspect when the department has botched the case and doesn’t want to admit it. Criminal profiling is a useful tool in a police investigation as it can aid the investigators in using their resources as wisely as possible. A criminal profiler can do a good job if he clearly explains profile elements and doesn’t try to pretend that he cannot be wrong. It is teamwork that brings a criminal in; a willingness for all to put their heads together to solve the crime and get the offender off the streets. It doesn’t hurt to get an analysis from more than one profiler to see how each views the crime and what points they make that can be helpful to the investigation. Cops and criminologists working together can make a good team for getting the job done. It isn’t a perfect world, and since few people in it are perfect beings, we need to give profilers and police officers a bit of a break so they can get back to work improving public safety and getting justice for victims of crime.

Criminal Profiler Pat Brown


Kathryn Casey said...

Great points, Pat. It's been my experience that officers appreciate the work profilers put into a case, and, when the bad guy is caught, it's often because of insight gleened from a criminal profile. Of course, everyone can make a mistake, but profilers are right on more often than wrong. Keep up the good work. Love the blog!

Levi said...

Didn't profiling come under a lot of pressure & criticism during the Sniper shootings a few yrs back?

I think when most people think of profilers they think of the profiler on that old TV show that was almost like a psychic who could look @ any piece of evidence & see what went on @ the scene of the crime.

Remember that show? The one who was always stalked by that serial killer?

Criminal Profiler Pat Brown said...

Yes, Levi, profilers got nailed badly during the DC sniper time. There were some profilers who were off the mark in one way or the other, but this was because they had little to work with (and much bad information) and the crime was extremely unusual. Also, there was bad reporting about profilers, the kind where the writer doesn't bother to actually pay attention to what profiler said what a groups them altogether. I know that I was included in the group of profilers who said the offenders where white even though I specifically addressed the issue during a number of interviews, pointing out how many serial killers are black, asian, and hispanic, so we can't rule them out. I also stated that it was likely the offenders had a stack of Guns and Ammo magazines in his house and it turned out that the fingerprint that identified Malvo was found on a Guns and Ammo magazine in a convenience store. Do you think THAT was remembered? ::laughs::By the way, you are right about Profiler. She is very psychic, that one. As a matter of fact, if you pick up a copy of the home DVD for Profiler: Season Two, I did a special feature comparing one of the shows to real life profiling. It was a lot of fun.

Oh, and thanks, Kathyrn! I can't wait to get a hold of your next book. You are definitely one of the best true crime authors out there!

Criminal Profiler Pat Brown