Psychological Profiling: An Introduction


I.                   Definition

A.    “…educated attempt to provide investigative agencies with specific information about the type of individual who committed a certain crime.”(PVC p. 3)

B.     Use when appropriate

1.      Indication of psychopathology

a.       Psychopathology – Study of mental disorders

2.      When the motive may only be known by the perpetrator

A. Examples (Table 1.1 PCV p. 4)

      a. Sadistic torture in sexual assaults

      b. Evisceration

      c. Postmortem cases of slashing and cuttings

      d. Motiveless fire settings

      e. Lust and mutilation murders

      f. Rapes

      g. Occult crimes

      h. Child sexual abuse including pedophilia

      i. Bank robberies

      j. Obscene and terroristic letter writings.


II.                Goals

A.    Paint a picture from the evidence and crime scene:

1.      Not proof

a.       Having a psychological profile itself is not going to suddenly lead to immediate apprehension.

2.      Narrowing investigation

a.       A profile is a step in a certain direction that can directly relate to the possible suspect.

B.     Who to look for – Provides a social and psychological assessment of offender based on the specific case.

C.     What to look for – Evaluation of belongings that the offender may have left at a crime scene.

D.    How to respond – Provide interviewing strategies.

1.      Each interview must be crafted to the specific individual.

a.       The type of interview is constructed around what personality type the suspect has.


III.             Inductive vs. Deductive Profiling

A.    Inductive (“top-down” processing)

1.      Certain crimes that are similar in nature are committed by different people, so offenders must be similar.

a.       The inductive assessment is based on the observations at the crime scene.

2.      Quick and inexpensive

3.      No need for a highly skilled profiler, for the behavioral element of behavior is ignored

B.     Deductive (“bottom-up” processing)

1.      Trained profiler is able to develop a description of the offender through crime scene analysis

a.       Use victimology – studying the victim’s life. Profilers attempt to learn as much as possible about the victim because the more that is known about the victim the more that is known about the offender.

2.      Long, slow process and specific

a.       Crime scenes need to be kept perfectly undisturbed for the profilers to create a better analysis.

i. JonBenet Ramsey’s crime scene was disturbed, making leading to speculation right from the start.



Profiling as a Process


I.                   Profiling Inputs Stage

A.    Crime scene description

1.      Need to know what the area is like

2.      Weather conditions for the area

3.      Political and social environment

B.     Background on victim

1.      Domestic settings

2.      Employment

3.      Reputation

4.      Habits

5.      Fears

6.      Physical condition

7.      Personality

8.      Criminal history

9.      Family relationships

10.  Hobbies

11.   Anything else that they can find out

C.     Forensic information

1.      Autopsy reports with toxicology/serology results

2.      Autopsy photos; photographs of cleansed wounds

3.      Aerial photographs of the crime scene

D.    No possible suspect information is included to avoid biases

1.      This ensures that the profiler won’t make a profile on subject that has already been presented.


II.                Decision Process Models Stage:

A.    Type and style

1.      Table 1.1, Profilers p. 19

2.      Differentiation between mass, spree, and serial

a.       Mass: once place, one time, 4+ victims; school shooting

b.      Spree: one event in multiple locations, 2+ victims with no cooling-off period; shooting throughout a neighborhood

c.       Serial: separate events, locations, 3+ victims, and cooling-off period

B.     Intent of murderer

1.      Criminal enterprise (“economic killing”): gang, political, no necessary personal grudge toward person

2.      Emotional and cause-specific: self-defense, mercy killings, symbolic, religious, cults

3.      Sexual: sexual activity and mutilation that have sexual meaning for the offender only

C.     Victim and offender risk:

1. Victim: High risk = more vulnerable

a.  Risk is determined on factors like; age, occupation, lifestyle, and physical fitness, resistance ability, and location.

b.  Vulnerable victims are found in populated areas like bus depots or they can be preyed on in an isolated area.

2. Offender: The risk involved with committing the crime; more likely to get caught = higher risk

a.  The amount of risk an offender takes is another clue for a profiler.

D.  Time Factor: Length of time needed to kill, commit acts, and dispose of victim

E.   Location: Consider where the crime occurred

1. This offers insight on whether a car was used or if some other mode of transportation was utilized.


III.             Crime Assessment Stage: Reconstruction of events and behavior of offender and victim

A.    Organized versus disorganized crime

1.      Profile:

a.    Organized: average or better IQ, socially adept, living with a partner, likely to take trophies from victims

b.      Disorganized: below-average intelligence, socially inadequate, lives alone or with parent, lives in proximity to crime scene

2.      Crime Scene

a.    Organized: planned, victims with similar characteristics, demeanor not suspicious, use a ploy rather than force to acquire victim, use of restraints, body hidden

b.      Disorganized: No planning involved, blitz attack (force), mutilation normally postmortem, excessive mutilation to face, indication of masturbation, urination, or defecation, no attempt to conceal body


3.      Staging: Determine if there was a distraction added to crime scene to mislead police about motive of crime (sending police on a goose chase).


IV.             Criminal Profile Stage: Description of offender is produced

A.    Demographics

1.      Physical characteristics

2.      Habits

3.      Beliefs and values

4.      Preoffense behavior leading to crime

5.      Postoffense behavior.

B.  Include recommendations for interrogating or interviewing, identifying, and apprehending the offender

C. Validation

1.      Profile must fit with the earlier reconstruction of the crime, evidence, and with key decision process models.

2.      Congruency with patterns is also needed.

3.      If a profile is found to be invalid, it is just redone with the new evidence; this leads to the next step


V.                Investigation Stage: Profile is applied to investigation

A.    The police use the said profile in their investigation and interrogation. The profile effort is complete with identification, apprehension, and a confession from the suspect.

B.     If new evidence is revealed the profile goes back to the previous stages and is updated.


VI.             Apprehension Stage: Once subject is obtained, profile is checked for validity

A.    Once a suspect admits guilt, conduct detailed interview to check the total process for validity.


On the Web:


Back to Criminal Psychology Study Group Index