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Understanding Criminal Investigation


A criminal investigation has its complexities that are dated back to the great detective stories of the world. The happening of a crime and the investigation process have always been portrayed as one of the fascinating thing in books and on movies. However, the reality of criminal investigation is much more procedural and depends less on the stunts and intelligence of the detectives. According to the forensic criminology, profiling is essentially a sub discipline which standardizes the procedure to be followed in an investigation. (Itulua-Abumere,2012). The history of criminal investigation points out two types of depictions which were invented to be added to the list of the procedural methods– Offender profiling and geographic profiling. Offender profiling is the oldest way of criminal investigation while geographic profiling is a much newer method, first proposed by Canada (Harries, 1999). Unlike offender profiling method of investigation, geographic profiling has not gained population in the developing countries yet and it is mostly used in the Western Countries herein.

Herein, in this report we shall discuss about offender profiling and geographic profiling in details, a brief comparison between these two methods of investigation and critically discuss which method demands the most creditability with respect to different countries.

Offender Profiling and Geographic Profiling – A Brief Introduction

Offender profiling is the oldest way of investigation in the history of forensic criminology. The term offender profiling was invented in the year of 1888 and it is the most popular way of investigation crimes, especially the gruesome crimes that involves serial killers or violent behaviors herein. Offender profiling can be defined as the kind of procedure to be followed by the investigators where the same behavioral pattern of a crime is detected and the investigators try to link the pattern to the perpetrator who have already committed or showed the same pattern in past crimes (Boylan, 2011). In the 20th century, the researcher used to claim that the process of offender profiling provides successful results in cases of sexual assaults or sex crime and homicides, but the recent study developed by Fox and Farrington (2014), it has been held that offender profiling can be used as a successful investigation method in burglary and other serious offences such as terrorism.


Geographic profiling is the newer and experimental investigation method in the world of criminology and the term geographic profiling was coined in the year of 1991. Geographic profiling mostly concentrates on the geographic location of the offender and such location is derived from careful inspection of the crime scene herein (Snook et al, 2015). Thus, geographic profiling usually depends on the spatial behavior of the criminal and focuses on finding the residential place of the criminal as well. Also, it has been originated from the concept that criminals are more likely to choose their victims or commit crime near to their home address. Geographic profiling was also used for violent homicides or sexual cases but in recent times, it has been used in several burglary and property cases as well.

Offender Profiling –the practicality of offender profiling in respect to case studies

As it has been mentioned already, offender profiling was originated in a Victorian society in the year of 1888. During this pre World War era, the State police did not have access to technologies and it was hard to identify a clever criminal. It was a chaotic time of colonization when Europe and America saw the birth of several serial killers whose prime targets were the women.

Theories of Offender Profiling

The concept of offender profiling was first originated in the United Kingdom in the year of 1888. However, it was given a constructive structure by Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) of USA. Collectively, there are three approaches which summarize the concept of offender profiling – clinical approach to offender profiling, criminal investigate approach to offender profiling and scientific statistical approach to offender profiling (Kocsis, 2007).

According to Palermo and Kocsis (2005), clinical approach to offender profiling is largely known as the ‘Diagnostic Evaluation’ (DE). This approach of offender profiling includes the psychological behavior or pattern showed by a particular offender through his/her crimes. One of the most famous cases of DE is the case of Jack the Ripper where Dr. Thomas Bond showed excellent skills as a DE and his offender profiling method saved a lot of women of Yorkshire from being a victim of the serial killer (Rumbelow, 1988).

The criminal investigate approach to offender profiling is a later approach first proposed by the FBI and CIA (Criminal Investigation Analysis) of USA in the late 1880’s. It was proposed that only clinical perspective to profiling shall not cover every aspect of criminal activities and a more pragmatic view concerning the investigation process and information gathered from such investigations should be adopted (Douglas & Oleshaker, 1995). This is the type of approach which had been widely used by FBI as Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU) during the chaotic time of 1970’s.

The scientific statistics approach to offender profiling strictly adheres to the comparative view on criminal psychological and behavioral evaluation. The maintenance of such information helps in structuring a better offender profile herein (Vettor, Woodhams & Beech, 2013).

Offender Profiling – Case Studies

Originated during the Victorian era of Jack the Ripper case (Rumbelow, 1988), where Dr. Thomas Bond of the Great Britain first referred to the offender profiling system of investigation to track the ruthless incidents of serial killings, offender profiling has been one of the most successful tool used by the Western Countries on a large scale. After 1880’s Jack the Ripper case study, offender profiling was again used in the case of The Postcard Killer in the year of 1912 (Mclaughlin, 2006).

Surprisingly, the use of offender profiling was not strictly used in criminal but it was used in case of predicting war as well. In the year of 1943, Langer developed a profile of Adolt Hitler, predicting his defeat (Egger, 1999).

Later during the 1960’s to 1970’s time period when America was going through a political chaos, the offender profile method was used the famous case of Ted Bundy by Robert Keppel (Evans, 1998).

Another famous case study of offender profiling is James Brussel’s astounding work in New York’s Mad Bomber case in the year of 1956 (Brussels, 1968). In his book, Brussels has successfully predicted the moves of the Mad Bomber from a detailed study of offender profiling.

Geographic Profiling – The location based criminal methodology

Unlike offender profiling, geographic profiling is a newer concept in the forensic department of criminology herein and the term was first introduced by a Canadian research paper in the year 1991(Harries, 1999). As it has been defined before, geographic profiling is a location based analysis and the unlike offender profiling, the location where the crime has been committed is inspected thoroughly to identify the approximate residency of the criminal herein (Snook et al, 2015).

According to Ainsworth (2001), geographic profiling is essentially a part of offender profiling. In his book Offender Profiling and Crime Analysis, he has categorized offender profiling under four subsections and he has mentioned geographic profiling as one of them.

Theories of Geographic Profiling

Although the central concept of geographic profiling is based on ‘distance decay function’ (DDF) (Wortley & Mazzerolle, 2008), it contains three main theories which essentially helps in better acknowledgement of crime herein – Routine Activity Theory, Rational Choice Theory and Crime Pattern theory.

The Routine Activity Theory of geographic profiling was proposed by Cohen and Felson (1979) way before the term of geographic profiling was coined. At first their theory was attached to the offender profiling method. According to their proposition, for a crime to occur, the “non-criminal spatial activities” of the victim and the offender must concur. Thus, they must have a common path to cross i.e. work, school, nearest park etc.

The Rational Choice Theory is a narrow theory of geographical profiling where it is expected that the offender might choose a buffer zone to commit the crime i.e. a safe distance from his house where he/she is not committing the crime in the neighborhood but also not travelling far away to commit the crime as well (Short, 1997).

However, the crime pattern theory suggests the strongest causation to geographical profiling where it has been suggested by the scholars (Brantingham & Brantingham, 1984) that according to the crime pattern theory, an offender is likely to commit his first crime in his/her locality with lesser severity and the with time, the geographical perimeter shall increase. According to this theory, “crime sites and opportunities are never random”. The crime pattern theory greatly focuses on the mental map of the offender and the victim herein. The crime pattern theory can be closely be followed in the case of 1970’s Ted Bundy in USA where Washington, Utah and Florida played a bigger role in connecting the pattern of crime committed on young women (Evans, 1998).

Case studies of Geographical Profiling

As geographic profiling is a much newer concept at play, there are very few cases which have extensively used the process of geographical profiling to solve a crime. One of such cases is the 2011’s Irvine Police Department, California’s case where police used the method of geographic profiling to solve a serial crime of arson (Velarde, 2016). In this case, it was suspected that the offender did not use any transportation to commit the crime of arsons and most likely he was committing the crime in a congested area where he lived as well. Due to lack of witnesses, it became incredibly hard for the police department to track down the offender. However, with the help of a close geographical profiling system and DNA swabbing process, the case was solved and the offender was arrested herein

Again, another case study can be tracked where the crime involved obscene phone calls to children. With the help of Dragnet software, the location of the offender was tracked down by the Sweden Police and geographical profiling was largely used in this case (Ebberline 2008).

Offender profiling and Geographical Profiling – A comparative discussion

The abovementioned discussion on offender profiling and geographical profiling provides us with substantial information on how to structure a report on the comparative discussion of these two methods herein. As it has been mentioned that offender profiling is an older concept, thus the application of offender profiling is much wider than the geographical profiling.

In a comparative discussion, offender profiling was invented during a time when there was no technology in use. Thus, offender profiling is often technology independent while geographical profiling is highly technology dependent such as Dragnet. Both offender profiling and geographical profiling are used for serial crimes but in case of geographical profiling, it is mostly useless in case of single criminal act. Geographical profiling is only useful when a particular pattern of crime is being committed for a longer time. Also, time is a big factor in case of geographical profiling. Geographical profiling works better in long run unlike offender profiling which works perfectly in the short and the long run.

If we discuss the accuracy rate or the popularity of the offender profiling and geographical profiling, it can be noticed that offender profiling has a higher rate (Snook et al, 2005). In USA, the number of offender profiling increased from mere 192 cases in 1981 to 600 cases in 1986 within a span of five years. In 1996, the per year offender profiling touched the milestone of 1,000 cases per year. Also, the same boost was noticed in other countries as well such as UK, South Africa, Sweden, Finland etc (Eastwood et al., 2006).

However, in case of accuracy rate in geographical profiling, the accuracy rate is relatively low. As it has been pointed out by Rossomo (2000), it was seen that in USA, only 6% accuracy rate was concluded from using only geographical profiling.

Thus, from the abovementioned discussion on offender profiling and geographical profiling, it can be seen that even though the technological edge has given geographical profiling some slick case study in spheres of homicides, cyber crimes etc., offender profiling proves to be the best suited investigation method in criminology which has been adopted by the developed and the developing countries.

Also, geographical profiling is expensive than offender profiling. Thus, only the Western countries such as UK, USA, and Sweden etc. can afford this method of investigation. Further, in Western Countries where the population is less, it is easy to exercise geographic profiling while in congested countries such as India, Bangladesh, the use of geographical profiling is still a dream (Weiss, 2000).

A Critique of which method holds the strongest validity - offender profiling or geographic profiling

From the abovementioned comparative discussion herein, it might seem that offender profiling might win the race but offender profiling, being one of the oldest method of long term investigation has several drawbacks and limitations. As it has been pointed out by Eastwood (2006), the clinical approach to offender profiling can be called a game of predictions. It can be seen from the work of Brussels herein, he made several wrong predictions while making offender profile of New York’s Mad Bomber case (Gladwell, 2007). Also, from another survey, it has been seen that more than 80% of the profilers could not provide any reasonable grounds on the conclusions they reached about a particular offender and more than 72% of the data is repetitive and the details of the same are more of in the nature of prediction than a solid conclusion (Alison et al, 2003).

Thus, if we critically discuss and compare these two methods of investigation, it can be said that none of the investigation methods are complete and accurate on their own. While it is true that offender profiling aids in identifying serial killers and during the chaotic times in America, offender profiling of FBI has helped the State in arresting several notorious serial killers, the same profiling system alone is not satisfactory enough. On the other hand, geographical profiling is often used in cases where there is no witnesses or in cases of cyber crime. Although with the development in technology, it is becoming more and more difficult for geographic profiling to work alone in cyber crimes as well.

Hence, by critically assessing the abovementioned report and discussion, it can be concluded that the Peter Ainsworth’s (2001) view on categorizing geographic profiling as one of the branches of offender profiling seems practical. Both of these investigation methods have strong pursuits and if they are used jointly, they shall produce much better result in identifying an offender faster with less inaccuracy. While geographic profiling provides better insights in terms of mathematics, offender profiling provides an in-depth study on the psychological characteristics of an offender. Both of them together plays twp important quotient of an equation and both of them are needed to solve crime more efficiently.

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Thus, the existence of one strongest investigation method in the subject of criminology is a myth. Among offender profiling and geographic profiling, one cannot choose the first one over the second one. Only if they are chosen together, the mathematical quotient of geographic profiling and the psychological quotient of offender profiling provides the correct and more accurate data in framing a criminal.


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Down”, Thunder's Mouth Press, New York

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