Offender Characteristics from Crime Scene Behavior

  • 10 Pages
  • Published On: 15-12-2023

Definition and the Assumptions of Psychological Profiling

Psychological profiling (referred to also as offender profiling, personality profiling or crime scene profiling) is an investigative technique or process through which police investigators link the actions of an offender at the crime scene to their most probable attributes to enable them reduce the number of probable suspects and focus on the most likely ones (Pinizzotto and Finkel, 1990). In psychological profiling, investigators focus their efforts on matching the characteristics or behaviors of an offender in one instance to those in another instance. The technique is seen to rest, usually uneasily, somewhere between psychology and law enforcement. This is because, according to broader findings by multiple longitudinal studies and cross-situational consistency and criminal behavior development findings, psychological profiling is based mainly on the psychological premise that the manner in which offenders act at the crime scene will be consistent with who they are (Pinizzotto, 1984). Offender profiling is therefore a means through which police investigators deduce n an offender’s qualities/features from their behavior in the crime scene. Psychological profiling is thus, premised on the suggestion that understanding the consistencies in offenders’ behavior development and change over time can enable investigators link their behavior at the crime scene to their behavior in previous crime scenes. The technique, besides enabling the identification of an offenders MO (method of operation or modus operandi), also enables the possible confirmation of a perpetrator’s identity since MO is premised on the method that each offender commits their crime in a particular manner (Canter and Youngs, 2019). For a serial crime, the crimes may not always be identical but will be similar. Profilers therefore use the physical evidence of pathology that the crime scene exhibits to discern likely characteristics of the offender (Michaud, 2006). Another assumption that psychological profiling works on is that besides committing the crime in a certain manner, the offender will also always leave a part of themselves at the crime scene.

How Psychological Profiling Supports Criminal Investigators to Identify Criminals


Although psychological profiling is regarded as an educated effort or attempt to give investigators certain information relating to the kind of person that committed an offence (Geberth, 1981), it may be not always be suitable for all cases. For example, the development of a psychological profile may be a critical investigative tool in successfully solving a homicide case where the motives associated with usual killings are not present (Douglas and Burgess, 1986; Douglas et al., 2004; Palmiotto, 2012; Sears, 1991), but may not be as effective in some murder cases (Holmes and Holmes, 2008). According to Geberth (2010, 2013) and Holmes and Holmes (2008), psychological profiling is more effective in cases where an unknown offender exhibits psychopathological indications, and crimes where specific patterns can be deciphered from the crime scenes or the offender’s motive or fantasy is readily recognizable. As such, profiling helps investigators develop an understanding of what kind of person would commit a particular crime, like spree killing, sexual homicide, mutilation murder, and so on. The credibility and reasonableness of psychological profiling is premised on the offender’s personality (through the crime scene) reflecting pathology (Torres, Boccaccini and Miller, 2006).

Offender profiling provides investigators with multiple types of information- given that it involves victimology (the examination of the victims of crime and the psychological impacts that such experiences have on them), information regarding the cause of death, as well as preliminary information about characteristics/behavior, victim and the crime scene- that helps them narrow down their field of investigation for a particular case (Alison, 2013). It also provides fundamental and logical information relating to the social and psychological characteristics of the likely offender’s personality. Using this preliminary information, profilers can offer insights and additional information regarding the race, social standing, sex, residential area, education, marital status, type of vehicle, other possessions, etc., of the unidentified offender (White et al., 2011). The premise of psychological profiling that a certain person behaves or acts in a particular way and the information they gather helps investigators narrow down the scope or area of their investigation of the likely offenders responsible for the commission of a crime, rather than having to deal with a broad range of possible criminals. This reduces the amount of time that is likely to be spent on a case and positions investigators towards a successful resolution of the case (Alison, 2013). Profiling also enables investigators to obtain information that alerts them of the likely psychological traits in a crime scene as well as predict likely future attacks and attack sites (Kocsis, 2003).

When investigators have a suspect to whom the physical evidence and witness reports as well as other crucial information point, their psychological profile will insinuate or indicate possible objects or articles that the offender may possess such as pictures, souvenirs, among others, which serve as a reminder of their crime (White et al., 2011). Analyzing this collection of items enables the profiler to provide the interrogator with a plan to interrogate the alleged offender (e.g. a serial pedophile) in relation to their choice of victim, capturing or seduction strategy and other key information obtained from the collateral evidence gathered from the alleged offender’s possessions (Kocsis, Cooksey and Irwin, 2002). This applies to the other types of offenders as well, including arsonists, rapists, serial killers, and so on.

Psychological profiling also helps investigators in the process of investigating and solving a case by enabling them develop and adopt interviewing strategies and interrogation tactics that will facilitate them to better draw information from eyewitnesses and suspects. Once they have a likely crucial witness or have arrested a suspect, investigators make use of a profile packet with information on proper and effective interrogation and interviewing techniques (Palmiotto, 2012). The profile packet contains information about different personalities and the strategies for seeking information that are likely to be effective among the wide range of offenders, since not all people react to interviews or interrogations in a similar manner (Ressler et al., 1986). Therefore, while one strategy may work among one type of offenders, it may not be effective for another for example, due to the fact that serial killers do not kill for the same reason, while violent offenders have different motives and they would therefore respond differently to different interrogation strategies (Ressler et al., 1985).

Offender profiling typically identifies two behavioral typologies; organized and disorganized. Organized behaviors (or crime scenes) mirror a detailed degree of planning whereby the perpetrator leaves behind very little evidence, whereas disorganized behavior is whereby the crime appears impulsive and unplanned with a lot of evidence left at the crime scene (Miller, 2014). Criminals that exhibit or leave behind very organized crime scenes have personality attributes and behavioral patterns as well as crime approaches that are remarkably different from those who leave disorganized crime scenes (Ressler et al., 1986). Organized criminals demonstrate a high level of control during their commission of the crime, are usually intelligent, have social competence, have and/or cohabit with companions, change locations after the offence and follow the crime in the media. In addition, they tend to be psychopathic (Cleckley, 1996; Hare, 1993) and narcissistic or manipulative (Schlesinger, 1998) as well as be neat, physically attractive, charming and able to easily talk with the opposite sex. Disorganized criminals, on the other hand, highlight impulsivity and a paucity of planning, often use a weapon of opportunity as opposed to a precise or particular weapon which they carried along with them, and the victim is often known to them (Ressler et al., 1986). They also tend to have poor history of work, stay alone and near the crime scene, rarely follow the offence in the media, do not alter their way of living post the offence and highly disturbed or unstable mentally (Canter and Alison, 2004). According to Ressler et al. (1998), they may be schizophrenic, borderline or schizoid, and may also be physically unattractive, less experienced with males (if females, and vice versa) and living alone since other people are unable to put up with their aberrant or bizarre behavior.

Various theories, including social learning, personality, psychodynamic and young (FIRO), are used in criminal profiling and each has its own weaknesses and strengths.

The social learning theory is based on the impression that we learn from our interactions with others, and therefore through observing and imitating others’ behavior (Bandura, 1977). According to Brauer (2009) the social learning theory enables us to understand how individuals develop criminal behavior, which they learn in more or less the same manner as non-criminal behavior. Through information they gather on the social interactions and associations of crime suspects with others who exhibit criminal behavior, profilers are able to determine whether the suspect demonstrates a likelihood of having learnt, developed and imitated the similar criminal behavior observed from others (Martinez, 2010). However, this would not be as effective since besides imitating the observed behavior, there is also the possibility of rejecting it in an effort to avoid the negative consequences (punishment) associated with it. According to Bandura (2006), although learning can occur, it may or may not necessarily bring about a change in behavior. As a result, it is difficult for profilers to predict whether a criminal learnt his behavior from his associations with others who exhibited such criminal behavior since they have the option of rejecting or imitating it, which profilers may be unable to certainly determine (Winerman, 2004).

Although certain personality traits and characteristics have been significantly associated with how offenders commit crimes and particular crime scenes (organized or disorganized), there could be instances where the type of crime scene could point to a certain type of personality yet in real sense the crime was committed by an individual who exhibits starkly opposing personality traits (Winerman, 2004). There is thus, the possibility of an individual’s criminal behavior and mannerisms not being consistent with or similar to his non-criminal behaviors or activities (Crighton and Towl, 2015). The impact of this is that the investigators might be focusing on leads that point to various types of offenders on whom they will spend a lot of time and resources instead of the actual offender but to whom the profile packet from the crime scene does not point to.

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