Offender Profiling (approaches):


P1: FBI 'top down' approach:

  • Created in the 1970's - FBI began researching family backgrounds, personalities, behaviours, crimes and motives of serial killers - interviewed 36 convicted murder and developed a classification system for offenders and their serial crimes.
  • Organised into two catergories: "organised murderers" and "unorganised murderers" e.g. if offender was highly intelligent and socially competent = organised.
  • This approach is intended to help the police catch offenders before they offend again by determining the type of person that may have committed the crime.
  • The approach doesn't include information such as the mental processes and personality traits that drive the offenders, therefore the profiling is often ambiguous and unreliable.  
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P2: Limitations of the FBI approach:

  • It is not sophisticated enough to deal with crimes that include more than one offence like arson and paedophilia. Although Chief of police found that in 77% of all cases, profiling helped focus the investigation - led to the offender in 15/172 cases.
  • The rarity of such crimes meant that the orginal sample size of 36 murderers isn't large or a random sample meaning it is biased and cannot be generalised to all murderers.
  • The classification system is based upon offenders who have been caught would would differ in major ways from those who have not been caught - presumably those people not caught are doing something different.
  • The original 36 individuals are known to be manipulative and so are most probably unreliable sources anyway. This approach is reductionist as it suggests that all offenders can be placed in catergories - so some amendments have been made, like producing a five-fold classification system like adding e.g. "power/control" hungry (someone who gains pleasure form dominating the victims) - although out of 100 serial murderers caught, the feature of 'power/control' hungry were found in all of them, suggesting that its typical of mst murderers, not a distinct type - suggested by Canter (2004).
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P3: British 'bottom-up" approach:

  • Assumes that the offender's cirme behaviour will reflect their behaviour in other contexts. E.G. Some rapists are controlling & abusive and therefore more likely to be consistent with the way they respond to women.
  • Smallest Space Analysis (a computer programme that reveals clusters of events that commonly occur together in order to gain classifications) e.f. the behaviour of the individual is used as a data source so that when two highly unusal offencers like torture and theft match, it would show to be the same individual.
  • Facet Theory suggests that characteristics of the crime scene can help us to assess the psychological characteristics of the offender.
  • Research carried out by Mokros and Alison found no significant correlation between the characteristics of the offender and the crime scene behaviour.
  • This evidence seems to contradict Facet Theory because it argues that similar crime scene evidence is not related to similar offender characteristics.
  • Facet theory isn't reductionist and that in itself is a problem because it is so deatiled, there is too much information to process.
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P4: Geographical Profiling:

  • It analyses the locations of a series of crimes to indicate where the offender might live, or work or socialise and also their personality, traits and habits to create a better picture of the offender that may lead the police to him/her (a mental map in our brains of places we often visit and routes on how we get there e.g. work, our home, where we social etc - this is our activity space).
  • A criminal who is organised will know the area well before committing the crime there and this cognitive map theory aims to reconstruct and interpret the offender's cognitive map.
  • Canter and Larkin looked at data from 45 UK rapes to support this approach as 87% of rapists carried out their attack in a region around their homes (as they knew it best) this shows that we use our cognitive maps even when carrying out murders.
  • Furthermore, Snook et al found that 63% of serial killers commit their offence within 10km of their homes. Supports the fact that offenders 'activtity space' and cognitive map play a significant factor in where an offence will be committed.
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