WJEC A2 Psychology PY4 - Offender Profiling

3 Theories of Offender Profiling

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FBI Approach

1. FBI approach (top down), Crime Scene Analysis, Typological, US Approach (1970s)

  • FBI accumulated data from officers' experiences of sexual offences/murder
  • Douglas + Ressler carried out extensive interviews with an opportunity sample of 36 American convicted serial murderers (almost all had sexual motive for crime)
  • information the FBI gained from interviews enabled them to identify major personality/behavioural characteristics possessed by serious offenders and how they differed from the general public - placed onto a database
  • classified offenders into 2 typologies: organised and disorganised - D+R believed 24 of interviewees = organised, other 12 disorganised
  • organised offenders = planned + controlled, evidence destroyed, intelligent, socially + sexually competent = disorganised offenders would be the opposite
  • suggested organised offenders had 'mask of normality' = hides antisocial, psychopathic personality and would follow newspaper reports about offence
  • disorganised offender committed crime as a result of being frightened/confused
  • known as top down approach = when examining crime scene, start with the preconception that the offender is either organised/disorganised so classifies evidence into those categories
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FBI Approach

EVALUATION (based on D+R's interviews with 36 American convicted serial killers)

(-) Unconvicted murderers

  • possible that more successful murderers who were not caught may possess different characteristics that don't fit into 2 categories

(-) Classification based on retrospective self-report of offenders

  • questions reliability/validity as relying on psychologically unstable murderers to determine characteristics and how to construct profile from evidence

(-) Ethnocentric

  • database created from interviews on American offenders = limited generalisability to offenders in other countries

(+) Suspect pool: FBI profiling helps to narrow down suspect pool when major personality/behavioural characteristics are identified from crime scene

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FBI Approach

(-) Profiling is subjective

  • this method of profiling is neither objective nor scientific
  • two profilers may interpret evidence at a crime scene differently = look for different types of offenders, relies on personal intuition = lacks inter-investigator reliability

(-) Lack of scientific support

  • lack of scientific support for differences between organised and disorganised
  • Canter (2004) found murderers are rarely disorganised in review of 100 US killers
  • FBI profiling doesn't identify what causes differences between 2 categories

(-) Wilson et al (1997)

  • argues inappropriate to classify serial offenders into 2 categories
  • eg offender's first offence = disorganised but perfects techniqueorganised

(+) Success: despite criticisms, FBI profiling methods have resulted in high number of dangerous individuals being arrested eg Arthur Shawcross

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Canter's Approach

2. Investigative Psychology (bottom up), David Canter, statistical profiling, UK approach

  • David Canter = leading forensic psychologist in UK and big critic of FBI profiling
  • Canter's research focused on establishing the extent to which offender's behaviour during a crime mirrors behaviour in everyday life
  • how individual interacts with others is so ingrained that all interactions similar, in everyday life or as an offender = 'The Criminal Consistency Hypothesis'
  • suggests criminal actions at scene of crime provide valuable info about background eg conceals evidence = no previous convictions
  • location of crime significant = offenders feel more in control in familiar area
  • different types of crimes committed by people with differing domestic/social background eg sexually naive ****** = little sexual experience, no sexual relationship
  • Canter created 5 Major Model to consider when examining evidence:
  • 1. Interpersonal coherence: offender will treat victim in similar way that they treat people in everyday lives, victim may represent significant person in offender's life
  • 2. Significance of time and place: provides info about offender mobility, possible residential locations, time of attack provides insight into work/free time schedule
  • 3. Criminal Characteristics, 4. Criminal Career, 5. Forensic Awareness
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Canter's Approach


(+) Canter's development of approach

  • Canter conducted detailed statistical analysis to identify common characteristics and certain features that are rare, so more distinctive = FBI didn't do
  • these distinctive features that Canter believes help investigators glean useful info

(+) John Duffy, the Railway Rapist

  • Canter's profiling convicted John Duffy who fitted profile (13/17 factors), supports

(+) Differences from FBI profiling

  • Canter didn't place offenders in rigid typologies, suggested careful examination of interaction between offender and victim = yield aspects of offender's everyday life

(-) Alison (2002): argues in the 'person x situation effect' person's behaviour will be different and not consistent in different situations

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Canter's Approach

(+) Canter's research

  • has been published and can therefore be replicated by others (eg Canter + Heritage, 1990), who wish to establish its reliability
  • main strength when comparing approach to FBI profiling, supports

(-) Dark figure crimes

  • official crime stats that Canter uses come only from recorded/reported crimes
  • doesn't represent dark figure crimes which could reveal more about profiling and interaction between offender and victim, weakens theory

(-) Police focus

  • profiling can lead police to concentrate too much on individual who matches profile when should perhaps keep more open mind as to who perpetrator is
  • eg ****** may entirely conceal evidence = suggest forensically aware = may lead police to look for someone with previous conviction - ****** may have been involved in previous crimes but not been caught = no previous convictions
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Geographical Profiling

3. Geographical Profiling

  • techniques making inferences about criminals from location/timing of offences
  • techniques include Routine Activity Theory (RAT), Mental Maps, Timing of Offences and Circle Theory of Environmental Range
  • Stuart Kind (1987) first person to incorporate use of geographical models when assigned to Yorkshire Ripper enquiry = determined where the perpetrator lived
  • first systematic attempt to understand patterns of offending made by Simon Fraser and Kim Rossmo in 1989
  • found by extensively mapping criminal behaviours, certain geographical/social conditions could be linked to distribution of crime in American cities
  • RAT = criminals operate within areas come to know before offending (Felson)
  • Mental Maps = individually constructed on experience/perspective of area
  • Timing of Offences = info about geographical location of crime, which becomes more useful when combined with info about when offences occurred
  • Circle Theory of Environmental Range = Canter + Larkin (1993) suggested a circle drawn to encompass all crimes in series likely to contain offender's base
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Geographical Profiling

EVALUATION (with the Circle Theory)

(+) Canter and Godwin (1997)

  • when line is drawn from 2 crime locations furthest from each other in distance, and circle is drawn with this line as diameter, 85% of offenders live within circle
  • demonstrates Circle Theory can identify location of offenders based on geo data

(+) Davies and Dale (1995)

  • found that in 75% of **** cases, offender lived within 5 mile radius of offence
  • supports use of geo profiling as seems to be a pattern for where and when a crime takes place based on where offender lives

(-) Koscis + Irwin (1997)

  • studied several cases where series of burglaries had been committed by same offender in New South Wales, Australia
  • found in only half of the cases, offender lived within circle of their crimes
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Geographical Profiling

(-) Offences by the same person?

  • in very large cities, 100s of crimes committed daily
  • very difficult to work out whether 2 + offences committed by the same person
  • therefore difficult to plot with any certainty crimes committed by same person on a map

(?) All types of crime

  • Circle Theory may apply to most cases of murder + **** but not necessarily all types of crimes

(-) Dark figure crimes

  • police + profilers may not be aware of all crimes committed and therefore cannot plot them
  • in addition, plotted crimes based on official crime statistics - only reported/recorded crimes, there is a possibility dark figure crimes could reveal more about where offenders live
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