Psychology in Contemporary Society - Offender Profiling


Offender Profiling

What does a profiler do?

Can provide advice on:

  • Suspect prioritisation
  • Linking crimes & crime scenes
  • Geographical profiling
  • How to interview the suspect
  • Risk assessment of offenders in clinical settings

BUT: They have no formal checklist.

Who are profilers (behavioural investigative advisors)?

  • Some academics, some crime analysts
  • Often psychologists
  • No profiling-specific training which makes you a profiler
  • No regulatory body
  • Police route or through becoming an experienced investigator

History of Offender Profiling

First Profile - The New York Bomber (1956)

Psychiatrist James Brussel provided profile:

  • Male, high-school graduate
  • 40-50 years old
  • Living in Conneticut or Westchester
  • Living with sister or maiden aunt
  • Eastern European descent
  • Likely to wear a double-breasted suit

George Metesky - matched all

First UK Profile - The Railway ****** (1983-1986)

Psychologist David Canter created profile:

  • Lived in area of first three cases since 1983
  • Arrested some time after 24th October 1983
  • Lived with wife/girlfriend
  • Possibly without children
  • Mid to late 20s
  • Loner, with not many friends

John Duffy - matched all

Case: Murder of Rachel Nickell (1992)

Psychologist Paul Britton wrote profile of killer

Broadcast on Crimewatch, four people rang in to say it was Colin Stagg & that he fitted the profile exactly

'Honeytrap' sting put in place (undercover police officer pretended to engage in conversation with suspect, trying to get him to admit - police deception) - he still didn't admit

Case thrown out of court as there was no evidence other than the profile

2008: Robert Napper pleaded guilty to Rachel Nickell's murder after being convicted of a similar crime committed 18 months after her murder


1) Criminal Investigative

Based on the information from the interviews the FBI suggested that important information could be taken from:

  • Examination of the crime scene
  • Study the nature of the attacks
  • Consider any forensic evidence
  • Consider medical examiner's reports
  • Characteristics of victim selected


Data gathering - pathologists' reports, photos & witness statements

Crime scene classification - organised/disorganised

Crime scene reconstruction - work out crime sequences, victim's behaviour & offender's modus operandi

Profile generation - demographic details, physical characteristics, behavioural habits, suitable interview techniques & linked crimes


  • Lack of scientific methodological rigour
  • Lack of theoretical underpinning
  • Difficult to falsify typologies
  • Based on only 36 convicted serial murderers
  • Over simplification - not all crimes can be split into two categories - supported by Canter, Alison & Alison & Wentink
  • Cognitive biases
  • Faulty decision-making

2) Clinical Practitioner

Expertise & knowledge of individual profiler

Particularly used in bizarre/senseless cases where mental illness may be relevant

Profiles based on:

  • Practical experience
  • Knowledge
  • Intuition
  • Case details


  • Cognitive biases
  • Faulty decision-making
  • Lack of scientific methodological rigour
  • Lack of theoretical underpinning
  • Difficult to falsify typologies
  • May not be generalisable to other cases
  • Methodologies vary & they are often secretive about them

3) Scientific Statistical

Analysis of behavioural & other information at crime scene to infer characteristics & psychological processes

Explicit, psychological framework to provide directly useful characteristics of offender

AKA - Investigative Psychology Approach - David Canter

A-C Equations…


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