Offender Profiling

Bullet point 1 – British Approach – Generalisability
Definitions, approaches
& developing a profile
– American Approach – Generalisability
Bullet point 2 –
Biases & Pitfalls
Copson – Generalisability
Ecological validity
Demand characteristics
- Pinnizzotto & Finkel - generalisability
Ecological validity
Demand characteristics
- Douglas -
Bullet point 3 – John Duffy – Ecological validity
One case study
Demand characteristics
Section B (June 2005)
a. Describe what psychologists have found out about offender profiling (10)
Psychologists have found that profiles can be created by linking current crimes to previous crimes. The
FBI use the American ‘top-down’ approach to profiling serious offenders. The initial information was
gathered from interviews with serial killers using a standardised questionnaire and information from the
behavioural science unit. This is combined with detailed investigations of the crime scene and
information about the nature of the attacks to develop models that would lead to the creation of a
profile. From the evidence gathered the FBI were able to classify crimes in terms of organised and
disorganised offenders and they attempt to fit new crimes into these existing categories based on
details of the crime and intuitive analysis. Therefore this approach suggests that it is possible to fit new
crimes into previously determined categories to assist in profile development which then could help
reduce the scope of an investigation.
It has also been found that profiles can be generated by looking at the new crime data first and then
generating a profile of the potential offender. The UK ‘bottom-up’ approach to profiling is based heavily
on psychological theory and statistical analysis. The approach works by collecting detailed information
from the crime scene and pieces details together to build up a profile. This is an inductive method as it
aims to make conclusions only from what has been observed and is therefore not reliant on intuition.
Canter has proposed a five factor model which examines different aspects of the interaction between
the victim and offender which may generate clues as to the type of offender who has committed the
crime. Canter strongly believes that there will be consistencies in the way the criminal behaves in
everyday life and whilst committing crimes. This approach suggests that it is possible to create profiles
from the unique characteristics of each crime using statistical analysis which prevents subjectivity.
Psychologists have found that profiling can be useful both directly and indirectly to the police when
solving crime. Copson (1995) was commissioned by the Metropolitan Police to evaluate the use of
offender profiling to assist with the investigation of serious crime. A sample of detectives from 48 of the
56 police forces in the UK took part in the study. They completed a questionnaire survey to determine
their attitudes to offender profiling, their responses covered 184 individual cases mostly involving
murder or rape. Copson found that only 3% said that the profiling had led to the identification of an
offender but 83% said that the advice had been useful to give an insight into the offender and 69% said
that they would use profiling again. This suggests that when the police use profiling for serious crimes
it can provide invaluable leads to solving the crime and catching the offender.
It has also been found that profilers are more effective in creating profiles of sex offenders than nonprofilers. Pinnizzotto et al aimed to examine the effectiveness of profiling in identifying potential suspects in
murder and sex offence cases. They used expert profilers, detectives with & without profiling experience, clinical
psychologists & students. They were asked to read two closed cases (murder & sex offence) and build a profile
for each. They found that the profilers were most effective on the sex offence case than all others but the
detectives were more effective on the murder cases that the other participant’s. This suggests that it may be
more effective to train detectives in how to make a profile so that they will be able provide help on a
bigger range of crimes.
b. Evaluate what psychologists have found out about offender profiling (16)
One issue raised by the research into offender profiling is usefulness. This is whether the findings of
studies or theoretical models are helpful in understanding real life events, in this case, crime. Copson’s
research found that from the 48 police forces questioned 83% of officers believed that profiling was
useful although only 3% said that it had directly led to the identification of an offender. Similarly
Pinnizzotto’s study shows that profiles are very effective in helping to narrow the scope of an
investigation especially for sex offender cases. Both of these pieces of evidence highlight the potential
usefulness of offender profiling and Copson’s study examined the usefulness across 184 different
profiles whi8le Pinnizzotto used a range of different participants from which to make comparisons thus
strengthening the argument for using offender profiling as it is often seen by the police who use them to
be effective in narrowing the focus of an investigation.
Research into offender profiling also raise the issue of generalisability as the people used in the study
need to be representative of the people most likely to create or use profiles. The American approach
involves collecting data from know offenders causing the approach to be low in generalisability as not
all crimes will be represented by the approach so the approach can only be applied to a limited range of
crimes, such as murder and rape. Pinnizzotto’s study also used both profilers and detectives who are
both involved in using profiles as part of the normal working week. Both are clearly representative of
how profiling is used in the real world and so are valid measures of the way that a profile can help to
narrow an investigation. This suggests that it is possible that profiles will help to refocus an
investigation in such a way that they are measuring the characteristics of offenders.
The issue of confounding variables is also raised by the offender profiling research in terms of whether
the method used to collect the data could have been affected by other factors such as socially desirable
answers. Both the US approach to profiling and Copson’s study have used self report measures. The
US approach used interviews of convicted serial killers which may have led to demand characteristics
affecting their answers. Copson’s study used questionnaires to gather the attitudes of the police
towards offender profiling which may also have been affected by demand characteristics or socially
desirable answers. Therefore both of these demonstrate the potential problems of data collection when
studying offender profiling, however as the most useful data will come from those linked to real crime it
would be hard to collect in a more controlled manner which means that the reliability of offender
profiling will always be low.
Finally, the issue of objectivity is raised by the approaches to offender profiling due to the scientific
nature of the generation of the profile. This is the extent to which profilers can claim to producing
profiles that are free from bias and personal opinion. The UK approach to profiling is quite scientific in
approach as it relies heavily on statistical analysis which can be said to be objective and it also takes
specific details of each crime into account and works objectively to create a profile. The US approach,
in contrast to this relies more on intuition and information about previous crimes and thus is more
subjective. Ideally profiles should be objective as each case is unique, however, experienced profilers
may be able to interpret some data which, although subjective, could provide police with potential new
leads. This suggests that profiles can be lacking in reliability as different approaches could give
different outcomes for the same case.
c. The police are investigating a series of unusual murders. Using your knowledge of psychology,
suggest why they should call in an offender profiler. (8)
Firstly the police should call in an offender profiler as the police have found profiling helpful in solving
crimes in the past especially for bizarre murder cases that have unique features. Copson (1995)
questioned 48 out of 56 UK police forces and found that 83% had found profiling useful and 69% said
that they would use an offender profiler to assist in solving crimes in the future. This suggests that
using a profiler may be beneficial in this case as they help to generate new lines of investigation.
However, it is important to make the police aware that of those previously questioned offender profiling
only led to an offender’s identity in 3% of cases so it is unlikely to lead to a direct identification.
Secondly, the nature of the crime, murder, makes offender profiling a suitable technique to use to try
and solve the crimes as they are more useful in cases that are more serious. Both the US and the UK
approach to profiling are only appropriate for more serious crimes. Holmes & Holmes (1996) suggest
that crimes stemming from psychopathology, such as serial murders and crimes which include sadistic
torture or rape are the most appropriate for offender profiling. This is good as it suggest that profiling
works best when there is something unique about the case which links in with this situation as the
police are investigating ‘unusual murders’. The difficulty however is that as each case is unique it may
initially be time consuming and costly to produce the profile that is not generalisable to other cases.
Section a (June 2004) - Outline one technique used to produce an offender profile (6)
One technique for creating a profile is the American ‘top-down’ approach. This was developed by the
FBI by conducting in-depth interviews with 36 serial killers and collecting detailed information from the
Behavioural Science Unit. The approach is known as ‘top-down’ as the information gathered about
previous crimes is used to classify offenders and produce a profile. For example, murderers were
classified by the FBI as either organised, where the crime is planned and the murderer is careful to
leave no clues or disorganised, where the murder is unplanned and committed in a haphazard way.
Jackson & Bekerian (1997) described the four stages involved in creating a profile using this method.
Stage 1 involves data assimilation, collecting information from as many sources as possible, such as
photographs of the crime scene and an autopsy of the victim. Stage 2 involves the classification of the
crime, putting the crime into a category based on the data collected. The development of hypotheses
about the behaviour of the victims and the modus operandi of the criminal based on a reconstruction of
the crime is stage 3, crime reconstruction and finally stage 4 is the development of a profile.
b. Evaluate the effectiveness of techniques used to produce an offender profile (10)
One issue that reduces the effectiveness of the techniques used to produce offender profiles is that
they are of limited use as profiles are only appropriate for certain types of crime and so may lack
generalisability. For example, the US approach to profiling is only suitable for certain types of crime,
such as murder and rape. This is because the original information that the approach is based upon
related to a limited range of crimes and therefore the classifications which lead to the profiles are
limited. This means that not all crimes can benefit from profiling and so is less useful.
The consistency of profiles can affect the effectiveness as the profiles may not be reliable. Different
profilers work in different ways and thus may generate different profiles for the same crime as profiling
is not a definite science. The US and the UK approaches are quite different, with US profilers basing
their profiles on previous knowledge and UK profilers basing their profiles on details of the crime that
are pieced together. Therefore the techniques lack consistency and there is no agreed ‘best’ way of
developing a profile which means that outcomes will be different depending on who creates them.
However, it could be argued that the more scientific the approach the more effective the profile as it will
not be influenced by subjective decisions. The UK approach is seen as more scientific as it is based
more heavily on statistical analysis of data and takes information from as many sources as possible into
account. Therefore the UK approach may be more effective in generating useful profiles than the
American approach which involves the profiler making judgements based on past experience.
The effectiveness of the techniques can also be judged by how successful profiles are at solving crimes
and so increasing their usefulness. Copson (1995) found that 83% of police officers from 48 forces in
the UK said that the profile had been useful to give an insight into the offender or confirm their opinion
only 14% claimed that it had actually helped to solve the case. This therefore suggests that the
techniques that are used to produce profiles are not as effective as they could be which means that
they may not be useful in helping to solve an investigation.
a) Describe one case study of offender profiling (6)
Canter was called in to assist police in solving the case of John Duffy a serial rapist and murderer. The
attacks had taken place over four years in the 1980s with up to 24 women being attacked and 2 being
murdered at or close to railway trains. Canter created a profile with 17 points linked to personality and
characteristic traits, such as, the attacker would be married with no children, he would have marital
problems and he would be physically small with feelings of unattractiveness. This led to John Duffy
being put under police surveillance. He had previously been 1505th on the police’s list of suspects.
Duffy was finally charged with the offences and sentenced to life imprisonment. Canter had been
correct on 12 out of 17 of the traits. Therefore this case study illustrates the direct benefits to police of
offender profiling as it narrowed down the search sufficiently for the offender to be caught.
b) Discuss the usefulness of offender profiling (10)
Generalisability is important in assessing usefulness as the profile needs to be representative of the types of
crimes that are being committed. The case study of John Duffy only covers one particular series of rapes &
murder with specific modus operandi. This means that the approach may be very difficult to use outside a small
number of crimes making it less generalisable and so is less useful in helping to reduce crime rates.
Demand characteristics are another issue linked to usefulness in a high level of participant variables will
affect how the profile can be used. The American approach requires the profiler to use their experience when
they are fitting the evidence from the crime to the hypothesis that has been created. This means that the
outcome of each profile created will depend on the skills & knowledge of the profiler rather than the technique
so is open to interpretation making it a less useful technique to find an offender.
Ecological validity means that the research on profiling needs to be representative of how it will be used in
the real world to make use it is useful. The American offender profiling technique used interviews of 36
known serial killers to create a data base of characteristics that can link suspect to crimes. This means that the
approach should be useful for crimes that are similar to the ones used to create the profiling technique as they
are collected from real life sources.
Research that is deterministic may be useful as it will allow profilers to predict what psychological
characteristics an offender will have based on the evidence left at the crime scene. The British approach to
offender uses the crime scene data to show the main characteristics the offender will have and so list potential
areas for the police to investigate. This means that it is possible to create a profile that will reduce the scope of
an investigation if it is made by people with the right knowledge and so make profiling more useful for helping
to catch an offender.
Other possible offender profiling questions - Section A
a. Outline approaches that psychologists could use to create offender profiles(6)
a. Outlines the stages involved in developing a profile (6)
a. Describe one piece of research that investigates the biases and pitfalls of offender profiling (6)
a. Outline evidence that investigates the biases and pitfalls of offender profiling (6)
a. Outline one approach to offender profiling (6)
b. Discuss the validity of offender profiling (10)
b. Discuss the problems faced by psychologists when investigating offender profiling (10)
b. Discuss the differences between two different approaches to offender profiling (10)
b Discuss the usefulness of offender profiling as aids to police investigations (10)