The Usual Suspsects

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To read a Sherlock Holmes novel is to read about a master working his craft. He is a master of deduction and uses it in every novel he stars in as means to create a criminal profile. Criminal profiling a is a relatively new area of psychology not truly being recognized as its own area of study until the 1970s. Criminal profiling is a behavioral and investigative tool used to help investigators profile unknown criminal subjects or offenders.

There are three main goals that criminal profiling tries to accomplish. The first goal is to provide law enforcement with a social and psychological profile of the unknown offender. The second goal is to provide law enforcement with a psychological evaluation of the offenders possessions or instruments when found. The third and final goal is to give law enforcement suggestions and strategies for questioning process when the possible offender is identified. Criminal profiling is also considered the third wave of the investigative process of a crime. The first two waves are identifying and searching the crime scene and study of the crime itself. These two steps are followed by trying to profile the possible offender with all of the information collected thus far from the other two waves.

The FBI uses criminal profiling in almost all of its investigations. The problem is they do not have many field psychologists and rely on field agents to gather evidence for the purpose of profiling. While this is better than not collecting any evidence at all, the problem lies in with the fact that most of these field agents are the ones also making the criminal profiles. Field agents claim their investigative experience is what allows them to create accurate profiles, but some psychologists disagree with the quality of these profiles. Psychologists that are employed by the FBI have recently conducted studies on recent cases and have found that many of the profiles do not follow the scientific method. While most of these profiles made by the FBI field agents are correct, the method they used leaves more room for error than the psychological method used by trained forensic psychologists.

I believe that both field agents along with forensic psychologists should be present when recording evidence for criminal profiling. The experience of a field officer would help to identify previous situations in which the type of crime took place. A forensic psychologist could then take this past data into account when recording the evidence from the scene and putting together a profile. If they both work together they could help prevent faulty profiles from being made thus ensuring the correct suspect is being tracked down for questioning.

Ian Peters

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Good thoughts. I would add to this that even trained psychologists should be wary of creating a holistic profile based on their own experience. They may do better than non-psychologists, but they are still pretty likely to do worse than simple regression equations.

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This page contains a single entry by pete8021 published on November 20, 2011 6:56 PM.

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