The purpose of this report is to examine and to critically
evaluate two offender profiling approaches. The Federal Bureau of Investigation
(F.B.I) Clinical approach, also know and the U.S approach and the British
Statistical approach. To understand what offender profiling is and the theories
surrounding it, this report will be structured specifically to ensure that the
subject matter is evaluated thoroughly. Offender profiling methods will be
described, evaluated and critically analysed through comparisons, to gain a
thorough evaluation. Criminal profiling will be evaluated with evidential data,
theorists and cases.
“Offender profiling is usually defined as the process of
predicting the characteristics of an offender based on information gathered by
police officers and scientific officers.” (Gavin, 2014: 220). Law enforcement
officers as well as the criminal justice systems requires expertise and
assistance for serious crimes. The cases will vary, a serial murderer, serial
rapist or an unexplained murder. Offender profiling will be used in these cases,
to assist with investigations and to narrow the field of suspects
The two approaches of offender profiling are an
investigative tool, the FBI was the first agency to create a profile and charge
the offender. In Britain, David Canter a pioneer of the British approach
assisted police officers and charged the offender, the Railway Rapist (1980)
(Bartol and Bartol, 2013: 4). Canters statistical approach led to a charge.
This report will examine the similarities and differences as well as connote
An early account of FBI profiling was a profile generated
for the ‘Mad Bomber’ case, in 1940-1950, an American terrorist. The ‘father of
profiling’ known as James Brussel, a psychiatrist who pioneered the mad bombers
case, created an offender profile which led the investigation to a charge.
(Bartol and Bartol, 2013: 4). Psychologists, psychiatrist, detectives and other
academia’s will be able to draw up a profile, providing professional assistance
to the police, either the to the FBI or British Statistical method.
Offender Profiling Methods
To commence, the FBIs key principles in their approach is
oppositional to the British approach. It is a clinical approach, operationalising cases based on
observation and experience. During the start of the FBI, and current ongoing
method is qualitative
research, the FBI study and explore serial murders, rapists and offenders to
interview and gain psychological insight. ‘Case Linkage’ is a method which
analyses similarities of behaviours between crimes. The profilers have observed
various offenders to create classifications, focussing on the mind and the
thinking of the offender. Ressler et al (1988) states that the FBI approach
classifies behaviour and personality from analysing the crime of individual cases.
Classifications were first created by concluding where offenders or suspects
would be categorically, the FBI created two categories: organised and
disorganised. This data was created from several interviews, from four stages.
Beginning with assimilation, the gathering of information, creating meaningful
patterns, then sequences of the offence which will be categorised in to
organised or disorganised criminal, fourthly the profile is generated (Gavin,
This is the basic FBI approach where the mind of the offender is hunted,
to discover the motivations of the crime. The importance of motivations was generated
as typologies by the FBI:
hedonistic motivations to seek pleasure, power motivations, visionary
motivations and mission-orientated motivations will allow a profile to be
created in clearer and narrower manner. A case study to relate to is Jack the Ripper
(1888), serial murder who believed that God had ordered him to kill women
prostitutes. Jack the Ripper was driven by a mission, a mission-oriented
killer. The predicted motivation can be shown in the offender’s personality and
characteristics, therefore a better chance of suspects and charge. The suspect
fit the classification of age, gender etc; the profile was implemented in to the
investigation which assisted the police resulting in the charge of the
Adding to this, Paul Britton, an early profiler of the FBI profiling
approach, was a psychologist whom investigated on a perplexed case, Caroline
Osborne (1984). During the case, Britton searched for behavioural characteristics to find a sequence,
to pinpoint the offender. Britton believed that the murder was
sexually-motivated; Britton’s profile was descriptive of the offender which
resulted in an arrest and charge.
To critically understand the importance of behaviour and the underlying
reasons, criminal ‘signature’. FBI have gathered that a serial murderer or
rapist may have a ‘signature’ move which can vary, e.g. to take a body part
from every victim to keep as a souvenir, particular body positioning of the
dead. This same act which is done many times, from crime-to-crime. This
behaviour will allow identification and more of a precise detection, the FBI
believe that this behaviour is cognitive. Turvey (2008) understands that this
behaviour will present to investigators the motivations of the crime, as well
as direct investigators to the “psychological and emotional needs of the
offender” (Bartol & Bartol, 2013:35). Theoretically, the FBI have stated
that an individual who commits murders and serious crimes with a signature of
mutilation or comparable will show that their behaviour is due to
psychopathology. FBI profilers believe that whoever can commit sadistic torture
and other heinous crimes is mentally unstable and has a disorder. (Bartol &
The British statistical approach differs, a theoretical method which uses quantitative data. This
approach is behavioural and
deems to create a profile based on a geographical profiling method. The statistical approach relies as
well as focuses on previous offender similarities, data stored from the past to
predict a possible outcome. David
Canter, labelled this approach as investigative psychology; Canters method is
to attain behavioural clues from the crime scene, evidence as well as daily
activities as well as daily activities. Behavioural traits allow styles and patterns
to be identified. (Ainsworth, 1999: 112).
“… A simple logic and sound knowledge of how to apply
scientific and statistical techniques. (Turvey, 2008)” (Gavin, 2014: 219).
Turvey affirms that although criminal profiling may seem as a abundant
applauded tool, it is relatively simplistic.
Statistical approach is theory driven, generalisations are
created from statistics. The distinction between the FBI and the statistical
approach is motivations and behaviours. An example is location from the
statistical approach, the behaviour of the offender reveals as to why the crime
was committed in a specific area. David Canter focussed on the understanding of
the environment, location of the crime was important. The aim was to provide
psychological theory in to police investigation, mental and behavioural theory
is integrated in to investigations. This approach collects data of serious and
unique crimes which have stereotypes, the behaviour of the offender can be
predicted. From the statistical British approach this is known as ‘Base rate’ which
sets the initial profile. Studies have shown that behavioural studies develop
themes for serious crimes. Then formed in to stereotypical behaviours.
both approaches it is visible that these approaches require expertise to
undertake as well as have limitations.
The clinical approach requires in depth-interviews, a study
by Douglas and Ressler (1970-1983) was carried out; the aim was to engage with
offenders and gain an insight in to the mind and the thinking of serial killers
and rapists. However, the clinical approach was tested and criticised as the
question of why offenders ‘volunteered’ to participate arose. Douglas and
Ressler argued that the investigation to gather hidden meanings and personality
was flawed. The clinical approached is limited to lack of academic input as
well as minimal experience. Statistical profiler Canter (2004) has argued that
the clinical approach lacks empirical foundation, and merely owns any
theoretical basis. Canter argues that this approach is limited due to lack of
reliability as it relies on ‘assumptions’ (Gavin, 2014:225) and ‘personal
intuition’ (Ainsworth, 1999: 108).
As the British
approach is analytical and theory based, the argument that the clinical
classification system is not of this way, Canter has argued that the FBI approach
which relies on the research of 36 interview based studies are small and not
reliable. Their study lacks form and systemic resolutions (Gavin, 2014: 225). Opposing
this, Howard and Douglas (1980) place an argument which believes that the
clinical method aims to investigate through psychological insight, which
supposedly proves reliability (Ainsworth, 1999: 108). Additionally, Hazelwood
& Burgess (1987) have created an understanding that investigative
interviewing can provide a better understanding of attack and motive (Ainsworth,
“How and why variations in criminal behaviour occur” (Dwyer,
2001: 51). The British statistical approach falls back on psychological
theories and practices, stated by Canter, this is scientific and valid, opposed
to the clinical approach. The way in which this approach deems to do this is by
correlating differences between criminal behaviour and individual cases; unlike
the FBI, the FBI create typologies and classifications, to categorise cases.
However, the statistical approach lacks use to low level and
less atrocious crimes, therefore a constant use of this approach for law
enforcement may not be applicable. As offender profiling is stated to narrow suspects.
In addition, styles and statistical data will be seen to share similar criminal
styles, therefore the suspicion of innocent people will be problematic. To give
an example of why this would be problematic, is the rates of overrepresentation
of the Black and ethnic minority community. Racial profiling may be a bias
therefore may result in more false suspicions due to similar criminal style.
(Ministry of Justice, 2015). In addition to the statistical approach, the FBI
clinical approach also has limitations whilst dealing with other crimes. As
stated, it is unclear to use the typologies gathered for sexual and murder
crimes on cases which involve drug trafficking or theft; personalities and
motives aren’t sought after on these crimes as they are for serial sexual
As offender profiling is empathized in the media on TV shows
as well as films, the numbers of profiling solving cases is low. Britton (1997)
has also argued that profilers have not solved cases, rather forensic
scientists, evidence and regular law enforcement has solved cases and
Ministry of Justice
Analytical Services (2015). Associations between police-recorded ethnic
background and being sentenced to prison in England and Wales.
Ainsworth, P. (1999). Psychology
and crime: myths and reality. 1st ed. Harlow, England etc.: Longman.
Bartol, C. and Bartol, A. (2013).
Criminal & behavioral profiling. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: SAGE Publications.
Dwyer, D. (2001). Angles on
criminal psychology. Cheltenham: Nelson Thornes, p.51.
Gavin, H. (2014). Criminological
and forensic psychology. Los Angeles: SAGE.
Minostry of justice 2015