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Criminal Profiling and Understanding the Criminal Mind

By: , Posted on: August 12, 2015

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We are excited to announce that the Second Edition of the Encyclopedia of Forensic and Legal Medicine will be publishing November 2015! In this pioneering four volume encyclopedia, an international team of forensic specialists explore the relationship between law, medicine, and science in the study of forensics.  This important work includes over three hundred state-of-the-art chapters, with articles covering crime-solving techniques such as autopsies, ballistics, fingerprinting, hair and fibre analysis, and the sophisticated procedures associated with terrorism investigations, forensic chemistry, DNA, and immunoassays. Available online and in four printed volumes, the encyclopedia is an essential reference for any practitioner in a forensic, medical, healthcare, legal, judicial, or investigative field looking for easily accessible and authoritative overviews on a wide range of topics. Read below about criminal Profiling, just one of the hundreds of interesting and exciting topics covered.

Criminal Profiling- Understanding the Criminal Mind

Dr. James A. Brussel, a New York psychiatrist, was one of the first practitioners of criminal profiling. For a 16-year period during the 1940s and 1950s, New York City was terrorized by the “Mad Bomber,” who set off 37 bombs in the New York area. The police contacted Dr. Brussel for an analysis of the case. Dr. Brussel concluded that the individual would be a heavy-set man, foreign-born, a Roman Catholic, and living with a sibling. He further stated that when the police located the man, he would be wearing a buttoned double-breasted suit. In 1957, George Metesky was arrested by the police for the bombings. Metesky was a heavy-set, foreign-born, Roman Catholic, who lived with his sister. When he answered the door, he was wearing a double-breasted suit, buttoned.

In the 1970s, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) began providing criminal profiling based upon a multidisciplinary approach of investigative experience, psychology, crime scene expertise, and forensics. Special Agent Howard Teten was a member of the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit (BSU), who developed and taught a course titled Applied Criminology (profiling). Teten co-taught this course with a fellow agent, Pat Mullany, who was also an instructor at BSU. Together, they began to receive requests from police investigators to review and conduct profiles on current, ongoing cases. Their analyses met with many positive results. The success of Teten and Mullany led to the creation of the FBI’s National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime (NCAVC) and put the process of criminal profiling into common practice.


The process of profiling has its origins in “psychological profiling” and criminal case-study descriptions originally published by forensically inclined psychologists and psychiatrists seeking to further the understanding of the criminal mind. Early profiling work also involved the psychiatric and psychological assessments of individuals for strategic purposes, such as the psychiatric assessment of Aldof Hiltler during World War II. Historically, psychiatrists and psychologists wrote psychological profiles of criminals as diagnostic formulations. Early profiling efforts were disseminated among mental-health professionals to foster discussion and debate on a broad diversity of theoretical issues. These “profiling” orientations practiced by mental-health professionals often lacked overt practical law-enforcement application.

In the 1970s, “psychological profiling,” sometimes referred to as “criminal or behavioral profiling,” was systematically implemented as an investigative technique by the BSU. The FBI’s approach to profiling differed markedly from the methodology employed by mental-health professionals. Rather than conducting a clinically based construct of a known offender as a means of gaining insight, detailed examinations of the behavior(s) evidenced in the interactions between offenders and victims, and displayed at the scenes of crimes served as the basis of analysis and prediction. The FBI approach to criminal profiling was predicated on the belief that criminal behavior, as evidenced in victim–offender interactions and crime scene activities, reflected offender personality traits and that such traits could be identified and categorized. FBI profiling began as an informal analysis, but gradually transitioned into a formal service as the practical law-enforcement value of behaviorally based crime analyses became evident. With time, research involving the interviews of incarcerated offenders, coupled with the standardization of analytical protocols and training methodologies, served to formalize the profiling process.

Early FBI criminal profiling efforts focused primarily on ascribing behavioral and personality characteristics to unknown offenders in serious violent crimes and serial offenses. Central to this approach was the concept of an organized/disorganized behavioral dichotomy. This continuum was based on recognized differences in a spectrum of behavioral characteristics indicative of varying degrees of criminal sophistication. Organized offenders planned their offenses, would target a victim who was a stranger, and were very evidence-conscious. Disorganized offenders tended to commit spontaneous offenses, were acquainted with the victim, and left physical evidence at the crime scene.

Through analysis of the crime scene, profilers could utilize crime scene characteristics to ascertain personality traits of either organized or disorganized offenders. Organized offenders were described as very intelligent, with better than average IQ scores, high birth-order status in their family, socially and sexually competent, worked in a skilled profession, were in a controlled mood during the commission of their crime, used alcohol during the crime, were very mobile, and followed the crime in the news media. Disorganized offenders were described as of average intelligence, had minimal birth-order status, were socially immature, sexually incompetent, had poor work history, were in an anxious mood during the crime, did not consume alcohol during the crime, lived near the crime scene, and had minimal interest in the news media.

This system was limited, however, because of the inherent problems of a simple two-category classification model. Human behavior is much more variable than an “either/or” choice of organized behavior/disorganized behavior. Behavior falls along a continuum between the two poles and usually displays descriptive characteristics of both organized and disorganized offenders.

This excerpt was taken from the article Criminal profiling, read more about the psychology behind criminal profiling and the CIA approach here

forensic and legal medicineRelated Articles from the Encyclopedia of Forensic and Legal Medicine:

Forensic Psychiatry and Forensic Psychology | Criminal Responsibility

Crime-Scene Investigation and Examination | Collection and Chain of Evidence

Mass Murder

The Second Edition of the Encyclopedia of Forensic and Legal Medicine will be publishing November 2015! Learn more about it here.

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