Criminal Profiling: Principles and Practice

Profiling is one of the most areas of interest in Criminal Psychology. This is the process of identifying personality traits, behavioural tendencies, geographical location, and demographic or biographical descriptors of an offender based on traits of the crime having been committed (Hickey, 2003).

It is important to note that the process of profiling involves the study or investigation of a particular crime scene and analyzing the evidence or circumstances under which a crime was committed.

According to Hickey, the ultimate goal of criminal profiling is to provide a rough composite of behaviour relevant to a certain suspect in order to help law enforcers reduce the pool of possible suspects to a more manageable number (2003).

Experts assert that the profiling process is dictated by the quality of the research data that has been collected on previous offenders and were found to have committed a similar offence.

In Describing criminal profiles, Kocsis says that typical profiles contain information about the probable offender concerning some of the following (2007):

- Likely demographics such as age and gender

- Legal history of offense having been committed or even convictions

- The responsibility of the offender such as the vocational background or work he/she is engaged in

- Family characteristics and background of the offenders family

-  Habits and social interests such as hobbies, sports and other spots that interest the offender

-  Personality traits of the offender

Criminal profiling in contrast with forensic archaeology utilizes the analytical concepts of psychology unlike forensic archaeology that employs methods such forensic anthropology, recovery and excavation of human remains, recording the burial context, using forensic experts to assist on toxicology, entomology, ballistics, palynology and even soil analysis (Godwin, 2001).

Discussion of Terms and Concepts

Criminal Psychopathy – This is a study that combines two entities basically psychology and its relevance to a criminal offense. Bartol and Bartol in describing a psychopath, say a person who demonstrates a discernable cluster of psychological, interpersonal, and neuropsychological features that can be used to distinguish him or her from the general public. In this description, therefore, a psychopath may or may not engage in any form of habitual criminal behaviour (2004).

Therefore a criminal psychopathy is the aspect of forensic psychology that deals with the investigation of psychopaths who demonstrate a wide range of persistent antisocial behaviour as far as crime is concerned.

Criminal psychopaths is generally classified as a group tending to be dominant, manipulative and always characterized by impulsive, risk taking and anti-social life style and obtain great pleasure or thrill from diverse sexual gratification targeting diverse victims over time (Bartol & Bartol, 2004: Porter et al., 2000). It is then important to clarify that crime and violence dominate this study and the true psychopaths also referred to as primary psychopaths have unemotional feelings towards others lacking concern for societal rules and regulations.

Non-Criminal Psychopathy – In contrasting non-criminal psychopaths, they tend to demonstrate characteristics of insensitivity, and differing levels of empathy, compassion and guilt. The difference is that crime or violence more or less is not habitual behaviour for them and as such they may not come to contact with the criminal justice system.

According to Patrick, it is possible to have non-criminal psychopaths, the difference of which can be displayed in the failure of primary psychopaths to develop conscience and empathic feelings due to inherent psychological peculiarity making them difficult to socialize with (2007).

Non-criminal psychopaths do not behave as the criminal psychopaths whose innate peculiarity draws them to behave in ways that suggest relative indifference t probability of punishment for any criminal actions they commit.

Compulsive behaviour

Masters and Masters assert that obsessive-compulsive disorder is an impulse control disorder of the brain. It is often connected with obsessions or unwanted ideas, thoughts, impulses and even fears and when these obsessions bring enormous anxiety on a person, can end up producing repetitive behaviours labeled compulsions some of which can serve as motivation for criminal behaviour (2004).

This will make the conclusion that certain psychopaths are affected by the obsessive compulsive disorder hence results into either criminal or non-criminal psychopaths.

Addictive behaviour

According to Masters and Masters, offenders with antisocial personality disorder are characterized by behaviours such as lying, impulsiveness, emotional shallowness, irresponsibility, lack of conscience and long-term antisocial behaviour (2004). Addictive behaviours involve categories such as process and exposes compulsive behaviours such as shopping, kleptomania, Internet abuse, eating, working, gambling, sex, raging, and some of criminality. Serial murders could be motivated by process addiction resulting in serial killing, rape and other criminal activities. The criminal could be a psychopath by definition of his or her personality disorders.

Antisocial Personality Disorder

Personality is defined by Hickey as “the relatively stable pattern of behaviour, thoughts, and emotions that distinguish individuals”. It is represented by characteristics one adopts and the manner in which a person’s interpersonal relationships evolve, maintain, or disintegrate (2003).

Bartol and Bartol state that “antisocial personality disorder refers specifically to an individual who exhibits what is referred to as ‘pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of rights of other that begins in childhood or early adolescence and continues into adulthood’” (2004)

Antisocial personality disorder and psychopathy must not be used synonymously as the former refers to broad behavioural patterns based on clinical observations while the latter refers “not only to specific behavioural patterns but also to measurable cognitive, emotional, and neuropsychological differences” (Bartol & Bartol, 2004).

In explaining antisocial personality disorder, Lykken 1995, states that APD – as it is usually referred- takes place of early labels as psychopathy, sociopathy, and dissocial personality. In order for one to be diagnosed with APD, an individual must show

a) a pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of rights of others

b) the person must be at least 18 years of age and

c)  there must be evidence of conduct disorder in addition

d)  fails to conform to social norms as concerning lawful behaviour

e)  deceitfulness being indicated by repeated lying, use of aliases or con acts for personal profit or pleasure

f)  impulsivity or failure to plan ahead

g) irritability and aggressiveness indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults

h) reckless disregardful for safety or self or others

i)  lacks remorse indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen

According to Hickey, the behaviour and characteristics associated with this disorder include:

a) irresponsibility

b) unstable interpersonal relationships

c) deceitfulness

d) manipulations

e) erratic work histories

f) unlawful behaviours

If a person has personality disorder, APD indicates an inflexible, maladaptive, and persistent pattern of behaviour according to Hickey that causes significant impairments in functioning or subjective distress. In Hickeys opinion, this excludes criminal, aggressive, or antisocial behaviours engaged in by an individual who does not match the diagnostic criteria of APD (2003).

According to Hickey, children and adolescents diagnosed with a conduct disorder are at the great risk for developing APD if they experience abuse or neglect by parents, instability of parental attachment or inconsistency in parental discipline (2003).

General Criminal Behaviour

According to Cassel and Bernstein, “crime is an intentional act or failure to act that is in violation of criminal law, committed without defense or excuse, and penalized by the state as a felony or misdemeanor (2007).

This definition is used then not all psychopathic actions will be treated as crime. The law does not hold one responsible for conduct normally defined as criminal if they offender justifies by proof of self-defense, insanity at the time of committing the offense, entrapment and infancy in terms of under a certain age. Presently societies have changed bringing different definitions of criminal conduct depending on values of the society, economic conditions and political climates (Cassel & Bernstein, 2007).

“Criminal behaviour can thus be defined as an act that violates criminal law and may therefore be followed by proceedings and attract the appropriate punishment”. This is according to Hollin who states that a complete criminal act consists of a guilty act and carried out with criminal intentions (2000).

In the context of criminology, Cassel and Bernstein, explain that criminal behaviour is the commission of acts that, in the situational and social setting, are considered crimes by the fact that these acts violate prevailing norms and codes of ethics or conduct regardless of whether the perpetrators are arrested or if arrested and tried, they are convicted or acquitted (2007).

Criminal behaviour whether general or specific is complex due to the interaction between the person’s psychological and biological traits and the economic, social, and cultural systems in which they are born into or raised up (Cassel & Bernstein, 2007).


The process of criminal profiling involves a number of steps as suggested by Bartol and Bartol; these include diagnostic evaluation of the offender, crimes scene analysis and investigative psychology. The first of these not being much of a discipline is minimally used and the crime scene analysis taken on much by the FBI. (Bartol & Bartol, 2005; Lincon & Kocsis, 1997).

Criminal profiling is a six step process and includes the analysis of all the six phases to make conclusive assertions on the suspect.

The first stage involves profiling inputs and concerns collection of all relevant information pertinent to the crime including photos of the crime scene, preliminary reports, victim’s information and all of the forensic information collected.

Then the second stage is a decision process model where organization of information is done, to determine the type of crime for instance homicide and style of it performance recorded e.g. mass, spree, or serial murder.

At this point important factor must be considered such as intent of the offender, risks status of the victim and the risk the offender took to commit that crime (Bartol & Bartol, 2005). According to a number of forensic experts the length of time taken to commit an offense should be determined and the location of the offense.

The third stage is crime assessment where the profiler attempts to reconstruct the crime by “walking in the shoes” of both the offender and the victim.

At this stage of the process the crime is categorized as organized or disorganized as the profiler determines to find how things happened at that particular point in time, attempting to discover the reaction of the victim and the offender and also how the offender planned and executed is or her moves (Bartol & Bartol, 2005).

The crime scene has a lot of evidence and elements of the crime scene that are thought to have significance for identifying certain categories of offenders can be examined. These elements of the scene can include type and location of wounds and the position of the body (Bartol & Bartol, 2005).

The fourth stage involves the attempt by the profiler to describe the person who committed the crime.

Bartol and Bartol stating Canter’s claim that “psychology is directly applicable to crime as crime can be seen as an interpersonal transaction where criminals are performing actions in a social context” urging that our methods of psychological interaction are ingrained into our personalities. Canter postulated five broad approaches that support psychology being used to profile offenders. The first being interpersonal coherence proposing that actions performed by criminals make sense within their own psychology.

The second approach as suggested by Canter is significance of space and time. The place offenders select for crime is usually of significance to the offender. The criminal always commits the offense in a familiar place. The third approach is criminal characteristics where the profiler looks at crimes committed and the offender and analyzing the differences to determine leads of classifying the offender.

History has revealing stories of one murder in London city murdering then mutilating the bodies of his or her victims a great number being prostitutes in the 1880s. Centuries later the real identity of this person has not been found only being identified as Jack the Ripper.

Analysis of his crimes: Indicated that most of his victims were prostitutes. The Ripper generally killed by strangling his victims meaning that he was strong enough to either bound the victims or convincing enough such as to lure them into a defenseless state. After strangling the victims, Jack would then lay them down and cut the arteries in their throat followed by a varied process of mutilation.

A victim of Jack, named Mary Ann was an alcoholic and a prostitute was grubbed late in the night and her throat slit, and lying on her back, her skirt pulled to her waist and her legs parted records Gregg McCary with many incisions on her body and a number of mutilations.

Petherick asserts that Jack may have been suffering from a condition known as satyriasis-excessive and uncontrollable sexual desire (2009).

Analyzing the crime scene indicated that the Ripper was mutilating the bodies of almost all his victims in the same fashion. Maybe we would ask almost all the victims were prostitutes, and why Jack going for specifically these category of people.

Gregg lists a number of Jack’s victims Chapman’s uterus missing, Eddowes’ uterus and kidney remove and face mutilated, Kelly’s body eviscerated and face hacked and her heart missing from the crime scene. The murders were all undertaken in the same manner on victims mostly women prostitutes who after drinking or in a confused state were slain using a sharp knife by slitting the throat and may be cutting open the abdomen. The offender in these cases seemed to lack empathy for any of his victims, and likely suffered rejection from the society and a loner of some sort.

In conclusion as Hickey records, Jack was very adept at eviscerating victims and removing organs some of which he kept and clearly had derived sexual gratification from dismembering. He even risked being found by taunting police and newspaper sending letters written in victims’ blood vowing death to all prostitutes (2003). Jack was definitely a serial psychopaths and a criminal.

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