Pat Brown Answers Student Questions
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What is criminal profiling?
Criminal profiling is a methodology of crime solving which involves studying a crime scene or more than one crime scene to determine what occurred at the crime scene or scenes, what the motive is, who the perpetrator might be, and if a number of crimes might be linked (committed by the same perpetrator).
Is there more than one kind of criminal profiling?
Yes, there are a number of names given to the field along with a number of methodologies but the two most recognized are inductive and deductive. The FBI states that their Behavioral Science Unit profilers do the inductive kind which uses existing research to extrapolate characteristics and behaviors of offenders of particular crimes and apply them to similar crimes, essentially determining what is statistically more likely to be true of an offender based on how offenders have behaved in the past. However, this is a dangerous methodology because there is no proof that the behaviors of a certain group of convicted offenders applies to a present unsolved crime; a profile should only be based on evidence that exists at that crime scene.
Deductive profiling is the other most well-known methodology which bases all deductions on the evidence present at the scene and determinations are to be explained as to how they are arrived at; the analysis is to be as scientific and objective as possible. This is the kind of profiling I have always believed is the most useful to law enforcement and it is what I have always practiced and it is the method I train detectives in so that they can do their own profiling within their investigations.
What is the FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit's exact procedure when it comes to solving a case?
This is an excellent question that no one FBI profiler has really explained. They tend to say that they examine all the evidence and, because of their years of experience studying the criminal mind and criminal cases, they are able to create a profile of the perpetrator. Unfortunately, much of their method is shrouded in mystery which is very concerning because anything based on a scientific method should involve a technique which can be full explained. They do state that inductive profiling helps them develop a profile but it is a bit confusing as to what evidence is being used, what statistics are being applied, and how much creativity is at hand because the profiles do not usually contain this kind of detail.
What is an "unsub"?
This is an acronym for "unknown subject" that you hear used all the time on Criminal Minds. In explaining how profiling works, ex-FBI profiler John Douglas has used the acronym to describe a yet-to be-identified individual who has committed a particular crime, but to date I have not personally heard anyone in law enforcement use the term. They just say perp (perpetrator), the offender, the killer, or "the guy who did this."
Is criminal profiling done by the FBI or an independent profiler an aid or a deterrence to police departments?
If a profile is developed based on the evidence and not guesswork or creative thinking and each determination is explained as to how it was arrived at and what evidence supports the conclusion, then it is of benefit to law enforcement. If determinations are made based on general statistics and the profiler's "intuition" then the profile is not scientifically produced and, if the detectives on the case accept the profile as fact, then the case can be thrown off course as the wrong avenue is investigated.
Is criminal profiling practiced within organizations other than the Federal Bureau of Investigation?
Yes, some state agencies have profilers and there are independent profilers like myself who can be called in and any detective with proper training can profile his own case.
Compared to other standard techniques of solving a case, is criminal profiling an effective method?
Criminal profiling's success rate suffers in the same way as other methods' success rates suffer. For it to be done well, the person doing the analysis needs to have logic, excellent training, support from his superiors, ample time to do a good job, as complete a set of information as possible, and the ability to be as objective and as ethical as possible.
Is criminal profiling a pseudoscience? Is it an art or a science?
Some have called out criminal profiling as a pseudoscience because of the claims by some FBI profilers that profiling is a mix of art and science. This is very concerning because art has no place in crime analysis. No profiler should go with a "feeling" or some psychic intuition or believe so much in his ability to "get into the mind of the criminal" that he thinks he can guess who did it and why without basing each and every determination on actual evidence. Unfortunately, many have created profiles that were indeed based on the profiler's "insights" and not on facts which has caused profiles to be misleading and the field of profiling to be tarnished.
What is the purpose of understanding past crimes that have been committed?
Although inductive profiling and basing one's analysis of a particular crime scene on statistics and previous behaviors of convicted offenders is not proper, what we can learn from past research does increase our understanding of how criminals behave and think. This knowledge helps one understand what one sees at a crime scene, helps one understand what the evidence means. However, the profiler has to be careful not to believe everything written about killers because some of the claims about a killer's motive or his behaviors come from the killer himself and he may be not be telling the truth. Unless what he says can be corroborated, his claims should be taken with a grain of salt. Unfortunately, some of what is written about killers simply is false. There are also two other problems: sometimes, an analysis of a killer has been written based on a crime he was convicted of or linked to when, in fact, he did not commit the crime. Therefore, the information generated is simply not true. Finally, we only have information about convicted criminals, not those that managed to get away with their crimes, so we are missing a lot of information about criminal behavior right there! Of course, we can only learn as much as is possible, but we have to keep in mind not to misunderstand the veracity of the information we come in contact with.
To what extent are criminal profiles used in court to imprison criminals?
Criminal profiles should never be used in court to convict people because the profile is only a theory, not proof. Evidence should be presented in court, not hypotheses. Profiling should establish leads for a detective (based on evidence) that should lead to more evidence and all that evidence together should be strong enough to get a conviction. Criminal profiling should be an investigative tool, not a prosecutorial one.
What are the qualifications/educational/training requirements for Criminal Profiling?
Interestingly, since there are so few jobs in criminal profiling, there are also no real requirements! If one goes into the FBI, one has to become an agent first and then get chosen to work in the Behavioral Science Unit where one will be then trained. I have not heard of any specifics or particular requirements to be chosen outside of being a good agent but it may help to have a forensic psychology degree. Outside of the FBI, again, no specific requirements but independent profilers tend to decide for themselves what they need as a background which usually is either forensic psychology, forensic science, a combination of both or a conglomeration of training and experience including study in those fields and private investigation, criminal justice, crime analysis, police work, etc. College education may be combined with specialized seminars and fieldwork. Some colleges now provide education in criminal profiling or investigative analysis but the content of each program may differ greatly and so may the qualifications of those teaching these programs.
What is a typical day like in this field?
If by this you mean a typical day when one is focused entirely on profiling a homicide case, it depends on where one is at in the analysis process. For example, if I have just arrived at the police department, I will be ushered into an interview room and asked what I need. I will tell them I want to see the crime scene photos, the police reports, the evidence, the evidence reports, the interviews with suspects and witnesses (in that order) and then they will bring me boxes which I then start working through. I will probably sitting in that room at the end of the day, still looking at stuff and typing on my laptop. I will take a break to go to lunch and the bathroom. The next day and the day after I may do the same things again. However, there are times when I might stop and speak with the investigators, ask some questions, or I may go out into the community to check on something (like what the area is like where the homicide occurred, how long it takes to get from Point A to Point B) or I may interview people with the permission of the police. I may also do crime scene reenactments so I can test if something could have happened the way it did. When I have done all of this and come to a conclusion, then I leave, go back to the office and write up my profile which I then send in to the department. How others do their work may differ but I can assure you what we do as profilers is nothing like Criminal Minds!
Is the FBI the only way to get into Criminal Profiling?
The FBI actually has less than a dozen agents working in the Behavioral Science Unit doing what we would call profiling, so there is little chance (outside of hard work and a lot of luck) that you will get that job. You would have to work for years for the FBI and then, somehow, get promoted into that job designation. You could also work as a police officer and then later, with training and education, work for the state police as a profiler but few do this. You could be an independent profiler like me but I can tell you that few police departments like outsiders working with them and challenging their analysis (which is essentially what profilers do when they come in and work on cold cases; they find out what was missed and then often point the detectives in a different direction and an overlooked suspect which likely means it is too late to actually get evidence to arrest the guy; then, the department would like the profiler to go away quietly and pretend that their detectives were on the right track and the profiler couldn't help). Because of politics and egos, outsiders are not particularly welcomed on police cases. For this reason, I no longer do cold case work but work to train police detectives to profile their own cases for better analysis and closure. So, the best way to actual get to profile is to become a police officer and then a detective; you will be able to profile every case of yours and, hopefully, if you have received good training, you will have a high rate of success in closing your cases.
Have you ever worked on gruesome cases?
Yes, many cases are gruesome due to the nature of homicide. Some people have been shot at close range with a shotgun which can blow apart the head. Some people have been stabbed a hundred times. Some people have been dismembered. But, you get used to it - seeing bodies in photos (rarely is a profiler actually on the crime scene; that is for the detectives on the case) - and it doesn't bother one too much. However, it is still sad to see what has happened to the victims, especially children, so there are times when the images stick in one's head and one is a bit melancholy. Interestingly enough, the most emotional part of working on any case is not dealing with the crime scene and the gruesome scenario, but talking to the heartbroken family members and friends.
What are some careers similar to profiling?
This depends if you think criminal profiling is more about psychology - understanding the criminal mind - or about forensics and evidence - studying the crime scene. In my opinion, analysis of the crime scene is really the bulk of what profiling is about; one has to understand the psychology of psychopaths but only to an extent. Getting into forensic psychology will get you work with court ordered psychiatric analysis, maybe working in a mental hospital with a criminal population or working in detention facilities where they are in need of someone with the ability to psychoanalyze and counsel inmates. There are jobs in forensics - working as a crime scene investigator which puts one in the actual act of analyzing crime - or one can work in a lab analyzing evidence which is far more scientific and clinical.
Have you ever met John Douglas?
Yes, and a number of other FBI profilers and independent profilers. We seem to all be normal people with an interest in crime analysis but different ways of approaching it!
Do you enjoy what you do?
Absolutely. I have been in this line of work for twenty years and I still find analyzing crime fascinating. Each case is a new and different puzzle so I never get bored.
How many cases have you completed?
Many, but it is a difficult question to answer because sometimes we provide analysis for a full case, other times a piece of a case, and it is the detectives and prosecutors who completes the case officially, not the profiler.
What has been your most interesting case?
Of all the cases I have dealt with, I would say the case of Madeleine McCann, the little British girl who went missing while on vacation with her parents in Portugal is the most fascinating (as well as the most well known missing child case in the world). Due to the fact the parents have been suspects and then not suspects and the evidence is very limited and unique, the speculation about what actual happened to the child has captivated the world. I wrote a book on this case, Profile of the Disappearance of Madeleine McCann, in which I lay out my theory that the evidence points to the involvement of the parents in the disappearance of their daughter following an accidental death in the apartment while the parents were not in attendance and the child was left alone with her siblings.
What type of people do criminal profilers come into contact with on a daily basis on the job?
Typically, we spend the majority of the time with ourselves, studying cases. We also interact with law enforcement, the families of the victims, and, sometimes we interview neighbors, friends, and, possibly, the killer himself.
What does a person need in order to become a profiler?
First and foremost, logic. If you are not a logical person, you will not be good at figuring out a puzzle. Secondly, you must have the ability to be objective. If you are too emotional or get too fascinated by the behaviors of the killers, you will lose the ability to be able to analyze the evidence in a scientific manner. Finally, you need good training.
What made you want to be a profiler?
Many years ago I suspected someone of possibly committing a crime. Local law enforcement improperly analyzed the case, ignored this suspect and focused entirely on a person who had no connection to the case. They failed to do a proper analysis. A new detective years later finally brought this suspect in and he became a top suspect. My concern was not so much that this particular individual was guilty but that he should have been quickly looked at as a suspect so evidence could be found early on that might connect him to the crime or, if no evidence was found to link him to the crime, he could be cleared. None of this was done and I became interested in exactly how cases were analyzed and how often they were analyzed improperly. I found that there was a serious lack of training for detectives and this started my studies in criminal profiling and crime analysis.
When you come face to face with a criminal you are expected to interview and then profile, what goes through your head?
That he is going to try and snow me. Most killers are psychopaths so they are going to lie to me, try to manipulate me, and get what they want from their time with me. I have to be wary of their tricks and work to outsmart them and get what I want from my time with them. It is like a chess game and I have to make sure I am the one saying, "Checkmate!"
Were serial killers abused while growing up?
Some were and some weren't. You will often hear that most of them are but this information often comes from the serial killer himself because he is seeking sympathy. Unless you can verify any abuse with a relative or someone close to the family, it is simply a claim the serial killer makes that you can take with a grain of salt. I can say this though; it is pretty much true across the board that there was some kind of dysfunction in the family the serial killer grew up in, something that caused him to lose empathy for others and to hate society.
What is your definition of a serial killer?
For years the FBI stated that a serial killer was someone who had killed at least three people with down time in between (in other words, killing a bunch of people at one time is a mass murder and killing people one after each other while on the run - stealing their cars and money - is a spree killer). But, I always had a problem with this definition. For me, any person who kills a stranger or acquaintance simply for the thrill of it is a possible serial killer. If they kill two people with down time in between, they certainly didn't have an issue with killing someone the first time, which is why they did it again, and why they will probably do it a third time and over and over. The FBI now has changed the number of people that qualifies a person as a serial killer from three to two; it isn't necessary to get to Number Three to realize that there is a psychopath out there who likes murdering people. Most importantly, when the police find a woman raped and murdered and dumped on the side of the road, they should immediately suspect a serial killer because the kind of person who would abduct, rape, and murder an innocent stranger is most likely not going to be deterred from doing it again; he needs to be caught.
What are the physical traits of a serial killer?
Once upon a time it was believed that murderers had strange bumps on their heads or looked like monsters. Then, it became a fad to claim serial killers were good looking; this started with Ted Bundy because someone in the media labeled him handsome and while he may not be ugly, many would consider him average looking. In other words, serial killers look just like the rest of the population, anywhere from not so attractive to very attractive.
Are there certain types of victims a serial killer preys on?
Serial killers like easy prey. This is why heterosexual male serial killers often choose petite women and homosexual male serial killers often pick small teenage boys. Women often choose children. It ruins ones feeling of power and control to get beaten up by the person you are trying to dominate and a serial killer wants to win every time. Also, if the person gets away from you, then they are a living victim who can turn you into the police. Other people serial killers choose as victims are prostitutes, drug addicts, and hitchhikers because they are easy to get alone and rape and kill or elderly women because they often live alone and are fragile and, in the case of serial killers who shoot people, people who are stationary because they are an easy target to hit.
Are there any ways to prevent a person from becoming a serial killer?
Having a safe and loving environment for a child to be born into is the best way to raise a healthy individual. Teaching honesty and empathy from a young age is important and it is important to be an honest and empathetic individual as parent because children learn much from what they observe. Not using violence as a tool of power and control and not providing nonstop violent entertainment as an option for amusement are also important parental methods of raising a happy, positive child who doesn't need to strike back at society to feel good about himself or herself.
How do you come up with a profile?
I analyze all the evidence, physical and behavioral, do crime scene reenactments to test theories and, finally, write a profile where each thing I have determined is supported by evidence. I make sure the detectives can understand how I reached my conclusions.
How do you read human behavior in an interview?
It is always useful to know what the person is like prior to the interview. This way we can have an idea of their normal behavior and then know if something is odd during the interview. However, sometimes we have just met them so we will not have any background. During the interview, it is important to ask questions but not push answers so that the individual is truly giving their own statement. Often it is good to let them continue without interruption to see exactly what they are trying to get across to you. Also, it is good to record the interview and have it in written form because then the profiler or detective can review the interview to see if there are specific things that were said that raise red flags or provide answers to what happened. Signs of lying and manipulating are often evident in the interview and one has to be aware when they are happening so one can move forward with a successful interview. If one is dealing with a psychopath, one has to manage the interview in such a way that the psychopath thinks he is giving only the information he thinks you should have when, in reality, he is giving up information that will help you solve the case.
How do you read human behavior at the crime scene of a homicide?
The physical evidence at the homicide scene can show what happened at that location and in what order and from this we can piece together who did what and why.
Typically, how long do you work on one case?
Some cases can be solved in a few minutes because it is so obvious what happened. Others can take years. But, generally, when I have gone to work on a case with a police department, I can come to my conclusions within a week, sometimes in a day or two.
How often do you visit crimes scenes and morgues?
I never visit fresh crimes scenes or go to the morgue.. I am not a detective so by the time I have come in on a case, time has passed, the evidence has been collected and stored and the body is buried or cremated. Sometimes, I do visit the location of the crime scene to see where it took place, what the neighborhood is like, and if the building is still standing (if it was in a building), I may have the chance to go inside and see it in person instead of in photos.
Do you ever have to interview the actual criminal?
Yes, I have years later but also sometimes during the ongoing investigation.
Are you hired under contract?
Independent profilers are rarely paid which is why few people work as independent profilers unless they have another source of income (like teaching, training, television, writing books, etc.). Police departments rarely have the funds to hire a profiler which is one reason profilers rarely help the police.
Is it hard to deal with such graphic content on a day to day basis?
You get used to it. If you are bothered oto much by it, you are in the wrong line of work. Also, since profilers rarely work on fresh cases, we are not confronted with the horrors in the same way as detectives on the case. They have to deal with being at the crime scene, seeing the murdered victim, and dealing with the families who have just found out their loved one has been killed. They can suffer PTSD, struggle with the depressing sights, and some leave the field or ask to be moved to another division because they no longer wish to deal with such horrible stuff. Some keep on and drink too much. Most, handle it in stride, amazingly well, and work to have a good family life and contribute to the community in a positive way outside of work.
What interrogation techniques do you use with a possible killer?
An interviewer has to be one step ahead of the person being interviewed. The case should be well studied as well as the role of the suspect. As an interviewer, I have to go in knowing what I am trying to learn and have a strategy planned as to how to get the information. Sometimes it is necessary to make the interviewee think you know more than you do so he will give up the information you need and sometimes you need to make the interviewee think you are trying to get one piece of information when, in fact, you want a different piece of information. It is a bit of trickery, sometimes, to control the interview and get the answers you are seeking.
Can you list some typical traits of a perpetrator?
Killers tend to be psychopaths unless the reason they kill is something unusual, maybe for the good of someone else or society; then the killer may recognize that he may have to pay the penalty taking the law into his own hand.. Other than that, it usual requires a psychopath to take someone's life for money or fun or power. Psychopaths have the following major traits: no empathy, grandiose thinking, narcissism, lack of conscience, manipulation, and pathological lying.
How accurate is a serial killer profile?
If it is entirely based on the evidence from the crime scene, it can be very accurate. If it is based on statistics, guesswork, and the imagination of the profiler, it can be completely wrong.
What makes up a profile of a murderer?
What should make up a profile is a description of exactly what happened at the scene, what the motive most likely is, and who most likely committed the crime. One must be very careful not to pad a profile with things such as race, age, education, hobbies, marital status, etc., if there is no actual evidence to draw those conclusions.
What is the difference between a serial killer and other kinds of murderers?
Mostly how they do it. All murderers kill for the same reason: it benefits them. The murder benefits them because they gain a feeling of power and control or they get back the power and control they feel they have lost. Sometimes I do add that serial killers, along with getting power and control from their murders, also do them because it is simply fun for them. Mass murders commit their crimes for power and control, revenge on society, and attention, attention being the most important motive (especially from the media).
What is the difference between a sociopath and a psychopath?
There is a lot of argument over this but I have not been found much use in the supposed differences between the two labels. I think there is an effort to separate how these individuals came to be disturbed, how they behave, and how guilty they feel, but I think most of the time the attribution of characteristics is more in the mind of the psychiatrist or profiler than in the personality disordered individual. Furthermore, there is not yet any proof what percentage of biology or environment causes the individual to become disturbed; up until now, it is simply speculation on what causes a person to become what I call a psychopath and what others might label a sociopath.
What are some factors in a violent offender's life that could lead them to homicide?
A violent offender usually is a loser or feels like one. Homicide makes him feel better, that by committing the murder he is able to obtain something that escapes him by any other method. What leads to the decision to kill is a lack of empathy, grandiose thinking, no conscience and a desire to get over on society and get even with people he thinks have it better than him. He wants to win and this is his way of doing it.
Is there a "basic" profile for a serial killer?
A psychopath who kills more than once for power and control and fun.
Can just anyone commit homicide under certain conditions?
Sure, if he feels justified in doing so. He will follow through if it is worth it to him and he feels he either won't get caught or is willing to pay the price for his crime.
Are serial killers born or made (nature vs. nurture) or is it a it a combination of the two?
There is no scientific proof either way. I believe serial killers are just like the rest of us when they are born and like the rest of us have certain genetic traits that are then molded by the environment we live in.
Can you do historical profiling?
Yes, I have done profiles of the death of Cleopatra and the crimes of Jack the Ripper. The same process can be used as one would use with present day cases. One must gather as much evidence as possible, research to be sure one understands all the issues, and then base a profile on the the evidence, being as objective as possible.
How do I get started working toward the profiling field?
Aim toward working in law enforcement because that is where you will actually be able to profile crime cases. Secondly, learn to read and write. Really, I get way too many emails from students who can't spell, can't use spell check, don't know how to address me ("Hi!" is not proper when writing a professional), and learn to research. Research means actually reading books and articles instead of simply contacting a professional and asking them a bunch of questions and then cut and pasting them into your "research" paper. In fact, if you are here reading these answers to student questions and you haven't read any real books or articles on profiling, you need to rethink going into this field. Profiling isn't about chasing serial killers about town; it is about being willing to work very hard studying evidence to solve cases. Which means you have to be willing to start reading and reading and reading so you can learn. I read 400 books before I became a profiler; I don't think there was a profiling book or any book related to the field I hadn't read before I actually started working as a profiler.
What books should I read?There are hundreds upon hundreds of books that one can read. As I started studying, I would read one book and then I was inspired to learn more and each time another book was mentioned, I went and read it as well. I dogged down every book that peaked my interest. Even out-of-print books can be found through Amazon's used booksellers or in a library. Even if your library doesn't have a book you would like, you can often have your library do a search for the book and have it sent from a library on the other side of the country! The books I have listed below are the books I believe really bring out the most important points in the field. From there, certainly, you should continue reading, but if time is limited, then start with these books. Not all books are created equal and there are many in the field which I believe are dead wrong and misleading, so I am pointing you toward those I think have the most value and won't seriously misinform you.
The Profiler: My Life Hunting Serial Killers and Psychopaths by Pat Brown
Criminal Shadows by David Canter
Criminal Profiling by Brent Turvey
Crime Reconstruction by Brent Turvey
The Murder of Cleopatra by Pat Brown
Practical Homicide Investigation by Vernon Geberth
Without Conscience by Robert Hare
The Mask of Sanity by Hervey Cleckley
Inside the Criminal Mind by Stanton Samenow
Forensic Pathology by Vincent DiMaio and Dominick DiMaio
Spitz and Fisher's Medicolegal Investigation of Death edited by Werner Spitz
Tainting Evidence John Kelly and Phillip Wearne
Bloodstain Pattern Analysis by Tom Bevel and Ross Gardner
Gunshot Wounds by Vincent DiMaio
Inside the Minds of Serial Killers by Pat Brown
Catching Serial Killers by Earl James
Trace Evidence by Bruce Henderson
Stalking Justice by Paul Mones
The Psychology of Serial Killer Investigations by Robert Keppel and William Birnes
What courses should I take?
The most important subjects you need to learn in order to profile are criminal profiling, crime scene analysis, psychopathy, forensic pathology, and the analysis of serial crimes. Criminal profiling should focus on the scientific method of deductive criminal profiling. Crime scene analysis should teach you how to view each piece of evidence and then how to link the evidence to create a "video" of the crime, so you can then know how it went down, why it was committed, and who may have done it. A study of psychopathy should be a course in identifying psychopaths and their behaviors; you do not need to do a full study of psychology because you will not need to provide treatment to psychopaths as the purpose of profiling is only to identify the perpetrator and, possibly, to elicit more information from him. You will need to study forensic pathology because one must understand how people die and what evidence exists in and on the body that allows us to know the cause of death. Finally, although criminal profiling isn't only about the analysis of serial crimes, these crimes may be in one's caseload and it is necessary to understand how serial crimes occur, how they should be profiled, and how they should be investigated.
Is profiling a good career choice?
Not particularly because the job market is poor and paid work scarce. It is only a good choice if you are going to become a detective because law enforcement can be a good career with decent pay and retirement.
What is the most satisfying aspect of the job of profiling?
Finding clues people have overlooked and finding answers based on evidence that hadn't yet been discovered.
What is the most difficult part of profiling work?
Working really hard on a case, essentially solving it, and then never seeing it go to prosecution because the case was too cold. Worse is when the prosecutor finds a fall guy and succeeds in convicting him and you know the evidence does not support even probable cause and yet he ends up in prison and the case is closed with the wrong person which means the killer is still out there.
How has profiling changed since you began your career over two decades ago?
The validity of criminal profiling is now being question and the methodology of profiling is being examined for its investigative value.. More independent profilers have emerged and more police detectives are looking into obtaining skills in profiling to use on fresh as well as cold cases.
Do you believe increased funding for profiling would ultimately save money by increasing case closure?
Absolutely, especially if the money is used for better training for detectives. It is always cheaper to do something right in the beginning than try to fix it after the case goes awry. Cold cases are a huge money drain because if the proper lead is missed, there are going to be hundreds upon hundreds of wrong leads to follow which are a waste of manpower and resources.
What can be done to increase the accuracy of profiles?
We must be sure to be scientific and deductive in our methodology and include nothing that is not based on evidence.
What can be done to dispel the bad image of profiling that has gotten?
We need to stop guessing and making up stuff that is more the profiler's creation than an analysis based on evidence. We need to be scientific and then criminal profiling will be more successful and gain more respect.
Would homicide investigation benefit from more research and interviews with killers?
There has been a huge amount of research and interviews with killers, so I don't think we need to keep at it. Really, we got it, we got it! We have oodles of serial killer biographies and conversations and the problem is a good portion of it is stuff the serial killer made up. Even so, enough is enough. What we really need is to increase training for law enforcement, to put money where it would make a difference; getting killers off the streets, not writing books about them.
Do you know the percentage of solved homicides in the United States?
This is always hard to say. You can look up the statistics but since some cases are closed with the wrong person, some serial homicide cases are attached to convicted killers who actually didn't commit them, and some cases are closed administratively with claims that the killer is known but dead (for example), it is hard to know if the statistics are valid. The rate of closure has been going down over the years but we don't know for sure if this is a failure in investigation, a failure in the justice system, or the result of an increasing number of homicide or a combination of all three.
What type of volunteer work would help me with a future in criminal profiling?
Anything where you learn about people, do analysis, deal with forensics, or work with law enforcement. It is surprising how many places can add to your skills in so many ways. I worked as a sign language interpreter at a hospital in the emergency room and psych wards and I learned a tremendous amount about forensic pathology and psychology.
What are some of the disadvantages of the profiling profession?
Finding work as a profiler and having one's profile fail to forward a case.
Who are some of the most influential people in this field?
Obviously, a number of FBI profilers have done a lot of work and written books about profiling. Brent Turvey was one of the first independent profilers to push for deductive profiling and write books on the topic. I have also pushed for deductive profiling, written books and done a lot of television commentary on the subject. Robert Keppel is a retired law enforcement officer as was Earl James, two men who contributed a lot to the field as did Vernon Gerbeth who put out the first good book on homicide investigation. Psychologists and psychiatrists like Robert Hare and Stanton Samenow have helped us understand psychopathy. But, we should not forget how many detectives have added to the field with fine profiling and excellent investigation (like Joe Horgas about whom you can read in Stalking Justice and Ray Biondi about whom you can read in Trace Evidence.
I am going for a second career: is it too late for me to get into profiling?
Probably. Since most of work in criminal profiling is within law enforcement and requires time to become a detective or move up into the FBI BSU, if you don't start young, you probably won't get into the proper job to profile. Yes, I started in my forties but I think I was both extremely determined and quite lucky to be where I am today.
How much like Criminal Minds is profiling?
Bwahahaha…..NOT! Worst show about criminal profiling in existence! Yes, I know, everyone loves it but it is so Hollywood and very far from reality. First of all, local police departments rarely want the FBI profilers to come in (that outsider thing) and so the show always having police departments asking FBI profilers to come and work on their cases is unlikely. Secondly, when the FBI is called in, it is usually because the number of bodies is piling up and the media and public are demanding they come in. When they do show up, the serial killer is rarely caught. The actual methodology of profiling in the show is ridiculous. The best show on televisión about profiling is actually Psych! Really!
Which television show best represents criminal profiling?
Are women who kill a number of their babies or children considered serial killers?
Yes, when a woman kills more than one of her children, she is a serial killer. Just like a male serial killer, she kills for power and control and fun and then after a period of time passes, does it again when the mood strikes her. Mary Beth Tinning managed to kill nine of her children before law enforcement finally figure out she just wasn't having bad luck with her babies.
Is a fascination with the criminal mind the best indicator I should be a criminal profiler?
Actually, being too fascinated with the criminal mind is not such a good thing. Serial killers and other murderers aren't as interesting as authors make them to be and we shouldn't find them fascinating and exciting. What we should find fascinating and what should lead us to criminal profiling should be solving puzzles. If you find Sherlock Holmes more fascinating than Criminal Minds, you are of the right mindset. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the author of the Sherlock Holmes stories, is considered the father of deductive profiling and he was a good criminal profiler in his own right, analyzing cold cases and trying to free wrongly incarcerated prisoners. And this was way over 100 years ago!
I am just entering high school. Is there anything I can do at my age to prepare for the field of criminal profiling?
Learn to read and write well, learn to do research, learn to work hard, read books - lots of them - especially those connected with criminal profiling, and volunteer in any kind of place where you get experience with mental health issues, police work, scientific evidence, problem solving, etc. Build up your knowledge and skills and look for opportunities to learn and do more.
How many profilers work with the FBI?
Less than a dozen last I heard.
How do I become an FBI profiler?
Become an agent, work hard for years, increase your education in psychology or forensics or both, and meet the right people and hope you get offered a chance to join the Behavioral Science Unit.
What is the worst experience you have ever had on a job?
I drove ten hours to the city and when I met with the detective he told me that all the evidence had been lost in a flood and all the information on the case had been deleted from the computer. Thanks! Could you have let me know before I got there? Sometimes, you need a sense of humor to survive the bumps in the road.
When you have a case, what kind of things do you look for to put together a profile of the offender?
I study the evidence for how things went down and what those behaviors show me the offender was doing at the scene. From this, I can determine the most likely suspect involved and why he or she did what they did.
Does a military background help one succeed in the criminal profiling field?
If one was in some aspect of criminal investigations while in the military, absolutely. But, other than that, not particularly.
What are the best colleges to go to in order to study profiling?
There isn't really any college with what I consider a true and proper program in criminal profiling, but there are some with a number of courses that could be useful. I developed the first Criminal Profiling and Investigative Analysis certificate program in the country for Excelsior College but I don't know if I could recommend that program any longer because I am no longer connected with Excelsior and I do not know what they have done to my courses or who is teaching them.
Do you work in a lab or in the field?
Profilers don't work in a lab; forensic scientists and techs do that. I work in the field.
Do profilers work in teams or alone?
I work alone as do most independent profilers. Detectives usually work as a team. I am not sure how the FBI actually works their cases; likely, alone at times and together at times.
Is criminal profiling stressful?
I don't find analyzing a case stressful, just dealing with the politics of law enforcement and casework. There are also a lot of big egos in profiling and disagreements with how profiling should be done and who is a good profiler and who isn't and this is rather unpleasant to deal with.
Are there any kinds of special equipment you use?
Logic! Other than that, sometimes I have to buy something to do a crime scene reenactment (like a particular gun) or find a car (to see if the trunk is big enough to put a large body in) or some other object that had something to do with the crime. But I don't use any special scientific equipment; I leave that to crime scene techs and lab guys.
What are some signs that a person is lying or hiding something?
Nervousness, blinking, looking away, staring, talking too much, refusing to talk, saying certain words and phrases like "I was JUST leaving" or "SUDDENLY, the girl was in front of me" - "FOR SOME REASON..." There is a method called statement analysis which allows a thorough examination what a person has said in order to find signs of deception; it is a great tool for detectives.
I have never been around criminal or psychopaths (that I know of). Would I made a bad criminal profiler because I lack this experience?
Sometimes if you are totally unfamiliar with psychopaths and personality disorders, you may find it difficult to believe they exist. But, with study, I think you can learn about them. Also, there are volunteer jobs where you can run into all sorts of people and start seeing a bunch of different behaviors!
Lots of people in my family and community are psychopaths and criminals. Would my experience with them help me with criminal profiling?
It can because personality disorders will be no surprise to you. Although, sometimes, certain people can be so accepting a variety of bad behavior that nothing seems all that amiss! The trick is to study psychopathic behavior, recognize it, and then see how this applies to criminal profiling work and crime scene analysis.
Are profilers also psychics? Will psychic ability help me profile?
No, no, and absolutely no. Profiling is about basing conclusions on evidence, not receiving messages from beyond the grave or having images pop into one's mind. No one should go into profiling who thinks their "psychic ability" is a tool for their work.
Have you run into any ethical conflicts in profiling?
There can be issues with what to tell families if law enforcement doesn't want you to discuss anything with them which is very difficult if you know they are not being told the truth. Also, if law enforcement is lying to the public about a case, it is frustrating because, having seen the police files, you DO know the truth. Also, when you see someone being railroaded in court on a case you worked, a guy you know didn't do it, what do you do? Who do you go to to complain? There is little one can do and this leaves one with a very bad case of queaziness, like you should do something but your hands are tied. All one can do is follow one's conscience and if there is a way to handle things in a legal and positive manner, do so.
How often do serial killers do clever things to avoid leaving behind evidence?
Most of the time serial killers don't do too much; they just grab someone, drag her into the bushes, rape, and strangle her. Then they walk away. Some grab women and bring them to their dungeons and then they have to work harder at getting rid of the body. Some do things like wash the body to get rid of evidence or chop the body up so it can't be identified or find a really remote place to dig a grave and bury the remains and some wear condoms these days so they don't leave behind semen, but, in reality, most don't do much because they are attacking strangers and unless their DNA is already in CODIS (the DNA matching system which has felon DNA in it), the police may have no clue at all as to who the guy could be. This is why so many serial killers aren't caught for decades or never at all; it is a hard crime to solve even if evidence is left at the scene because most of the time the guy is a stranger to the victim and there is no connection between them to find.
How are spree killers and mass murderers different from serial killers?
Serial killers kill and then take a break and then do it again when they feel like it. They don't want to be found out because they want to continue forever killing when they want. Mass murderers kill a lot of people but all at one time and they WANT to be known, they want to be famous and have their name and face all over the news. They usually don't care if they get killed because they simply want to get their day in the sun. Spree killers usually are on the run from something and they kill along the way to get money or a car to flee in. They are very dangerous because law enforcement is chasing them and since they are probably chasing them due to a very serious first crime (like a murder or bank robbery or prison escape), they already know if they get caught they are going down so what they do after the first crime doesn't really make a difference. If they are going down for one murder, they can kill a few more people if this means they can keep running and hiding.
Is profiling glamorous?
Hardly. Again, Criminal Minds makes the the daily work of profiling exciting and high tech and spectacular! Fancy planes, great hairdressers, good suits, special equipment, and all the glory of catching the killer....not in real life. Profilers are usually in the background, working in offices and interview rooms, studying evidence hour after hour, day after day. We dress like the average Joe, eat lunch at the local diner or fast food restaurant, and then go home. Sorry, very little glamour, so what you have to love about this work is not "the excitement" but the puzzle that you are trying to solve.