Phases In Profiling
John E. Douglas and Robert Ressler, both FBI Agents who worked in the Behavioral Science Unit, developed the idea of the “organized/disorganized opposition.”
They believed they could tell what type of murderer they were dealing with by looking at a crime scene and examining the behavior of the person who created that crime scene.
Organized crimes are premeditated and carefully planned, so little evidence is found at the scene. Organized criminals are antisocial but know right from wrong, are not insane and show no remorse.
Organized murderers are thought to have advanced social skills, display control over the victim using those social skills, leave little forensic evidence or clues, and often engage in sexual acts with the victim before the murder.
In contrast, the disorganized offender is described as impulsive, with few social skills. His/her murders are opportunistic, and crime scenes suggest frenzied, haphazard behavior including a lack of planning or attempts to avoid detection. They may engage in sexual acts after the murder because they lack knowledge of normal sexual behavior. Disorganized crimes are not planned, and criminals leave such evidence as fingerprints and blood. Disorganized criminals may be young, under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or mentally ill.
According to Douglas and Ressler’s theory, profiling has five distinct phases:
- The first phase is the assimilation process. All information available in regard to the crime scene, victim, and witnesses is examined in detail. This may include photographs of the crime scene, autopsy reports, victim profiles, police reports, and witness statements.
- The next phase, the “classification stage,” involves integrating the information collected into a framework. This is the phase that classifies the murderer as “organized” or “disorganized.”
- Following the classification stage profilers attempt to reconstruct the behavioral sequence of the crime. Specifically they attempt to reconstruct the offender’s modus operandi or method of committing the crime.
- Profilers also examine closely the offender’s “signature” which is identifiable from the crime scene and is more idiosyncratic than the modus operandi. The signature is what the offender does to satisfy his psychological needs in committing the crime.
- After further consideration of the modus operandi, the offender’s signature at the crime scene, and an inspection for the presence of any staging of the crime, the profiler moves on to generate a profile. This profile may contain detailed information regarding the offender’s demographic characteristics, family characteristics, military background, education, and personality characteristics. It may also suggest appropriate interview techniques.
Although the FBI approach has gained public attention, some psychologists have questioned its scientific solidity. Ressler, Douglas, and the other FBI agents were not psychologists, and some psychologists who looked at their work found methodological flaws.
Former FBI agent Gregg O McCrary agrees that some of the FBI’s early research was rough. “Early on it was just a bunch of us [FBI agents] basing our work on our investigative experience,” he says, “and hopefully being right more than we were wrong.”
McCrary says he believes that they were right more than wrong even in the early days, and emphasizes that FBI methods have improved since then leading to an even higher degree of accuracy.
According to McCrary, the basic premise is that behavior reflects personality. In a homicide case, for example, FBI profilers try to collect the personality of the offender through questions about his or her behavior at four stages:
1. Antecedent: What fantasy, plan or both did the murderer have in place before the act? What triggered the murderer to act on a particular day as opposed to other days?
2. Method and manner: What type of victim or victims did the murderer select? What was the method and manner of murder—shooting, stabbing, strangulation, or something else?
3. Body disposal: Did the murder and body disposal take place all at one scene or at multiple scenes?
4. Post-offense behavior: Is the murderer trying to inject himself into the investigation by reacting to media reports or contacting investigators?
Psychology’s contributions and the law enforcement relationship
Professor David Canter, PhD, is the pioneer of scientific offender profiling. He developed the discipline of Investigative Psychology as a response to his dissatisfaction with the scientific bases for this activity. He founded the field of investigative psychology in the early 1990s and now runs the Centre for Investigative Psychology at the University of Liverpool. The IAIP of which Canter is President seeks to set professional guidelines for practice and research in this area.
Canter includes many areas, including profiling, where psychology can contribute to investigations. The goal of investigative psychology’s form of profiling, like all profiling, is to infer characteristics of a criminal based on his or her behavior during the crime. But, Canter says, the key is that all of those inferences should come from empirical, peer-reviewed research and not necessarily from investigative experience.
For example, Canter and his colleagues recently analyzed crime scene data from 100 serial homicides to test the FBI’s organized/disorganized model. Their results indicate that, in contrast to some earlier findings, almost all serial murderers show some level of organization.
Among those in the profiling field, the tension between law enforcement and psychology still exists to some degree. “The difference is really a matter of the FBI being more oriented towards investigative experience than [academic psychologists] are,” says retired FBI agent McCrary.
“But,” he adds, “It’s important to remember that we’re all working toward the same thing.” I’ve also just learned that John Douglas has his own website (list below) and he has added the “Mixed” to his “organized and disorganized” theory. He states, “Mixed. When I say mixed classification, I mean a case such as that of O.J. Simpson, where the crime scene appears to be very premeditated. The subject brings to the scene the weapon, gloves and a hat — premeditated. Yet the crime scene appears disorganized. The subject had a well-planned idea but did not expect to be confronted, as the subject was, in this case, by Ron Goldman. So he — O.J. — basically lost control over the situation so the crime’s ultimate appearance shifted from organized to disorganized.”
Interesting stuff! Who would have guessed Ressler and Douglas were not psychologists! I hope this gives my followers a more accurate/realistic account of the criminal profiler and of the villain characters in their books.
Criminal Profiling An Introduction To Behavioral Evidence Analysis, Brent E. Turvey.
Criminal profiling the reality behind the myth, Lea Winerman. American Psychological Association. July 2004, Vol 35, No. 7.
John Douglas books include:
Mind Hunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker
Anyone You Want Me to Be: A True Story of Sex and Death on the Internet by John E. Douglas and Stephen Singular
Inside the Mind of BTK: The True Story Behind the Thirty-Year Hunt for the Notorious Wichita Serial Killer by John Douglas and Johnny Dodd
He also had his own website/blog called, John Douglas Mind Hunter at: http://www.johndouglasmindhunter.com/home.php He actually IS involved with his site.
Robert Ressler books include:
Whoever Fights Monsters: My Twenty Years Tracking Serial Killers for the FBI by Robert K. Ressler and Thomas Schachtman
Criminal Profiling from Crime Scene Analysis by John Douglas, Ann Burgess, Robert Ressler and Carol Hartman
David Canter books
Criminal Shadows, Inner Narratives of Evil by David Canter, Robert D. Keppel
Principles of Geographical Offender Profiling (Psychology, Crime and Law) by David Canter and Donna Youngs, David Canter and Donna Youngs
The Social Psychology of Crime: Groups, Teams, and Networks (Offender Profiling Series, Vol. 111) by David Canter and Laurence J. Alison
Investigative Psychology: Offender Profiling and the Analysis of Criminal Action by David Canter and Donna Youngs
The Faces of Terrorism: Multidisciplinary Perspectives by David Canter
Blog edited by: Sally C Berneathy