Criminal profiling became popularized in the early 1990's from the movie Silence of the Lambs (1991) and later from books by former FBI profilers such as John Douglas, Robert Ressler, and Russ Vorpagel. Today profiling is more popular than ever with television programs and movies being dedicated to the subject on a regular basis. But what exactly is a criminal profile?
To begin with, a profile is a document that is used in conjunction with a thorough investigation to help define the type of offender responsible for a violent crime. Notice that there is emphasis placed on the word type in the previous statement. A common misconception about profiling is that investigators will be able to walk to the front door of the unknown offender when a profile is created. This is not to say that a profile cannot be a very effective tool in an investigation because in many cases an accurate profile is able to re-focus an investigation and create a fresh perspective and additional leads. Profiling when done accurately is also an effective tool of narrowing down the list of possible suspects, which will also further focus the investigation.
Not all cases are appropriate for profiling, and not all profiles are created
specifically for serial murder investigations. Appropriate cases for
profiling will meet certain criteria including: 1) a violent crime has been
committed, 2) there is forensic evidence available to be reviewed, 3) the
offender has displayed some form of psychopathology during the commission of the
crime, and 4) all other investigative leads have been extinguished.
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Last Updated: 01/03/2011
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