Monday, April 19, 2010

We are All Criminal Profilers of Sorts

by Pat Brown

There is a lot of misunderstanding about what a profiler is and isn't, even within the profiling community. Hollywood hasn't helped much, with shows like Profiler!, CSI and Criminal Minds. The shows may be entertaining, but they distort the profession and process of profiling, turning criminal profilers into glamorous detectives who are a cross between psychics and Freudian psychologists. The methods used to catch the killer are exciting and usually contain some incredibly clever piece of forensic evidence.

In reality, life for criminal profilers and the cases we work rarely involve dangerous confrontations, chases, and slick labs. We sit in our offices or, if we go to a police department to work, we are put into an interrogation rooms consisting of a table and a couple of chairs. We don't even get nice windows to look out.

If I am on location, I usually stay one week, arrive at eight or nine each morning and leave at five or six in the evening. I come out of my box for bathroom breaks and lunch. I go out to the crime scenes to observe the areas; sometimes I do interviews; occasionally I will do some kind of experiment.

On my last case, I drove my rental car at excessive speed from the crime scene to a convenience store on a curvy country road, timing how long it took me. I had to do the run a dozen times, waiting in the parking lot of the building where a mass murder went down, revving my engine and waiting for a moment when traffic lightened up, when the last car passing left my view and the next car was a good gap behind. Then just before that car reached me, I floored it, sped onto the road and hauled ass toward the convenience store. If someone pulled out in front of me and slowed me down too much, the experiment failed, and I had to do it again. Finally, I got the three fastest times I could manage and drove back to the station.

I was relieved when the detective told me there were no speed cameras on the road, so I wasn't going to have to beg him to "take care of " a thousand dollars worth of fines on behalf of my investigative work. I learned from my experiment that one of my suspects could be cleared; he couldn't have driven from Point A to Point B from the time the crime went down to the time his vehicle passed the camera at the convenience store.

When the week ends, I return to home base and spend hours in my office reviewing the information and analyzing the evidence until I am satisfied. Sometimes I role-play to act out part of the crime so I can see if it could really happen that way. Sometimes I consult with experts to get a more seasoned explanation of forensics or culture or some technical issue I am not that familiar with. When I have a profile that is accurate and clearly explains my determinations and investigative findings, then I am done -- unless some new evidence or information comes to light that changes my conclusions.

There are two methods of profiling: inductive and deductive. The inductive method, which became an FBI methodology, relies on statistical research to determine the likelihood of a certain type of offender or a certain trait to be linked to a crime. The old adage that all serial killers are Caucasian came from this kind of profiling. Research, which included interviews of incarcerated serial killers, concluded that most of these kinds of criminals were white; therefore a crime committed by a serial killer pointed to a white offender. The DC Sniper case caught a lot of inductive profilers off guard. They'd profiled the offenders as white, but they turned out to be African-American. FBI profiles tend to be lists of offender traits developed more from generalizations about percentages of similar crimes rather than a thorough analysis of the individual crime.

Deductive profilers analyze the forensic evidence and the behavioral evidence at the scene and draw conclusions specific to the particular crime. Each element of the profile must be supported by that particular crime and not be drawn from general theories. Of course, deductive profilers have studied the research and understand how this knowledge can apply to the case, but they still have to keep in mind not every case will fit, and there will be anomalies. They must depend on the evidence to prove the point.

The murder of Sandra Cantu was one of these cases where inductive profiling would lead to the conclusion that a man committed this sex crime. However, Sandra's killer was a female, a church woman. The evidence actually didn't prove whether the killer was male or female; there was penetration but no semen, so all one could say, deductively, was that someone sexually assaulted the child with a solid object of some sort. On television, most of us commentating tossed out inductive theories as we had no access to the evidence. We said the police were likely looking for a male sex offender in the community. Inductive profiling alone will get you in trouble!

The processes of inductive profiling and deductive profiling are somethings all of us do in daily life. We inductively gather information about people and behaviors, and when we are confronted with a new situation and don't have time to think, we apply these generalizations and hope they are right. With more time and evidence, we are able to analyze more thoroughly, and we become deductive profilers.

Juries end up in a terrible situation because they must become profilers overnight. They don't have time to do research to increase their general knowledge of criminals and their crimes; they don't have time to study forensics, psychology, and crime scene reconstruction in order apply good deductive skills to the case; and they have lawyers from both sides, along with prosecution and defense experts, confusing them and sometimes lying to them about the evidence and its meaning.

After going through this crash course in profiling, taught by questionable practitioners, they must render a verdict and decide the course of a human life. And people wonder why I am a proponent of professional juries!

If you want to learn more about profiling crimes and give it a whirl yourself, tune into my new Blog Talk Radio show, Profile This! every Sunday evening at 9 PM EST.


FleaStiff said...

Cantu Case: Churchwoman? Most preachers daughters don't have much choice in the matter.
Sure most perverts are probably male and most homicidal perverts are probably male, but a female can be just as desperate and suddenly just as driven.

Anonymous said...

So Pat you raced down a curvy road putting other drivers at risk all for your...opinion? Doesn't sound worth it to me.

TigressPen said...

I have always loved to do more listening and thinking than accusing with cases. I think that is the mistake many people make, they hone in on one person when the case breaks and get the same tunnel-vision LE is often accused of having.

I love that you experiment with some cases as you did with the driving from point A to point B. One of my favorite quotes is from the Sherlock Holmes character: when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. I think your profiling methods fit that quote to a tee.

Pat Brown said...

You make a good point about not having too much tunnel vision. Of course, an investigator has to prioritize leads so if someone is acting very squirrelly and has certain behaviors and evidence shoot him up to the top of a suspect list, you have to focus in on him. However, one should keep an open mind and be willing to look at other leads as well. In the end, the Number One suspect may turn out to be a red herring and someone else did it. This is why we need probably cause to arrest and enough evidence to convict.

As to my experiment, it was a necessity to rule a suspect in or out. The man was the last one at a location of a crime and IF he could get to the convenience store, he would remain a major suspect. If he couldn't , then he could be excluded. I tried and tried to prove he COULD make it and I couldn't make it happen. I bet he would be glad someone did that test. However, if I COULD have made it, I might have proven an assumption that he couldn't to be wrong. Then a good suspect wouldn't be erroneously removed from a suspect list without solid proof he couldn't have done it.

Leah said...

Great post, Pat...very informative. I am a proponent of professional juries as well but I have to wonder if we'll ever see it happen.

Leah said...

Great post, Pat...very informative. I am a proponent of professional juries as well but I have to wonder if we'll ever see it happen.

dinah bee said...

Nice site, very informative. I like to read this.,it is very helpful in my part for my criminal law studies.

wolfscratch said...

First, I would like to aplaud you Profiler Pat Brown, for your determination, preserverance, and professionalism, as a self taught criminal profiler..

Pat Brown, it would be naive for us to believe that profiling is an exact science. Many of the cases that are focused on, in TV shows such as Criminal Minds and CSI, books, bios, etc., by profilers are the ones where they hit the ball out of the park...
Obviously it is not meant to be a cure all, only an effective tool in the investigative arsenal, in conjunction with DNA and other advancing forensic aids..
One trait that is very important, IMO, in the profiler, as well as thinking out of the box, is spiritual perception.
Both, Roger Depue and John Douglas, due to life experiences and extensive study of serial killers and pychopathic predators prior, had honed this ability..

Voices And Victims Lyrics

Gary Michael Hilton: Serial Killer, had baffled local and State Law Enforcement, FBI BAU2 and VICAP, for decades, due to his camelean ability to emulate or copycat other serial killer's MOs and signatures, as well as his knowlege of SOPs, Strategies, and causing geographical confusion, indicating several active serial killers preying in many states...