Behavioral Evidence Analysis: Goals and Purpose
Perhaps the most common misconception about criminal profiling is that its main purpose is to achieve a static, inflexible result, not unlike a clinical diagnosis. The result is then presumably applied to a crime or series of crimes and can then be used to suggest precisely whodunit. This is evidenced by the persistent yet inaccurate belief that there is an average psychological or behavioral pattern or profile that describes a typical serial murderer, a typical rapist, or even a typical crime scene.
This clinical view of profiling regards clusters of offender behavior, and subsequent penal classifications, as potential mental health disorders that can be diagnosed for the purposes of recommending treatment or delineating cause. It is a highly desirable position to take if one is a mental health practitioner. However, the goals of offender assessment and treatment are unrelated to the goals of criminal profiling. Clinicians have treatment goals—profilers have explicit investigative and forensic goals.
Humans learn, change, and grow. Humans are also affected by time, place, and each other. Therefore a deductively rendered criminal profile cannot be regarded as a static, fixed result that will hold true for all time. It must evolve and must become more refined as it is checked against new evidence and related cases over time. That is to say, when a new offense is committed, when a new attack occurs or a new body is located, and when new evidence is collected and analyzed, the integrity of the criminal profile must be reassessed.
Behavioral evidence analysis, therefore, should be viewed not as a process aimed at a fixed result, but as an ongoing, dynamic, critical, analytical process that examines offender behavior as it changes over time. It is a criminological effort, not a clinical one.
The first responsibility of the criminal profiler, as opposed to the treatment-oriented clinician, is fact finding in a criminal investigation for the purpose of serving justice.
With that onus in mind, a criminal investigation of any kind should start with the assumption that every human on the planet is a suspect. That is to say, the suspect set is universal. One of the purposes of BEA is to assist an investigation, at any phase, in moving from that universal set of suspect characteristics to a more discrete set of suspect characteristics. It cannot typically point to a specific person, or individuate one suspect from all others. It can, however, give insight into the general characteristics of the offender(s) responsible.
This type of insight can be used to educate an investigative effort, as well as attorneys, judges, and juries in a forensic context (e.g., criminal proceedings, civil proceedings, and public hearings).
Behavioral Evidence Analysis: Contexts
Behavioral evidence analysis has two separate but equal contexts, divided not by the method that is employed to arrive at conclusions, but rather by their divergent goals and priorities. Goals and priorities are dictated by a necessity that is dependent upon when, in a given case, a profiler’s skills are requested. The two time frames typically include the investigative phase, before a suspect has been arrested (or before a defendant is taken to court with a lawsuit), and and the trial phase, while a suspect is being tried for a crime (or put on trial for damages).
The investigative phase of a criminal case gets a lot of the media attention and is the primary focus of popular fiction on the subject of criminal profiling. When we think of a criminal profiler, we have been conditioned to think of unsolved serial murder cases, and of remote locations where teams of forensic scientists work to recover decaying human remains. Profilers are often characterized as being socially alienated individuals, deeply troubled by their own selfless insights into the minds of the unknown offenders that they are hunting.
The investigative phase involves behavioral evidence analysis of the patterns of unknown perpetrators of known crimes. Criminal profilers tend to be called in to extremely violent, sexual and/or predatory cases when witness testimony, confessions, and/or physical evidence have not been enough to move the investigation forward. The decision to call a profiler into an investigation is typically reactive, with agencies waiting months or even years (if at all) due to a lack of access to a profiler, or to a lack of understanding of what criminal profiling is and how it can aid an investigation.
-Evaluating the nature and value of forensic and behavioral evidence in a particular crime or series of related crimes;
- Reducing the viable suspect pool in a criminal investigation;
- Prioritizing the investigation into remaining suspects;
- Linkage of potentially related crimes by identifying crime scene indicators and behavior patterns (i.e., modus operandi and signature);
- Assessment of the potential for escalation of nuisance criminal behavior to more serious or more violent crimes (i.e., harassment, stalking, voyeurism);
- Providing investigators with investigatively relevant leads and strategies;
- Helping keep the overall investigation on track and undistracted by offering fresh and unbiased insights;
- Developing communication, interview, or interrogation strategies when dealing with suspects
The trial phase of criminal profiling involves behavioral evidence analysis of known crimes for which there is a suspect or a defendant (sometimes a convicted defendant). It takes place in the preparation for hearings, trials, and post-conviction proceedings. Guilt, penalty, and appeal phases of trial are all appropriate times to use profiling techniques, depending on the evidence at issue.
- Evaluating the nature and value of forensic and behavioral evidence to a particular crime or series of related crimes;
- Helping to develop insight into offender fantasy and motivations;
- Developing insight into offender motive and intent before, during, and after the commission of a crime (i.e., levels of planning, evidence of remorse, precautionary acts, etc.);
- Linkage of potentially related crimes by identifying crime scene indicators and behavior patterns (i.e., modus operandi and signature)