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Criminal Profiling Criminal Profiling:
An Introduction to Behavioral Evidence Analysis
1st Edition

by Brent E. Turvey, MS
Academic Press, June 1999

Please note: for information on the current edition of this textbook, please see:
Criminal Profiling, 2nd Edition

Preface: The Professionalization of Criminal Profiling
by Brent E. Turvey, MS


"…it is a natural failing of man to be pleased with his own inventions."
— Sir Thomas More, Utopia

Criminal profiling, as set forth in this work, is a multi-disciplinary forensic practice. It requires, at the very least, applied knowledge in criminalistics, medicolegal death investigation, and psychology. However, criminal profiling, even as it will be here defined, has not yet achieved the status of a "profession."

It has been said that any profession is defined by its ability to regularize, to criticize, to restrain vagaries, to set a standard of workmanship and to compel others to conform to it. This definition assumes uniform terms, definitions, ethics, standards, practices and methodology. Despite any belief to the contrary, such things do not exist in the community of individuals that are engaged in criminal profiling.

This likely comes as a great surprise to the general public, and even to some in the law enforcement community. What is likely to be more of a revelation is the main reason behind it. The plain truth is that a great number of profilers oppose professionalization in any way, shape, or form.

There are many factors contributing to the lack of interest in professionalization in the criminal profiling community. One would have to be that too few practicing criminal profilers have sat down under a banner of truce, in an attempt to establish non-partisan professional mechanisms for identifying competency, cultivating it, and conferring authority upon those who possess it in accordance with agreed-upon criteria. Profilers just do not seem to agree on anything.

Furthermore, there are practical issues at work against it. Firstly, profilers tend to keep their cases to themselves and not publish them due to information sensitivity and confidentiality issues (a problem in most of the forensic sciences, but one that can be overcome by sanitizing cases; stripping them of identifying information for educational use). Secondly, many state and federal agencies preclude information sharing with outside entities either by policy or by political intimidation. And finally, there are no non-partisan profiling professional organizations working on the development of uniform ethics, standards, and practices. The result is that profilers have few mechanisms for open professional discourse and information sharing; they are disenfranchised from each other by the nature of the work and the agencies that they work for.

Another factor that has affected professionalization is the resistance of numerous established profilers to the idea of developing standards and practices, which they perceive as a limitation on creativity. Some have argued that criminal profiling should remain more art than science, and should not be professionalized. That to do so would deprive individuals of the ability to nurture originality and kindle the fires of genius.

This is an interesting and even seductive argument. But I suspect that it is deeper than that. All of the above issues could be overcome if the desire were there.

Perhaps the largest contributor to the resistance against professionalization in the criminal profiling community is individual ego. The varied practitioners of criminal profiling, as individuals or as representatives of the many agencies and confederations involved (this author included), cannot agree on the subject of what criminal profiling involves and who is qualified to do it. We wish firstly to preserve our own role in the criminal profiling community, and often do not wish to be compelled to change our current level of skill, training or ability. Unfortunately, the plain truth is that many of those engaged in criminal profiling (or who refer to themselves as profilers) have little or no applied case experience, inadequate levels of training, and exist almost parasitically on the ignorance of the professional communities that profilers are intended to serve.

Possibly the most disturbing part of the ego problem, is the incredible arrogance of some criminal profilers that they alone are qualified to do the work by virtue of their subjectively derived expertise (much of which tends to be unrelated to those areas of study that inform the criminal profiling process). This paradigm disallows for the possibility that there are competent, cogent, and reasonable ideas outside of one’s own experience or sphere of influence. This paradigm also encourages the ludicrous myth that profilers are born with an intuitive "gift" that is denied others, by disallowing those associated with a certain person or agency from "looking outside of the valley" for knowledge.

The nature of these ego-based disagreements in the criminal profiling community has been at times civil, at times belligerent, and at times openly vicious. They have caused hurt feelings along individual and agency lines, as well as between the academic, mental health, and law enforcement communities. The unending byproduct has been a pathological failure of practicing criminal profilers to resolve interprofessional, interpersonal and/ or interagency differences and communicate effectively with each other. The competent minds involved in the work are often unable to appreciate each other due to the egos of their supervisors, or their own personal pride. The incompetent are deeply concerned about the very real fear of being exposed as a fraud and protect themselves by hiding their methods and being obscure or intellectual.

As a result of everything working together against professionalization, the following unresolved issues remain major points of contention in the criminal profiling community:

The failure to address these basic considerations has caused great confusion not only in the profiling community, but as suggested, in public perception as well. The myths and misinformation regarding criminal profiling techniques and practices are furthermore rampant in the popular media. These include misconceptions laid in the minds of police officers on the street, detectives at the crime scene, criminalists in the lab, lawyers at trial, and judges on the bench. It has also left the door open for the proliferation of many dangerously unqualified, unscrupulous individuals into the practice of creating criminal profiles.

So that brings us to my own motivation for bringing together all of these competent professional minds and writing this book. I for one am a firm believer in the reality that criminal profiling must begin to professionalize, and become more scientific and multidisciplinary in its approach. As criminal profiling becomes more accepted as a forensic discipline, and as it becomes more an accepted part of the investigative and judicial process, those involved have a duty to develop competent standards and practices, and robust methods. We also have a duty to move beyond reliance upon vague references and subjective expertise, and agree to demonstrate accountability for our methods.

This duty exists because in the forensic disciplines our opinions and interpretations are allowed to impact whether people are deprived of their liberties, and potentially whether they live or die. It becomes that simple. The courts have taken a great deal from criminal profilers on trust up until now (inconsistently bothering to question them at all, especially when they are affiliated with law enforcement). But we have been abusing it with our lack of competency and our lack of professionalism. Though profiling has been around in various forms for a hundred years (and more), we have not developed more reliable methods, we have not performed competent scientific research, and we have not always been fully honest about the limitations of our interpretations.

This work, then, is a first attempt to create a reference text of applied knowledge regarding the deductive method of criminal profiling. It has the presumptuous goal of laying out that method in a clear fashion, while establishing and exploring specific details surrounding terminology and core profiling concepts. The other goal of this work is to help firmly establish the basis for the relationship between physical evidence (the forensic sciences), behavioral evidence, and criminal profiling. Along the way, it is also hoped that some of the many popular misconceptions about criminal profiling that have been encouraged in the fictional and non-fictional media can be effectively relegated to submission.

This work was undertaken with two concepts in mind. Firstly, that a criminal profiler should do no harm, proceeding with the requisite care and uncertainty. And secondly, that a criminal profiler’s first onus is to the competent investigation of fact, and not to any particular agency or group.

The time for isolationism and for sectionalism is over. The time for politics is also over. The criminal profiling community cannot continue to play to the images portrayed in the popular media and expect to achieve professional credibility, or maintain professional integrity. The criminal profiling community must begin to communicate and agree upon standards, practices, terminology and methods. It must move away from reliance upon subjective expertise and move towards a more professional, more scientific approach if it wishes to carry through into the next century.

The human price for not meeting this challenge is simply too high.


Copyright 1999 by ACADEMIC PRESS

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