Criminal Profiling in the Detection and Apprehension of Offenders

Dr.V.V.L.N. Sastry
11 April 2016 8:26 AM GMT
Criminal Profiling in the Detection and Apprehension of Offenders
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The last decade has seen an extensive usage of criminal profiling during criminal investigations to detect and get criminals. It has been accepted as one of the most useful techniques in forming the profile of an offender since this activity helps in defining the behavior of an offender before his criminal career peaks. Law enforcement departments have used criminal profiling successfully in various areas and has proved effective in narrowing the area of investigation (Holmes and Holmes, 1996). While it does not point towards the specific identity of an offender, it focusses on certain personality aspects and behavioral traits and thus provides an insight into the type of individual who has possibly committed the crime.

Hostage taking is one of the areas where these profiling techniques have been used (Reiser, 1982). Each and every criminal, irrespective of the severity of the crime, will work to a given set of values. This logic is applied in criminal profiling. These values are assumed to be as authentic as one’s own signature and once identified, help law enforcement agencies in making a positive identification.

George Metesky nicknamed as a mad bomber is one of the offenders who evaded the police of New York City.Over a period of 16 years from 1940 to 1956, he planted more than 30 little measured bombs around the city in motion picture theaters, telephone stalls, and other open spots. The investigators were frustrated and in 1956, they approached a psychiatrist named James Brussel who was an assistant commissioner of mental health in N.Y., to study the photos obtained from the scene of the crime and also the writings of the bomber.

Brussel wrote an elaborate report about the suspected offender and emphasized that the probable suspect would be an unmarried foreigner, around 50, self-educated, suspicious, and residing in and around Connecticut and with a feeling of revenge against Con Edison, and the bomber first directed his attack on the company’s head-office located at 67th street.His predictions were based on common sense and psychological ideas.He observed that paranoia tends to reach its peak around age 35, thus the bomber would be in his 50s, 16 years after he planted the first bomb. The profile enabled the police arrest Metesky in January 1957 and he confessed immediately.

If this criminal profiling was done during the earlier stages, Metesky’s acts would not have resulted in the loss of so many lives. Brussel was of the opinion that, the bomber wanted recognition for his work. Arrogance was the likely reason for his downfall as he would be tempted to reveal details that would give a lead to the police resulting in his arrest.

Another case of criminal profiling is that of a Canadian offender, Paul Bernardo, who committed crimes over a very long period with crimes showing a continual increase in violence.He was also known as a Scarborough rapist; in the early 1990s he assaulted a large number of women in Ontario over a number of years.Although investigators listed him as one of many suspects, he was not arrested for several years. This resulted in an escalation of the violence in his acts making his violence escalate concluding with the murder of three young women (Williams, 1996).

The case forced the Canadian law enforcement agencies to adopt criminal profiling technique, a non-traditional approach, to help solve such shattering, demoralizing serial crimes. Such shocking crimes committed by Paul would not have been possible if earlier detection was done, which would have led to on time apprehension.

In the case of George Metesky, some factors are necessary to include in his profile. The gender type is one such factor in arriving at the available options and this is based purely on common sense as in the case of most bombers.Another factor is Citizenship which brought out the fact that Metesky was a foreigner; this was based on his over-formal style of writing where contemporary slang was never used.

Paul Bernardo profile would include factors such as antecedent that would explain what plan for the murder he had before the actual act.This would explain the reasons where he acted on some days while on some other days he did not. Paul selected females as his victims, thus modus operandi of rape would be another factory necessary for criminal profiling. Further questions also would be required to be listed; like did he commit the murder and dispose of the body at the same place or did both these activities take place at different places.One more aspect to consider would be the criminal’s behavior pattern after committing the crime; whether he chose to keep mum or tried to contact the investigators after seeing the media reports.

Other general factors to include in criminal profiles are age, race, intelligence, religious beliefs and psychological characteristics. When these factors are put into consideration would quicken the investigation process leading to accurate apprehension of the culprits.


Holmes, R. M.,&Holmes, S. T. (1996). Profiling violent crimes: An investigative tool (2nded.). Oaks, CA: Sage.

Holmes, R.M. and Holmes, S.T. (1998) Serial Murder (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Reiser. M. (1982, March).

Crime-specific psychological consultation. The Police Chief, p. 53 56.

Williams, S. (1996) The Strange Case of Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka. Toronto, ON: Little Brown and Co.

Dr.V.V.L.NDr.V.V.L.N. Sastry is a Researcher in Law (Criminal Justice) at Walden University, U.S.A.
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