How Criminal Profiling Works

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Criminal profiling has been around longer than you think. Interestingly enough, one of the most famous unsolved cases is credited for creating the idea of criminal profiling. Many believe that the first time profiling was used to attempt to find a killer was when Jack the Ripper was slaying young women in White Chapel.

One of the men who was determined to stop Jack the Ripper was Dr. Thomas Bond. He had more than a passing interest in the case. Bond actually handled the autopsies for multiple Ripper victims. In addition to providing Scotland Yard with information about the physical abuse the woman suffered at the hands of their killer, Bond also provided some insight into the type of person he felt was capable of the brutal killings. According to Bond, he felt that Jack the Ripper was:

  • Unassuming in appearance and manner
  • That he had a daring personality
  • That he was middle-aged
  • That he was single likely led to a solitary existence
  • That he was a very calm person
  • That he wore a long coat while committing the crimes

Obviously, Bond’s criminal profile didn’t result in the identity of Jack the Ripper being revealed, but it did prompt the police to consider how Bond’s insight into the mind of a killer could help them solve more cases. Today, over one hundred years after Bond profiled Jack the Ripper, criminal profiling is considered a valuable tool in the criminal justice world. Not only do the police use criminal profiling to aid in investigations, but it’s also often used during trials to help sway a jury.

Contemporary criminal profiling works best when the police are dealing with a specific type of crime. It’s been highly successful in helping with investigations that include the following:

While criminal profiling is a useful tool when it comes to catching criminals, it’s not an exact science. The problem with criminal profiling is that there are several factors that can subtly change the psychological profile of a suspected criminal. The case of the Golden State Killer is a perfect example of this. Even as the criminal profilers worked on the case, they noted that there were details of each crime that simply didn’t make sense when they looked at the profile of the case.

Since criminal profiling isn’t an exact science, police can’t rely completely on a profile while investigating a crime. They can use the profile to help streamline the suspect list but to make an arrest, they have to unearth actual evidence that implicates the person they ultimately arrest.

While it’s still not exact, there’s no getting around the fact that criminal profiling is an extremely useful tool and will remain an important part of police investigations.