While the use of spatial analysis methods in police investigations goes back many years (think of detectives gathered around a large city map with pins stuck in it), the formalized process known today as geographic profiling originated out of research conducted at Simon Fraser University's School of Criminology in British Columbia, Canada, in 1989. The theoretical foundation is in environmental criminology, particularly Crime Pattern Theory, routine activity theory, and rational choice theory. The Vancouver Police Department instituted the world's first geographic profiling capability in 1995, but the technique has now spread to several U.S., Canadian, British, and European law enforcement agencies. Originally designed for violent crime investigations, it is increasingly being used on property crime.
Tools employed by geographic profilers include specialized software systems, such as Rigel or CrimeStat System inputs are crime location addresses or coordinates, often entered through a geographic information system (GIS). Output is a jeopardy surface (three-dimensional probability surface) or color geoprofile, which depicts the most likely areas of offender residence or search base.
Geographic profiling is a sub-type of offender or criminal profiling (the inference of offender characteristics from offence characteristics). It is therefore related to psychological or behavioral profiling. If psychological profiling is the "who," geographic profiling is the "where." All certified geographic profilers are members of the International Criminal Investigative Analysis Fellowship (ICIAF), a professional profiling organization first begun by investigators trained by the FBI in the mid-1980s.