Offender profiling is a behavioral and investigative tool that helps investigators to profile unknown criminal subjects or offenders. (Psychological profiling is not the same as offender profiling and the two should not be confused.) Offender profiling is also known as criminal profiling, criminal personality profiling, criminological profiling, behavioral profiling or criminal investigative analysis. Television shows such as Profiler in the 1990s, the 2005 television series Criminal Minds, and the 1991 film The Silence of the Lambs have lent many names to what the FBI calls "criminal investigative analysis." In modern criminology, offender profiling is generally considered the "third wave" of investigative science: the first wave was the study of clues, pioneered by Scotland Yard in the 19th century; the second wave the study of crime itself (frequency studies and the like); this third wave is the study of the abnormal psyche of the criminal.
Dr. Langer used speeches, Hitler's book Mein Kampf, and interviews with people who had known Hitler. This culminated in the presentation of an 135-page profile of possible behavioural traits of Hitler, and his possible reactions to the idea of Germany losing World War II. Dr. Langer’s profile noted that Hitler was meticulous, conventional, and prudish about his appearance and body. He was robust and viewed himself as a standard-bearer and trendsetter. He had manic phases, yet took little exercise. He was in good health, so it was unlikely he would die from natural causes, but he was deteriorating mentally. He would not try to escape to a neutral country. Hitler always walked diagonally from one corner to another when crossing a room, and he whistled a marching tune. He feared syphilis and germs.
The profile also pointed out Hitler's oedipal complex, with the effect being the need to prove his manhood to his mother, and his coprolagnia and urolagnia. He detested the learned and the privileged, but enjoyed classical music, vaudeville, and Richard Wagner's opera. He showed strong streaks of sadism and liked circus acts that were risky and dangerous. He tended to speak in long monologues rather than have conversations. He had difficulty establishing close relationships with anyone. Since he appeared to be delusional, it was possible that his psychological structures would collapse in the face of imminent defeat. The most likely scenario was that he would commit suicide, although there was a possibility that he would order a henchman to perform euthanasia.
Between 1940 and 1956, a serial bomber terrorized New York City by planting bombs in public places including movie theaters, phone booths, Radio City Music Hall, Grand Central Terminal, and Pennsylvania Station. In 1956, the frustrated police asked Greenwich Village psychiatrist James A. Brussel, who was New York State's assistant commissioner of mental hygiene. Dr. Brussel studied photographs of the crime scenes and analyzed the so called “mad bomber’s” mails to the press. Soon he came up with a detailed description of the offender. In his profile, Dr. Brussel suggested that the unknown offender would be a heavy middle-aged man who was unmarried, but perhaps living with a sibling. Moreover, the offender would be a skilled mechanic from Connecticut, who was a Roman Catholic immigrant and, whilst having an obsessional love for his mother, would harbour a hatred for his father. Brussel noted that the offender had a personal vendetta against Consolidated Edison, the city’s power company; the first bomb targeted its 67th Street headquarters. Dr. Brussel also mentioned to the police that, upon the offender's discovery, the “chances are he will be wearing a double-breasted suit. Buttoned.”
From his profile, it was obvious to the police that the mysterious bomber would be a disgruntled current or unhappy former employee of Con Ed. The profile helped police to track down George Metesky in Waterbury, Connecticut; he had worked for Con Ed in the 1930s. He was arrested in January 1957 and confessed immediately. The police found Brussel’s profile most accurate when they met the heavy, single, Catholic, and foreign-born Metesky. When the police told him to get dressed, he went to his bedroom and returned wearing a double-breasted suit, fully buttoned, just as Dr. Brussel had predicted. However, Malcolm Gladwell has written that offender profiling is not a science at all, but is couched in such ambiguous language that it can support almost any interpretation; and about Brussel says:
Dr. Brussel assisted New York City police from 1957 to 1972 and profiled many crimes, including murder. Dr. Brussel also worked with other investigative agencies. Brussel’s profile led the Boston Police to the apprehension of Albert DeSalvo, the notorious serial sex murderer known as the Boston Strangler. The media dubbed Dr. Brussel as “Sherlock Holmes of the Couch”.
See: Casebook of a Crime Psychiatrist by James A. Brussel, M.D., Bernard Geis Associates, 1968, Classic, ISBN 0-583-11804-6
In 1972 the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit at Quantico was formed with Teten joining FBI Instructor Patrick J. Mullany's team. Teten and Mullany designed a method for analyzing unknown offenders in unsolved cases. The idea was to look at the behavioral manifestations at a crime scene for evidence of mental disorders and other personality traits, thus aiding the detectives' deductive reasoning. Soon, their ideas on offender profiling were tested when a seven-year-old girl was abducted from a Rocky Mountains campsite in Montana in June 1973. The girl, Susan Jaeger, was abducted from the tent in the early hours; the offender overpowered Susan before she could alert her parents, who were sleeping nearby. When an intensive search for the missing child failed, the case was soon referred to the FBI.
Teten, Mullany and Col. Robert K. Ressler employed their criminal investigative analysis technique to track down the unknown offender. Their profile declared that the abductor was most likely a young, white, male, homicidal Peeping Tom; a sex killer who mutilates his victim after death, who sometimes takes body parts as souvenirs. Later, the profile led to the arrest of David Meirhofer, a local 23-year-old single man who was also a suspect in another murder case. The search in his house unearthed “souvenirs”—body parts taken from both victims. Meirhofer was the first serial killer to be caught with the aid of the FBI's new investigative technique called offender profiling or criminal investigative analysis. A decade later, the technique became a more sophisticated and systematic profiling tool renowned as Criminal Investigative Analysis Program (CIAP).
A sexual crime is also analyzed in much the same way (Keep in mind that homicide is sometimes a sexual crime), but with the additional information that comes from a living victim. Professor David Canter is the pioneer of scientific offender profiling, developing the discipline of Investigative Psychology as a response to his dissatisfaction with the scientific bases for this activity. The IAIP of which Canter is President now seeks to set professional guidelines for practice and research in this area.
Investigators may find an early suspect who appears to fit the profile, and ignore or foreclose investigating other leads. For example, Richard Jewell was extensively investigated (and attacked in the media) following the Centennial Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta. This not only caused great distress to Jewell, but delayed identifying the true culprit, Eric Robert Rudolph. Focusing on Jewell is a false positive. The added cost of the false positive on Jewell was that FBI and local police gave up the search for other suspects for quite a while. The converse of the false positive is the false negative, when investigators are blinded by an erroneous aspect of a profile, and clear a suspect who is actually guilty. Criminals who engage in the calculating use of violence and threats of violence to trigger emotional responses such as humiliation, fear, and terror do so to coerce behavior such as obedience and submission. However, Eric Robert Rudolph exhibited traits that set him apart from typical criminals, even political terrorists, and demonstrated behavior representative of criminal sexual sadists as sex and punishment were central themes of his crimes with the focus "on domination, control, humiliation, pain, injury, and violence, or a combination of these themes, as a means to elicit suffering." The personal records of criminal sexual sadists frequently involve complex, elaborate, detailed scenarios that include specific methods of capture, control, locations, and well-planned sequence of acts which often encompass multiple victims.Former US Army explosives expert, Eric Robert Rudolph released an 11-page manifesto which detailed his accounts of bombings that killed two people and injured more than 120 others. "Among the information: that the Olympic bombing was intended to be part of a week-long campaign of explosions aimed at shutting down the games and embarrassing the US government.
Another noted example of the failure of profiling is with the Beltway sniper attacks, where the killer was thought to be a middle-aged white male—but in fact the crimes were perpetrated by two black males, one of whom was only 17 years old.
Active profiling as allowed by the Department of Justice includes covert alteration of the environment to observe the responses of a suspect. This can be used to check whether the suspect's behavior fits the profile, but risks being labeled as police harassment or entrapment.
Popular use of the term criminal profiler has led to the proliferation of many self-described profilers offering their purported expert opinions on cable news shows in response to incidents capturing national attention in the United States. Such individuals usually have degrees in criminal justice or psychology but lack any law enforcement experience.