Criminal Profiling: Problems and Prospects

Christopher Devery

Research output: Book chapter/Published conference paperConference paperpeer-review


Criminal profiling refers to a range of techniques that are argued topredict characteristics of an offender from an analysis of the circumstance ofthe offence. The American model of profiling, developed by the FBI,emphasises the exercise of intuition and judgement by an experiencedcriminal investigator. The British model is characterised by the use of complexmultivariate statistical procedures, and is generally practised by forensicpsychologists. Over time, both models have been subsumed into a largerrange of analytical techniques which are offered as consultancy services toinvestigators, some of which are more contentious than others. While bothmodels of profiling are problematic, the American model appears particularlyso. There is more evidence that profiling can misdirect investigators, or evencontribute to serious miscarriages of justice, than there is for its capacity tocontribute to a successful resolution of cases. It is significant that in a numberof instances DNA evidence has subsequently confirmed the negativeinfluence that profiling had on the investigation and prosecution process. Thisdevelopment mirrors problems that other forensic individuation procedureshave experienced in recent years, partly as an indirect result of the success ofDNA analysis, and partly due to increased scrutiny of their scientific credibilityin the post-Daubert environment for admissibility of expert evidence in theAmerican legal system. Current and future developments in DNA technology,particularly the prediction of physical characteristics like hair and eye colour,facial morphology and height, are likely to lead to further reassessment of therole of profiling in criminal investigations.DNA even has the potential toreliably identify biogeographical ancestry, and this methodology hascontributed to the resolution of at least one investigation where a profile hadproduced a misleading prediction of the offender's characteristics. It is likelythat even if DNA proves to be a more scientifically successful methodology forpredicting the characteristics of an offender from crime scene evidence, wherethis success involves the identification of physical characteristics associatedwith biogeographical ancestry, it has the potential to be more controversialthan profiling.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCriminal Investigations Workshop
Place of PublicationOnline
Number of pages58
Publication statusPublished - 2009
EventCentre of Excellence in Policing and Security (CEPS) Conference - Canberra, ACT, Australia
Duration: 08 Oct 2009 → …


ConferenceCentre of Excellence in Policing and Security (CEPS) Conference
Period08/10/09 → …


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