FBI Profiling: Inside the Minds of Violent Criminals

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Photo courtesy of cantebury.ac.uk.

Throughout history, law enforcement has developed many tools to combat, and protect us against, the dangerous criminals who unfortunately live among us. Over the past 50 or so years, one such highly effective tool that has gained significant traction and attention is “behavioral profiling.”

No other law enforcement agency has dedicated more time and resources to perfecting behavioral profiling than the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The FBI has an extensive network of highly trained professionals who are dedicated to providing behavioral based investigative and operational support to law enforcement agencies across the globe.

Particularly, the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU) uses its premier training, vast experience, and thorough research to assist police departments in solving complex violent criminal acts, or time-sensitive threats of impending violence.

Origins

In 1970, FBI Agent Howard D. Teten performed his, and the FBI’s, first “official” criminal behavioral profile while he was stationed in Amarillo, Texas.

Agent Teten began his career as a police officer in California. Shortly after joining the FBI in 1962, Teten was appointed as an applied criminology instructor at the National Police Academy in Washington, D.C. Always fascinated with offender behavior, Teten’s lectures would expound upon his evolving ideas in the emerging field of forensic psychology. He was greatly inspired by, and developed many of his theories under the tutelage of  his mentor, Dr. Paul Kirk – an internationally renowned criminologist.

A hallmark of Teten’s investigative technique included looking for crime scene manifestations of peculiar mental and psychological dysfunctions, and other unique personality characteristics of the offender. He would then use this information to make logical deductions about the criminal’s identity.

In 1972, the FBI opened its new Academy in Quantico, Virginia, while simultaneously forming the Behavioral Sciences Unit. Teten was assigned as in instructor, along with fellow behavioral sciences pioneer and instructor, Patrick J. Mullany.

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Famed Profiler

Think like a criminal. That’s what famed FBI profiler John E Douglas would tell his students, fellow agents, and the world at large.

A career FBI agent, Douglas wore many hats – from sniper to hostage negotiator to instructor to “serial killer interviewer.” When his interest in profiling began to develop, his first thought was to go to the source, and interview incarcerated criminals. At the time, this technique was considered innovative, because Douglas did not approach the interviews from a rehabilitation perspective, but rather, from an investigative perspective.

He believed that if you wanted to learn about crimes, you needed to speak to, and understand, the motivations of the murderers, rapists and arsonists. Douglas, who began teaching hostage negotiation and applied criminal psychology in 1977 at the Academy, used the information he gathered to illustrate his theories to his students. His classes became very popular.

Utilizing the data gathered during his interviews with violent criminals, Douglas began to notice behavioral patterns. These patterns – now widely known to the public because of movies and television – were relatively new concepts at the time. Douglas uncovered that most of the criminals hailed from dysfunctional families, which often included some form of abuse, as well as a passive or absent father, and a domineering mother.

Douglas also discovered a phrase known as the “homicidal triangle,” which is marked by a sadistic pleasure in torturing animals, bedwetting beyond the normal age, and setting fires. The research advanced by Douglas helped him develop a keen understanding of the criminal mind, which in turn enabled him to assist investigators by listing likely traits of the offender by simply viewing photos of the crime scene.

Throughout his career, Douglas was involved in several high-profile cases, including the Atlanta Child Murders and the West Memphis Three. During his first year as a profiler in 1979, Douglas serviced 59 cases, and during his final year with the FBI in 1995, he assisted with over 1,000 cases.

The BAU’s Role

Currently, the BAU receives investigate requests from local, state, federal and international law enforcement agencies. The assistance provided by the BAU is known as “criminal investigative analysis,” which entails analyzing a crime from both a behavioral and investigative perspective.

Specifically, the investigators will assess the facts of the crime itself, then interpret the criminal’s behavior and interaction with the victim.

The fascinating world of criminal behavioral analysis has generated numerous, successful television shows and films. Is there a particular movie or TV show from this genre that really grabbed your attention?

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If you liked this post, you might also like:

INTUITION: An Underused Weapon to Fight Crime
Modern DNA Profiling: Two Infamous Cold Cases Solved
6 Fascinating Advances in Forensic Science

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