Criminal profiling is the act of developing a psychological profile of an offender based on the state of the crime scene. Profiling is most often done by a forensic psychologist -- someone who has studied the criminal mind. This profile can then be used by police departments to assist in apprehending the criminal.
A profile is a psychological sketch of an offender. There is a lot that a crime scene can tell a forensic psychologist about the person who committed the crime. This is especially true in homicide investigations. Profiling is often used to help investigators catch psychopaths and serial killers that may otherwise go free. It can also be used to help catch other types of offenders, such as arsonists and rapists.
In criminal profiling, a crime scene helps to label the perpetrator as organized, disorganized, or mixed. An organized offender plans ahead, picking out the victim ahead of time. Any tools needed are brought by the offender. He is meticulous with details, and it is clear that the crime was well thought out ahead of time. This tells a forensic psychologist a lot about the criminal.
Organized offenders tend to be high in the birth order of their family, usually an oldest child. They are very intelligent, and usually have their lives together, but a series of stressful situations caused them to act out. Most of them have a live-in partner, are socially adept, and will follow the coverage of their crimes in the media very carefully.
A spontaneous offense is often the work of a disorganized offender. He will often depersonalize the victim, to make the crime less real and allowing him to remain detached throughout the course of the crime. There is very little conversation, if any, between the offender and victim, and the crime scene has a random and sloppy feel to it. Profiling makes it possible to draw many conclusions about this offender, too. Disorganized offenders are often of average or slightly below-average intelligence, for instance. They are younger children, live alone, and are not as socially mature as an organized offender. They often live or work near the scene of the crime, and have a poor work history.
A mixed offender is harder to profile, but it is still possible. The crime scene combines characteristics of both organized and disorganized offenders. For example, the offender may have provided his own tools, but picked a victim randomly. The profile of a mixed offender may not be as accurate as other profiles, giving police less to go on.
Criminal profiling is used not only to find potential offenders, but also to narrow down a list of offenders that has already been compiled by the police. Although it doesn’t work in every case, criminal profiling has helped investigators to apprehend hundreds of criminals. By assessing the patterns and motives of previous criminals, profiling allows investigators to fairly accurately predict the characteristics of current and future offenders, allowing killers and other perpetrators to be caught before they can continue on to other crimes.