Psychological Profiling and the Beltway Sniper: The Good, the Bad, and the Process YOUR NAME HERE YOUR INSTRUCTOR NAME HERE Abstract In an attempt to understand what motivates a criminal, as well as where they will strike next, the field of psychological profiling comes into play…
The fact that there are high-profile cases such as the Washington, D.C. Sniper (also known as the Beltway Sniper) in which the profile was more erroneous than correct, have not helped to gain any notoriety of the right sort for the profession. Throughout this paper, with the use of books and the internet, an attempt will be made to explain the steps involved in building a profile for a criminal, as well as what was correct and incorrect about the profile in the case of the Beltway Sniper. Psychological Profiling and the Beltway Sniper: The Good, the Bad, and the Process Introduction Psychological profiling, also known as criminal profiling and offender profiling, is the attempt to understand the mind of the criminal in order to predict what might happen next. In doing so the ultimate goal is, of course, to catch the criminal responsible and bring them to justice. Criminal profiling, though not widely publicized until recently, actually has a longer history than first thought; the first major case to use it was in the 1880s, when surgeon Dr. Thomas Bond delivered to Scotland Yard a profile on serial murderer Jack the Ripper (Ramsland, 2012). The process would gain in popularity over the years, into the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, going from an experimental area of the Federal Bureau of Investigation to a recognized and somewhat respected branch called the Behavioral Sciences Unit (Ramsland, 2012). Formed in 1974, its members still relied on informal studies, intuition, and common sense to see patterns in some of the most heinous crimes throughout the country (Winerman, 2004). Though by no means were the other branches and areas of criminal investigation discounted, it was found that in delving into the psyche of a criminal, some attempt could be made to recognize a pattern, which could then be used in an attempt to discern what might happen next (Ramsland, 2012). The field continues to evolve and be of use to investigators today. It should be noted, however, that profiling is still considered more art than science. Part of the reason for this is the relative lack of scientific evidence surrounding profiling. It is still considered a field in its infancy, despite its history (Winerman, 2004). It has been made popular through the use of movies and television crime drama; however, that does not mean it has been wholly accepted, given that the patterns that some profilers rely on, at times, come down to nothing more than common sense and initiative (Winerman, 2004). Even the profilers themselves cannot agree on terminology to use nationwide, nor can they point to scientific studies that would help their case, as there have been few done to show the statistics of how profiling can actually aid in solving crimes (Winerman, 2004). The fact remains that profilers, for good or bad, are not quite readily accepted by the law enforcement community, and whether or not they are used can often depend on the judgment of the leading investigators. Building a Profile Regardless of any inconsistencies in terminology, there is a basic framework that is used by all qualified profilers in building a profile. It will belong to one of three schools of thought. The first, which is the criminal investigative approach, relies heavily on the knowledge of the investigator, developed over a series of cases to which they have ...
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