Several countries’ police services regularly employ the assistance of psychologists and “profilers” (typically called behavioural investigative advisors) in relation to the prevention, management and investigation of crime (Alison, 2005). Although some of what they are engaged in might be described as offender profiling (also known as criminal profiling, psychological profiling and crime scene analysis), the support from psychologists over the last ten years, might be more accurately described as behavioural investigative advice (BIA) or criminal investigative (CIA) representing a much broader scope of activities.
Offender profiling, then, is generally considered the specific process of inferring the probable characteristics of an offender based on crime scene information. The notion is that the behaviour (and decisions) of an offender during an offence will reflect their character in everyday life (see Alison et al., 2010, for review). Although offender profiling has proven a useful investigative tool, particularly in cases where the offender and victim were strangers, we advocate the concept and practice of suspect prioritisation.
In the majority of stranger sexual offences the actual offender is already in the suspect list (e.g., matrix) or they have been detected in the investigation in some way (e.g., on the police database, subject of door-to-door inquiry, interviewed and cleared etc.). One potential drawback of offender profiling has been that because the outcome is often a prediction of a set of characteristics that the offender will have (e.g., profile), it has the inherent potential to lead the investigative team away from their suspect list, and exclude suspects that don’t “match” the profile.
Suspect prioritisation, on the other hand, is a process with the aim of prioritising an investigative teams actual suspects and those known to the investigative team, by relative probabilistic judgement. Importantly, the goal is simply to prioritise suspects relative to each other in terms of how likely it is they have committed the offence, rather than predict exactly who did the offence. In that respect, suspect prioritisation is a process of inclusion – every suspect should be investigated, but the aim is to save investigate time, resources and reduce the chance the offender commits another crime by putting the actual offender at the top of the list.
How we can help
Several of our team members have operational experience providing behavioural investigative advice on high profile and unique cases (CV’s and references upon request). These team members have operational experience in both offender profiling and suspect prioritisation tasks and can support investigators in either processes. Further, all team members have extensive research experience and intrinsic knowledge of these processes.