How to Prepare for a Career in Criminal Profiling
The text below has been excerpted from the Preface of Turvey, B. (2010) Criminal Profiling: An Introduction to Behavioral Evidence Analysis, 4th Ed. London: Elsevier Science. To learn more or order a copy of the book visit: forensic-science.com.
Generally speaking, criminal profiling involves making inferences about the physical, habitual, emotional, psychological and even vocational characteristics of criminals. However, there are many different methods of criminal profiling, and all vary with respect to the soundness of underlying theory, logic and insight. Some methods are abstract, general and trait predictive; others are concrete, specific and state descriptive. Some rely on offender group statistics; some rely solely on experience; and some rely on examining case specific behavioral evidence.
The method of criminal profiling that one claims to use will dictate the education necessary to use it. This methodology must be clearly and unequivocally defined. If a profiler does not know or cannot explain the method they are using to perform their examinations and reach their conclusions, then those conclusions can hardly be considered professional, reliable, or even acceptable.
The professional criminal profiler deals with facts and evidence, not assumptions and emotional hyperbole. He or she seeks to educate, not advocate. His or her method of choice will therefore be objective, and necessarily rooted in the tenets of the scientific method.
Skill Identification and Development
Regardless of the method being used, the following knowledge, skills, and abilities are generally of benefit to every criminal profiler:
- Knowledge of the criminal justice system in general.
- Knowledge of the various methods of criminal investigation.
- Knowledge of the scientific method.
- Knowledge of the science of logic.
- Knowledge of forensic science and the various methods of physical evidence collection and examination.
- Knowledge of victims, crime and criminals.
- Knowledge of human sociology in relation to the study and examination of victims, crime and criminals.
- Knowledge of human psychology in relation to the study and examination of victims, crime and criminals.
- Knowledge of mental illness in relation to the study and examination of victims, crime and criminals.
- Knowledge of drugs and alcohol in relation to the study and examination of victims, crime and criminals.
- Knowledge of human anatomy and physiology.
- Knowledge of human sexuality in all of its contexts and incarnations.
- The skill and ability to perform competent research.
- The skill and ability to write competently and professionally.
- The skill and ability to make valid arguments based on sound logic and reasoning.
- The skill and ability to write reports that meet the standards of the court.
- The skill and ability to give effective courtroom testimony.
- The ability to travel.
- The ability to examine evidence relating to the violent, the sexually graphic, the bizarre, and the grotesque without becoming overwhelmed by personal feelings.
- The ability to meet deadlines.
- The ability to recognize bias and work towards maintaining objectivity.
- The ability to keep a confidence, and maintain confident information.
- The ability to remain honest and ethical despite the short-term rewards for professional dishonesty and unethical practice.
It should go without saying that criminal profiling involves the application of the behavioral sciences to criminology. Given this fundamental intersection of applied knowledge, it is hard to argue that one can be a qualified behavioral analyst if one does not possess a formal education in at least one of the behavioral sciences (e.g. psychology, sociology, criminology, social work).
Again, if you do not have a formal behavioral science education, you really have no business performing behavioral evidence examinations of any kind.
In order to competently and effectively execute the methods of examination and classification provided in this text, in relation to Behavioral Evidence Analysis, the following education and training is required:
1. An undergraduate degree in a behavioral science (psychology, sociology, criminology, social work): This will provide an understanding of human behavior, related behavioral theory, and will also provide exposure to the scientific method. A criminal justice degree is not the same as a criminology degree, and most CJ programs will only prepare you for a career in law enforcement or corrections.
2. Undergraduate term papers. Many undergraduate subjects allow students to choose term paper research subjects. As much as possible, research and write on subjects related to criminal profiling and related specialized areas of interest.
3. A Graduate degree in forensic science or a behavioral science. As just about anyone can get an undergraduate degree, graduate work signals a professional level commitment to your career. Students should choose a graduate program by seeking to study under someone who is both published in their area of interest, and also still has a hand in casework. Professional scholars without real world experience make for poor teachers. They also lack the ability to help students get good internships.
4. Graduate term papers. Many graduate subjects allow students to choose term paper research subjects. As much as possible, research and write on subjects related to criminal profiling and related specialized areas of interest.
5. Graduate thesis. It should go without saying that any graduate level thesis should be written on a subject related to criminal profiling in some fashion – specifically oriented towards the student’s specialized areas of interest. This presupposes that the student, by this time, has developed specialized areas of interest.
6. Graduate Internships. seek an internship that exposes you directly to criminal justice system and its inhabitants. This can include a group home, the public defender’s office, an ME or coroner’s office, or a law enforcement agency. Multiple internships are recommended for the broadest exposure. Even when college credit is not available, internships are still recommended. If you are not in a college or university program that can give you good internship possibilities, you are in the wrong program.
Kirk, P. (1974) Crime Investigation. 2nd Ed. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
Thornton, J. I. (1997) “The General Assumptions and Rationale of Forensic Identification,” in Faigman, D. Kaye, D. Saks, M. and Sanders, J. (Eds.), Modern Scientific Evidence: The Law and Science of Expert Testimony. Vol. 2, St. Paul, MN: West.
Turvey, B. Petherick, W. and Ferguson, C. (2010) Forensic Criminology. San Diego: Elsevier Science.
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Brent E. Turvey is a forensic scientist and criminal profiler who has worked on cases involving assault, homicide, serial homicide, rape and more. He has been a court expert on topics including crime reconstruction, forensic science, and victimology, among others.