Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

GEOGRAPHIC PROFILING

Pros and Cons

Geographic profiling has been used effectively for cases such as serial rape, a series of burglaries, serial murder, bank robbery, kidnapping, arson, and bombings. Had it been developed in the sixties, it might have even provided better information about the Zodiac's cognitive map. The program most widely used in Canada once pinpointed the workplace of a man who was robbing credit unions during lunch, and it also reduced a database of over three thousand suspects in a murder to merely a handful.

What a good geographic profile can do is provide information that helps investigators to narrow the area in which to do door-to-door canvassing and set up police stakeout surveillance. It can also prioritize suspects, develop strategies for linkage analysis of information, and even help to make up an effective polygraph session with a suspect. Yet, although a crime scene can provide clues about an offender's spatial perception and mobility, it remains the case that insight into psychological motivation, degree of organization, and lifestyle make an important contribution to an investigation as well.

Still, some critics think that both fall short. According to Brent Turvey, author of Criminal Profiling, geographical profiling, like trait analysis or future crime prediction, relies too strongly on a single manifestation of behavior (e.g., offense location selection) and attempts to infer meaning from the overall emotional context. He believes that geographical profiling cannot then distinguish between two similar offenders operating in the same area and may mistakenly assign crimes to the wrong person. He also believes it only works when the offender actually lives in or near his circle of offenses.

Another criticism often levied is that while geographical profiling involves objective measures, it still relies on subjective interpretation, which makes it subject to the interpreter's experience and skill.

Responsible investigators know, however, that geographical profiling is only an investigative tool and does not in itself solve crimes. They also agree that geographical profiling is best used in serial type crimes, because any profiling system works best with pattern analysis, and patterns are more easily highlighted with more crime scenes than less.

Currently, geographical profiling is endorsed more firmly in Canada than in the U. S., and as of 1997, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police put in place Rossmo's information management system, Rigel. The RCMP plans to use this to complement their Violent Criminal Linkage Analysis System (ViCLAS) so they can conduct automated computer searches and do efficient case management. The more success it has, the more likely it is that law enforcement agencies in other places will educate their task forces in this method and add to the current data bases. Despite what the critics say, some of the successes have been undeniably stunning.

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