Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Criminal Profiling: Part 1 History and Method

The Anthrax Terrorist

Then after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, and the anthrax scare that followed, a profile was developed of what that perpetrator might be like. When they failed to make an arrest, Lawrence Sellin wrote a scathing report arguing that the profile has not yet helped to catch this person and offered a dramatically different alternative. Since its not yet known whether his alternative is correct, its also not yet known whether the FBI profilers were wrong, but the anger evident at the FBIs imperfections is evident throughout the piece. If it turns out that they truly had tunnel vision (or worse, a bumbling rush to judgment), then the anger is justified.

Two anthrax letters
Two anthrax letters
A rush to judgment is inevitable when the demand is great and the public visibility is high, but thats how mistakes get made. Perhaps it wasnt prudent to allow moviemakers enough access to develop the image of super-sleuths that was likely to backfire. Or perhaps people (including reporters) who believe that crime solving methods are guaranteed are just setting themselves up for disappointment. In any event, those who use this method of behavioral analysis know that they cannot predict every possible human behavior or trait from what they have at a crime scene. Yet with additional crime scenes and more behavioral evidence, profiles do evolve. So, also, has the method itself.

In fact, as in the past, profiling is not just the province of the FBI. Psychologists with a specialty in criminal behavior, and some criminologists, are developing their own ideas on the subject, and even their own methods.

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