Criminal profiling has been used unofficially for a century. One of the earliest known instances of unofficial criminal profiling was used during the infamous Jack the Ripper case in England during the 1890s. Police and military officials occasionally asked psychologists to develop profiles for cases throughout the 20th century, but it was not until recent years that criminal profiling became standard procedure. In the 1950s, the FBI created the Behavioral Science Unit, which is now known as the Investigative Support Unit. This unit has extensively studied crime scenes and conducted interviews with known criminals in order to thoroughly develop theories of behavioral patterns.
Today, the FBI uses an investigation technique called Crime Scene Analysis. When criminal profilers are working on a case, they are involved in extensive research. These agents will compile and analyze every piece of evidence available at the crime scene. They then attempt to construct a personality profile based on facts from the crime scene and known behavioral traits of similar criminals. This profile is then used to help conduct the investigation and apprehend the criminal.
The increasing popularity of criminal profiling has led to many misconceptions about the profession. For example, "Criminal Profiler" is not a job title with the FBI. A person cannot be hired by the FBI as a profiler. Profiling is done by Special Agents within the National Center for Analysis of Violent Crimes (NCAVC), at Quantico, Virginia. Agents in the unit do conduct profiling for cases they are asked to assist with, but they also do extensive research and field work unrelated to profiling. Popular culture has glamorized the field of criminal profiling, but some good examples of profiling in popular culture are CBS's show "Criminal Minds" and Leslie Parrish's novel "Fade to Black".
Becoming a Profiler
Becoming a profiler is not an easy task, especially since there are no jobs specifically for profilers available in the FBI. To become a profiler, the FBI requires three years of experience with the bureau, which means passing the selective and rigorous FBI entrance standards and then working as a Special Agent for at least three years. Since jobs in criminal profiling are so competitive, however, it is recommended that anyone applying for a profiling job with the NCAVC have about ten years of experience as a Special Agent, specifically working with cases of serial murder, rape, or other violent offences.
The benefits of profiling are just beginning to be appreciated. While it is not an exact science, it is constantly becoming more accurate since personality profiles are based on continued analysis of criminals. In a case where there are no clear suspects and no evidence linking the crime to a specific person, profiling provides a much-needed starting point for investigators. Behavioral profiles are being used in more and more investigations, and the popularity of this field will likely lead to more research and investigation into criminal behavioral patterns, making profiling an even more accurate and helpful tool in apprehending violent and dangerous criminals.