Validity, Benefits, & Liabilities of Criminal Profiling

Validity, Benefits, & Liabilities of Criminal Profiling

            Criminal profiling analyzes the validity of the information and research on which the criminal profile is based upon. Criminal profiling is a tool used within investigative psychology. As we any tool, there are liabilities and limitations of the use of criminal profiling. In order to understand the benefits, validity, and liabilities of criminal profiling, it is highly important to understand the definition. According to Bartol and Bartol, “Criminal profiling is the process of identifying personality traits, behavioral tendencies, and demographic variables of an offender based on characteristics of the crime” (Bartol & Bartol, 2012, p. 474).

 Criminal profiling may not be the best approach to some situations as some have questioned the reliability of such application. Profiling is not used often in the field by officers or professional psychologists, hence the questioning of validity. In Introduction to Forensic Psychology, the text states “in a survey of police psychologists, 70% stated they did not feel comfortable profiling and questioned its validity and usefulness”(Bartol & Bartol, 2012, p. 79). The term criminal profiling is phasing out and more professionals and officers are adapting to criminal investigative analysis (Bartol & Bartol, 2012). An issue that can come from profiling could be an error in classification. If the psychologist is analyzing based on cognitive, behavioral, and demographic features, he or she could make an error. For example, if the suspect had a certain demographic feature such as their race, this could affect the outcome. The professional or officers could have a bias based on a certain demographic.

Another example could be if it were a series of robberies in a small border town such as Nogales, Arizona, and the description was a Latino descent with torn clothing and poor hygiene. Based on the crime scene evidence and victim statements, a professional could make the assumption the suspect was an illegal alien. This could or could not be correct. Since profiling is largely based on behavior and personality, this could be incorrect. Personality can be skeptical depending on mood, or the social factors involved. This is where profiling may not be best and the issue of reliability and validity would come into play (Miller, 2011). Believing this would mean that all human behavior is dependable across a lifespan of numerous circumstances and outcomes. Another assumption that can create issues of validity in profiling is that certain psychological disorders apply to a variety of particular crime scenes (Bartol & Bartol, 2012).

Criminal profiling also has several benefits to psychologists and law enforcement as it can help determine what type of suspect the police should search for. This can help the process by being able to find the person quickly as they knew  the characteristics to look for. Profiling is used frequently with violent crimes like rape and murder. Due to the horrendous violent crimes, profiling can help law enforcement save precious time by knowing the psychological and behavior patterns of the perpetrator. This process can help with locating the next crime or the whereabouts of the suspect in question. By having this knowledge, law enforcement is able to move quickly in catching a violent person and potentially save more lives by making sure the person does not hurt anymore victims (Torres, Boccaccini,  & Miller, 2006).

Another strength of criminal profiling is that it helps law enforcement pursue another area. When there is not any substantial or even circumstantial evidence, they have another option to turn to. Psychological evidence could also help find the suspect faster by knowing his or her psychological and behavior patterns. Investigators are able to gain a higher level of insight by understanding certain types of criminal behavior and can help solve future crimes with similar characteristics (Miller, 2011).

With strengths and benefits to anything there are also liabilities and limitations. A limitation in profiling is assuming specific predictions about offenders and suspects based on data from previous cases and or clients (Bartol & Bartol, 2012).  Another limitation that professionals run into is their approach. Some look at the offender as one individual and miss key information. If the professional used a different approach that encompasses relationships, geographic information, and patterns, he or she has a better chance of finding the offender. This is a limitation because not all psychologists of officers use the same approach and can limit themselves by the idiographic approach. According to Bartol and Bartol,  “A liability of profiling has been speculated that the results are unverifiable and ambiguous” (2012, p. 101). Some say the results of profiling re interpretations and biased. Overall, the tool of criminal profiling helps in certain circumstances.

The use of criminal profiling in investigative psychology is a tool that is extremely useful but could have its downfalls. Profiling is used in a variety of avenues, for example, suspect based profiling, psychological autopsy, geographical and mapping profiling, and psychological profiling. (Bartol & Bartol, 2012). Criminal profiling can help law enforcement save time and resources by predicting behaviors and patterns from offenders. Profiling also helps law enforcement discover another option or tool when there is little to no evidence at the crime scene. Profiling may not be in the best interest of every case, but it can definitely help.


Bartol, C. R., & Bartol, A. M. (2012). Introduction to Forensic Psychology, Research and Application (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications Inc.

Miller, D. A. (2011, March). Qualitative Approaches to Criminal Profiling as Ways of Reducing Uncertainty in Criminal Investigations. Policing: A Journal of Policy & Practice, 5(1), 8, 33-40.

Torres, A. N., Boccaccini, M. T., & Miller, H. A. (2006, February). Perceptions of the validity and utility of criminal profiling among forensic psychologists and psychiatrists.. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 37(1), 51-58. doi:10.1037/0735-7028.37.1.51


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