Investigative Psychology: A Psychological Approach to Crime
Danielle L. Davis
University of Arkansas Fort Smith
The criminal justice system has adopted many methods of crime solving in the past century; fingerprinting, DNA testing, innovative testing of evidence. The most integrative field of investigation is investigative psychology. This relatively new process of crime solving has combined the criminal justice system’s investigative procedures with psychological science. The aim of investigative psychology is to use empirically based findings and logical thought to assist in solving crimes. The area has provided the Federal Bureau of Investigation with a new take on profiling, it gives law enforcement agencies another resource to use, and it often times utilizes the collaboration of different agencies.
Keywords: Investigative psychology, Profiling
Investigative Psychology: A Psychological Approach to Crime
Crime has existed since man was created, even before we established a word for it. Law enforcement uses a variety of approaches to solve crimes, and new approaches are being tested every day. Investigative Psychology was coined in the 1990’s by David Canter who wrote the book Investigative Psychology: Offender Profiling and the Analysis of Criminal Action. Lyman (2017) defines investigative psychology as ” a new field that attempts to describe the actions of offenders and to develop an understanding of crime.” It is definitely a new field relative to criminal justice itself. The aim of investigative psychology is to bring a psychological approach to crime solving that uses tested methods and empirical research based in science. (Lyman 2017) Investigative psychology provides additional decision making and problem solving skills, specific interviewing techniques, as well as psychological profiling. This method of crime solving can be used for a variety of crimes such as terrorism, burglary, arson, rape, homicide, and even organized crime. (Lyman 2017) This new-age method provides an additional resource to local law enforcement and applies the knowledge from both the criminal justice and psychology fields.
An important aspect to investigative psychology is profiling. Lyman (2017) makes the distinction between traditional profiling and psychological profiling. Traditional profiling is based in the opinions of experienced officers about the possible suspect. Psychological profiling is based on behavior. By analyzing the crime scene, investigators can gather pieces of the individual’s behavior that lead to a profile. The nature of the crime reflects behaviors of the individual, as well as small details of the crime scene which ultimately reflect the suspect. The television program Criminal Minds is a great example of behavioral analysis. Essentially, the agents gather information from the crime scene, interview individuals involved, and develop a profile of broad characteristics that, when combined, create a profile of the suspect. The program portrays psychological profiling fairly accurately.
The FBI uses a specific outline to gather details about the personality of the suspected criminal. The first question in the outline of homicide profile provided in Criminal Investigation: the Art and the Science is called the “antecedent” which asks what caused the suspect to act out at that specific time, in that specific way. Was there a fantasy being played out? Was there a trigger? The antecedent is used to determine the motivation of the criminal. The second question is method and manner, which looks at the selection of the victim and the method of murder (bludgeoning, shooting, stabbing). Thirdly is body disposal which analyzes the selection of the disposal site, and the number of disposal sites. The last point looks at what happens after the crime is committed. It establishes if the suspect is interjecting themselves into the crime solving, media, or even families of the victims. (Lyman, 2017)
In a study, The experience of psychological profiling in criminal investigations, conducted by Valerie M. Frie, research revealed very interesting themes that prevailed simulated case-analysis profiling. The results yielded three common themes. The first was that profiling provided the officers with a list of pertinent things to look for that would otherwise be looked over. The second was that the characteristics that were analyzed actually did help to identify the suspect- based on evidence found at the crime scene. Profiling also was found to bring law enforcement agencies together without animosity or competition. The agencies found that the cooperation actually yielded useful results.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation has a branch dedicated to a kind of investigative psychology. The Behavioral Analysis Unit (portrayed in Criminal Minds) works with local law enforcement agencies to build a profile and locate the perpetrator. Although Behavioral Analysis alone is not a tested science, it is empirical in nature and has a scientifically methodical structure. This kind of investigation does not yield perfect results, but it does act as an additional resource for local law enforcement. Behavioral analysis has helped solve enough cases to prove itself worthy of adoption by the FBI.
Investigative psychology has a lot to offer to the criminal justice system. It provides a new, scientific perspective to crime solving. It changes the route agencies take when looking for a criminal. Instead of “thinking like the criminal,” investigative psychology can use scientific psychology and investigative analysis to assess the possible characteristics of the criminal. (Lyman, 2017) It is very interesting to see two fields come together to create such a revolutionary method of crime solving. While DNA testing, fingerprinting, and physical evidence can provide a lot of information about the crime, profiling can provide a lot of information about the suspect. By analyzing the evidence and scene of the crime, profilers can compile a list of characteristics that could possibly fit the suspect’s description. More often than not, profiling leads to a break in a case. Profiling is not necessarily a sure-fire way to solve a case, but it is definitely a resource for local law enforcement agencies to utilize to their advantage. It’s interesting to think about what the future holds for crime solving and new inventive methods such as investigative psychology.
Elntib, S. (2010). Review of Investigative psychology: Offender profiling and the analysis of criminal action. Journal Of Investigative Psychology And Offender Profiling, 7(2), 185-188. doi:10.1002/jip.115
Lyman, M. D. (2017). Criminal investigation: the art and the science. Boston: Pearson.
Frie, V. M. (2012). The experience of psychological profiling in criminal investigations (Order No. 3541352). Available from ProQuest Central. (1113389920). Retrieved from https://0-search-proquest-com.libcat.uafs.edu/docview/1113389920?accountid=14481