HOW PROFILING WORKS
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How does profiling work?
Profiling in the legal system has gotten a big name in
the media. There are many shows that are dedicated to following fictional
criminal profilers, trying to figure out who is at fault for a crime based on
analyzing the crime and how it was committed. But profiling isn’t just something
that makes for good television. It’s a process that’s used largely in trying to
determine what happened at a crime scene. It’s also a topic that’s gotten plenty
of both praise and criticism.
Criminal profiling is sometimes necessary in order
to eliminate the hundreds of possibilities of what could have happened at any
given crime scene. Yet, some say that profiling is no different than
stereotyping, and that it’s not only unethical, but unconstitutional as well.
Arguers for this school of thought say that officials go too far in their
profiling efforts, and that innocent people can be harassed or have their
personal privacy invaded simply because they may fall into one of the profiler’s
categories, such as race.
Defenders of criminal profiling argue that it works
and is a most effective way to get to the bottom of a case in a short amount of
time. This is undoubtedly true, and many crimes have been solved due to a
criminal profiler’s observations. Arguers even say that sometimes it’s necessary
to place certain people into certain profile categories, even if those
categories are based on race. In the United States for instance, many people,
officials and regular civilians both, were a little wary of people that came
from the Middle East. This was unfortunately especially true for people who had
just arrived in the States from their country.
While it is unfortunate that some people will fall
into a category that they don’t belong in, it can also be argued that there is
no one category that would ever be enough for a criminal to be charged with
something. A person would never be put under arrest just because they were from
a certain country, or because they were of a certain race. However, because they
are of a certain ethnicity, their background may be investigated a bit more.
It’s easy to see, even with just this short glance,
how complicated profiling can be, and just how complex it can get. And to
understand criminal profiling, you have to understand the different types of
profiling, what profiler’s are looking for, and just how they can piece together
a crime, just by looking at a few objects laying around the scene.
The Types of Profiling
of heard of “APBs”, such as when the main character in a movie says, “He’s got
an APB out for him.” APBs are one of the most basic types of criminal profiling
there is, along with a “BOLO”, which stands for “Be on the Look Out.” APBs mean
“All Purpose Bulletin” and they are generally just a description of a person who
is suspected of committing a crime. These bulletins are usually based on
eyewitness accounts and other evidence that will allow police to see the
criminal, such as video footage from security tapes. Sometimes during an APB,
police will need to include a suspect’s skin color but this is not generally
thought to be controversial. This is used merely as a way of identifying someone
who could be responsible for committing a crime. And usually, the suspect’s skin
color will always be included in the description so there is no discrepancy as
to identifying one and not the other.
Sometimes though, the criminal isn’t always seen fleeing the scene of the crime,
and there’s no video footage that caught the whole thing on tape. Criminal
profiling still plays a part here but profiler’s use psychological profiling,
instead of physical profiling. With this kind of profiling, the profiler will
take what little they do know about the crime and the crime scene, and try to
piece together a list of possible suspects. For instance, a homicide might be
connected to a serial killer because of the way the crime was committed, or if
the killer has a certain clue that he leaves at each crime scene. Profilers will
also look at other physical evidence left at the scene to make educated guesses
about the suspect, or what kind of shape he’s in. For instance, if a corner on a
table has vast amounts of blood on it that’s assumed to be the killer’s, the
profiler, a team of forensic scientists, and researchers can determine that the
suspect may be injured.
Psychological profiling isn’t nearly as accurate as
physical profiling is and sometimes it’s quite vague. In the above example, the
profiler may be able to determine that the suspect will be found injured, but
may not be able to tell where on their body the suspect was injured. This
category of profiling alone could put hundreds of people into one category, just
because they have an injury. But profilers do investigate further before making
their list of possible suspects. If the crime is part of a serial killer, they
may look at all the different crimes to find the similarities. They’ll then make
another educated guess on who the suspects could be based on what the
similarities showed them. The profilers will then couple this with the fact that
they are also looking for someone who is injured to narrow the list down even
Psychological profiling also helps profilers make
educated guesses towards what the criminal may be like as a person, and what
their personality might be like. This can help authorities not only whittle down
the list of suspects, but also determine what their next move will be, so that
they can be there to catch them when they make it!
Predictive profiling is one of the most
controversial kinds of profiling there is. This is because the authorities and
the criminal profiler’s don’t use any evidence gathered at the scene to make the
profile, and in fact, there’s not even any crime scene yet to assess. This is
because predictive profiling pertains to crimes that haven’t even happened yet.
The police may know for instance, that there is trouble and fights breaking out
every night in some areas of town. They may even have a short description of
people who have been involved in past fights. Wanting to stop the fights before
they break out, the police might visit the area at the time the fights usually
start, and start stopping people who fit the profile to ask them questions.
While it might seem invasive to some, predictive profiling becomes even more
necessary when you’re referring to things such as gang violence and drug wars.
Racial profiling is by far, the most controversial
and highly debated type of profiling there is. And while we all want to live in
an ideal world where we think that this type of profiling does not exist, the
sad truth is that it does. Even though race is often used as a factor in
profiling, sometimes it is taken too far by authorities. Because the case of
unlawful profiling has been so highly publicized in the last few years,
authorities have really cracked down on this among their own officers, and it’s
illegal in many states.
And even though there are no real supporters of
racial profiling, there are some that state that some people may take this too
far. For instance, there may be a case brought against an officer because he
makes fifty traffic stops within a day and within those fifty, eighty percent of
them are of Hispanics. While this may look like a clear case of racial
profiling, certain other factors must be taken into consideration. What area are
the stops being made in? Is it an area that has a high Hispanic population? Or
does the officer stop at a certain place such as a Hispanic Community Center,
where there may just happen to be a large majority of one ethnicity at one time.
There are many factors that come into play and much to be taken into
consideration. While racial profiling is never encouraged, it must also be taken
into consideration that sometimes, race will be a factor in profiling, with
absolutely no regard given towards stereotypes.
Probable Cause Analysis
However, to avoid having police officers and
authorities abuse the power that profiling might give them, there are laws set
up in place that protect a person’s rights. An officer may not make any search
or seizure unless it is under very specific conditions such as if the person has
agreed to the search, or if the courts have given the officer permission to do
so. This law ensures that even though the officer may stop people to ask
questions, they cannot make a personal search of the person unless the person
gives them authority to do so. The other option, having the courts grant
permission, is another way for officials to do it but here there are some
problems as well. For starters, in order to get permission, the officer would
need to have the exact name of the person he wanted to search. When doing random
checks, this is difficult. The officer would also have to have access to the
warrant at the time of the search, which can be difficult since the suspect is
not likely to show up at any particular time.
However, there are some crimes that do need to be
investigated right at the scene, even if the officer is not aware that these
crimes are being committed. Should a car be pulled over by an officer for
instance, because it has been profiled as a car being used to traffic drugs, an
officer may see the car and pull it over. But if the officer just lets the car
leave, there’s a good chance the owner of the car will empty the car of the
drugs and cover his tracks before the officer is even close to getting a search
warrant. Because of this, there are leniencies in the laws and when officers are
allowed to make their own search. This is when the probable cause analysis comes
into play. The probable cause analysis tells the officer whether or not he has
probable cause to go further with his search.
There are definitely many different branches to
criminal profiling, and many different times when it will come into play. It is
highly regulated by the authorities to make sure that it continues to be an
effective part of solving crimes, while still maintaining the respect and
dignity of the citizens within the community.