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Criminal Profiling: An Introduction to Behavioral Evidence Analysis
Reviewed by ROBERT T. FINTZY, M.D.
Am J Psychiatry 2000;157:1532-1534. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.157.9.1532
View Author and Article Information
Los Angeles, Calif.

By Brent Turvey, M.S. San Diego, Academic Press, 1999, 451 pp., $79.95.

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Henceforth, be forewarned: not everyone doing criminal profile work is doing it correctly. "Many dangerously unqualified, unscrupulous individuals [are in] the practice of creating criminal profiles" (p. xxix), declares Brent Turvey, which is why he wrote this book. It is his attempt at providing the solid foundation on which a standard of workmanship, ethics, definitions, practices, methodology, training, education, and peer review can be uniformly established so that criminal profiling can become a profession rather than a haphazard job for ill-prepared probers. This text documents the principles of proper criminal profiling and undertakes to establish definite criteria for professionalization.

What is criminal profiling? Whatever one has gleaned from films and fiction—with all due respect to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes—is misleading. The current loose definition describes criminal profiling as any process elucidating notions about a sought-after criminal. However, Turvey dismisses the popular myth that profilers are born with an intuitive gift. Instead, Turvey advocates a discipline that will necessitate the careful evaluation of physical evidence, collected and properly analyzed by a team of specialists from different areas, for the purpose of systematically reconstructing the crime scene, developing a strategy to assist in the capture of the offender, and thereafter aiding in the trial. In his schema, a criminal profiler is only one component, although an integral one, in the criminal investigation process.

Turvey differentiates between inductive and deductive criminal profiling. The former involves broad generalizations and/or statistical reasoning—a subjective approach in Turvey’s view. Turvey favors the deductive method of criminal profiling, in which the criminal profiler possesses an open mind; questions all assumptions, premises, and opinions put forth; and demands collaboration regardless of how distinguished the supplier of the input. Here, the emphasis is on the profiler’s objectivity, self-knowledge (to overcome transference distortions), and critical thinking skills—plus an ability to try to understand the needs being satisfied by each behavior of the offender as well as the offender’s patterns. Turvey places great emphasis on all forms of forensic analysis (e.g., wound analysis, blood stain pattern analysis, and bullet trajectory analysis), crime scene characteristics (including photos), victim and witness statements, and a thorough study of the characteristics of the victim—yes, the victim. He uses the crime scene characteristics to differentiate between modus operandi and "signature behaviors" (i.e., actions unique to the crime but not necessary to commit the crime), as well as to determine inferences about the offender’s state of mind at the time of the crime, his or her planning, level of skill, victim selection, fantasy, motivation, and degree of risk taken. Turvey labels his process behavioral evidence analysis and considers it objective because it is based on facts rather than averages and extrapolations from statistics. He acknowledges that criminal profiling is a skill rather than an art or science.

Turvey reminds the reader that no two cases are exactly alike; hence, the inductive method, with its "magical" quality, is great for Hollywood but is not the most effective practice. The criminal profiler’s gut instinct, unless it can be concretely confirmed, tends to lead the criminal profiler astray and wastes valuable time. Not only do criminals think differently than most people, but Turvey points out that behavior has different meanings between cultures and from region to region. Necessarily, behavioral evidence analysis must be a dynamic process, ever-changing as the successful criminal’s methods become more refined, or deteriorate, over the course of time.

As I understand it, a criminal profiler needs to be a monitor, coordinator, interpreter, and advisor to the different branches of the investigator tree—with a premium placed on facts rather than theories. The value of teamwork is crucial. Each team member must recognize the complementarity of all team members and be willing to share information. Historically, many unsuccessful investigations have been marked by a lack of interagency cooperation (secondary to politics, turf battles, etc.). Furthermore, there are differences in skill levels among team members, despite the number of years of experience. Since the criminal profile is vitiated whenever any part lacks merit, the criminal profiler must check all assumptions. Wound patterns, for example, are complex, and even well-trained medical examiners can miss and/or misinterpret them—thus, the need for multiple forensic scientists. In addition, the criminal profiler’s competency can be compromised if he or she fails to visit the crime scene.

Although forensic psychiatrists can perform clinical interviews for the purpose of diagnosis, treatment, and courtroom competency/sanity assessment, they cannot do the work of a criminal profiler. A psychiatrist can contribute to the criminal profile but is only one member of a team. The same can be said of law enforcement agents, psychologists, sociologists, medical examiners, and detectives. Far more advanced training is required to become a professional criminal profiler, training that has heretofore been nonregulated—a situation that Turvey hopes to radically change, with this book as catalyst and guide.

The sections of the book that interested me the most are diverse. The preface, where the author relates those factors which led him to become a criminal profiler, is a sensitive, well-written, personal introduction. Then, as gory as is the chapter on wound analysis (color photos included—not meant for the squeamish!), I ultimately became convinced that the minute details described by the medical examiner rank as one of the most enlightening, mind-stimulating contributing factors in the effort to weed out a killer.

Intensive case examples in the appendixes of the book provocatively exercised my own detective mind. In appendix IIA, the Jon Benet Ramsey presentation includes a detailed autopsy description that evidently had not appeared publicly and, without stating it directly, unequivocally points to a particular suspect. To my chagrin, John Douglas, a highly respected criminal consultant, certainly seems to have goofed by basing his profile solely on his own conjoint 4.5-hour interview with the parents. Appendix I details more about the "Jack the Ripper" murders than one probably is familiar with and also permitted me the opportunity to think along as an involved investigator. Appendix IIIA presents an actual behavioral evidence analysis report, 56 pages worth, that is thorough and clear.

Most of the chapters are by Turvey himself. The writing and direction are consistent throughout—with the exception of chapter 21 by U.K. psychiatrist Dr. Diana Tamlyn, which reveals a lack of knowledge about what truly constitutes a professional criminal profiler and therefore made me wonder why these nine pages were included. Most chapters are mercifully brief, thus allowing for relief and frequent respites to assimilate the information. Unique, and more helpful than traditional footnotes, are numbered asides that appear in the more-than-ample margins. Wide borders also allow for spontaneous reader’s notes, and I highly recommend this format for future books.

The chapters address investigative as well as trial strategies, ethics, alternate methods of criminal profiling, arson, serial rape/homicide, criminal behavior on the Internet, task force management, and more. This book is a text, reference source, and proselytizing attempt, all in one. A glossary, bibliography, and index abet this worthy contribution. One disappointment, though: Turvey (pp. 195, 448) incorrectly says that the only difference between a sociopath and a psychopath is that the former originates from social forces and early experiences. Not only is the etiology of both these entities unclear, but 40 years in psychiatry has taught me that the only distinction is that a psychopath commits violent crimes.

Certainly, quite a few of Turvey’s opinions are subject to controversy. For instance, in chapter 24, he attributes society’s interest in serial rape and serial homicide to venial excitement rather than considering it might be an attempt at self-protection and/or understanding for prophylactic reasons. I also object to his facile dismissal of less-than-scientific sources, such as handwriting analysis and polygraph tests, as psychological speculations. Although these have their limitations, when facts are lacking, as they often are, such intuitive offerings can prove useful. It seems to me that a conflation of both inductive and deductive criminal profiling, with the main emphasis on the latter, rather than Turvey’s idealistic unitary bias, could be practical.

Criminal Profiling is not for casual or marathon reading. It requires the concentration and diligence possible only in short spurts of study. Remarkably, the redundancy throughout the book serves a didactic function by clarifying and reinforcing important points. Psychiatrists will be interested to know that behavioral evidence analysis techniques have no clinical purpose—they are not based on an interest in an offender’s mental well-being but on the goal of protecting society. Turvey further adds, "Freudian theories…are not designed for investigative purposes" (p. 237). The primary goals of criminal profiling include the reduction of the viable suspect pool in a criminal investigation, assistance in the linkage of potentially related crimes, assessment of the potential for escalation of criminal behavior, provision of relevant leads and strategies, and keeping the investigation on track. The criminal profiler is not preoccupied with specifically naming the offender. Criminal profilers are advisors; detectives and investigators solve cases.

This book should be reviewed by anyone intent on becoming a professional criminal profiler. It would also be a good idea if such an aspirant possessed an ample cache of compulsive traits because the efficient criminal profile has to be so meticulous. The material contained in this book is only a beginning; prolonged first-hand investigatory experience under an expert’s tutelage is mandatory.

Criminal Profiling would be of value to psychiatrists in two respects: 1) as a humbling experience in terms of recognizing the limitations of a psychiatrist in a criminal investigation and 2) as an intellectual expansion for those with polymathic proclivities.




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