All societies in the modern world are troubled by crime, and the general public is equally fascinated by criminals and fearful of criminal behaviour. In the United Kingdom, events such as the murders of Jack the Ripper, the Yorkshire Ripper and Harold Shipman, and the Soham tragedy, coupled with film and television programmes including Silence of the Lambs, Cracker and Crime Scene Investigation, have fuelled the public's consciousness of the criminal mind.In the fight against crime, the development of offender profiling by the FBI in the USA has further captured people's imagination. The technique was introduced to help law enforcement agencies solve serious crimes such as serial rape or murder, and to a lesser extent arson and property crime. At the heart of profiling lies the belief that by combining psychological principles with crime scene analysis, it is possible to identify the likely characteristics of a perpetrator.Although advances in crime detection are welcomed, the profiling field appears riddled with contradiction and disagreement. Social scientists argue that the discipline is unscientific due to methodologically weak research, while police officers appear sceptical about its benefits for solving crime. In Britain, profiling has witnessed both notable successes, for example Canter's profile of the serial rapist and murderer John Duffy, and dramatic failures, such as the Colin Stagg profile in the Rachel Nickell inquiry. This article reviews the offender profiling literature, examines its applicability in the legal system and identifies areas for future research.
Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2005, Emerald Group Publishing Limited