The long-running television series Criminal Minds on CBS popularized the art and science of profiling criminals for fifteen years running from 2005 to February 2020. The storyline was a fictitious Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU) within the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) that solves crimes through profiling the perpetrator’s age range, color, employment status, and possible idiosyncrasies. The creator of this successful series adapted the show from the FBI’s actual Behavioral Science Unit (BSU).
The origin of profiling precedes the escape from a Colorado Prison in December 1977 when one of the most despicable and prolific serial killers became a fugitive. The FBI placed the escapee, Ted Bundy, on its Ten Most Wanted Fugitives List in February 1978. Two FBI agents, Howard Teten and Robert Ressler at the Bureau’s Training Academy performed a psychological assessment or profile of Bundy. They were part of a new analysis unit created about five years earlier to study killers’ M.O. or modus operandi. Analyzing a serial criminal’s victim preferences, such as age, hair color, hunting grounds, and the nuances of the crimes, helps investigators focus on a particular perpetrator type.
Agent Teten began teaching applied criminology to new FBI agents in 1970. What started as a four-hour lecture evolved into four days. Soon Teten borrowed Special Agent Patrick Mullay from the FBI’s New York office, who had a master’s degree in educational psychology. In 1972, the Behavioral Science Unit’s background and research became part of the training for all agents and spread to law enforcement nationally.
However, this was not the advent of profiling. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), two physicians, George Phillips and Thomas Bond, first applied informal profiling in the early 1880s in London’s notorious Jack the Ripper murders.
If this field fascinates you, then high school is where to begin your educational journey into solving crimes as a profiler. If offered, take courses in psychology and government. Check your local library for books on these subjects. For further insight, Google the name John E. Douglas, one of the FBI’s first criminal profilers who retired in 1995 after a 25-year career. He is the author of several best-selling books, namely Mind Hunter, which takes you inside the FBI’s serial crime unit and his profiling techniques.
A former service member with the Air Force and with a Ph.D. in education, Mr. Douglas believed that to understand the artist, you need to scrutinize the artwork. He did so by doing extensive interviews with serial killers, rapists, child molesters, assassins, and other violent criminals. His list includes Charles Manson, John Wayne Gacy, Lynette Fromme, Sirhan Sirhan, Richard Speck, and Ted Bundy. His celebrated career involved working on the Green River Murders in Seattle, JonBenet Ramsey in Boulder, and Wayne Williams’ multiple murders in Atlanta. His knowledge and respect within law enforcement have made him a frequent and current lecturer.
Education for a Profiler
Even if your interest in behavioral science began in high school, the pursuit of a bachelor’s degree is the minimum to have a chance of entering this field. Currently, the National Center for Analysis of Violent Crime (NCAVC) is a part of the FBI’s Crisis Incident Response Group. The unit assists federal, state, local, and foreign law enforcement agencies to investigate unusual and repetitive violent crimes (rapes and murders).
President Ronald Reagan directed the establishment of the NCAVC in 1984, which today employs criminal psychologists, law enforcement experts, and behavior analysts.
What degree is best suited for criminal profiling? John Douglas has a Bachelor of Science in Sociology/Physical Education, and he has a Master of Science in Industrial Psychology. He earned a Ph.D. in comparing techniques for teaching police officers how to classify homicides from Nova Southeastern University. While at the FBI, Douglas began teaching criminal psychology classes. In his spare time, as mentioned above, he interviewed prisoners. “It was considered innovative, but to me, it was basic. If you want to learn about violent crime, talk to the experts: the criminals perpetrating rapes, arson, and serial homicides,” stated Douglas.
Therefore, profiling involves psychology, particularly forensic psychology. Schools are offering both a Bachelor of Arts and Science in Forensic Psychology. The latter provides a greater depth of biological and neuroscientific psychology knowledge, becoming increasingly important for research and clinical forensic practice. There may also be lab work associated with the science degree.
The Bachelor of Science in Forensic Psychology at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix has courses in Social Psychology, Criminal Behavior and Victimology, Criminal Law, Understanding Trauma, Health Psychology, Personality Psychology, and Abnormal Psychology. A class in Forensic Psychology examines the junction of law with the scientific principles of psychology. Four credits consist of a Capstone Project where students compose a problem statement and then conduct research addressing the proposed issue.
The undergraduate program at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona, offers the experience to work in their Forensic Science Laboratory. Students collect physical evidence and then conduct forensic tests using stereoscopic microscopes, a spectrophotometer, a fingerprinting device, and a fuming chamber. Further experience is available by volunteering in local civil and criminal justice systems and conducting hands-on research. The Psych Club provides social and professional networking opportunities.
Southern New Hampshire University offers the convenience of an online Bachelor of Arts in Psychology with a Forensic Psychology concentration for employed people. The study plan includes classes in Forensic and Criminal Psychology – the former covers witness interviews, expert testimony, and adolescent violence. Psychosocial influences on crime and analysis methods are part of the criminal psychology classes.
Other programs may offer a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology with a major in Forensic Psychology. Maryville University , for example, has this degree online whose curriculum teaches criminal justice, criminal law, biological psychology, abnormal psychology, criminal behavior, police psychology, and human cognition. Twenty-seven credits are devoted to psychology and the same to criminal justice/criminology.
Another possibility is a Bachelor of Science in Psychology specializing in Criminal Justice , which Walden University offers online. Some core courses embrace cross-cultural psychology, personality theories, the criminal mind, profiling serial and mass murderers, cognitive psychology, victimology, and psychological inquiry methods. The coursework delves into some of the salient topics related to understanding the criminal psyche.
Criminal Psychology vs. Forensic Psychology
Above, we introduced two possible degrees to enter the profession of profiling. Is there a difference? Yes. Criminal psychology focuses on understanding the psychological motivations that occur behind any given crime. It involves the evaluation of crime scenes, evidence, witnesses, and victims. In addition, criminal psychologists create a profile to help law enforcement apprehend a suspected criminal. Students interested in criminal psychology should study criminal justice, criminology, or forensic psychology. Becoming a criminal psychologist requires a doctorate and a license to practice.
Forensic psychology applies psychology to the criminal justice system and frequently deals with the legal aspect of criminal justice, such as law and public policy or competency. These psychologists study and advise on crime prevention systems, rehabilitation systems, and courtroom dynamics. They evaluate criminals and assess the likelihood of re-offending. The majority of forensic psychologists work for state or local government legal or justice systems. Universities, laboratories, hospitals, or medical examiner offices also employ them. To refer to oneself as a forensic psychologist also requires a Ph.D. or a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.).
Working in criminal psychology or forensic psychology is not synonymous with being a psychologist in either specialty.
Purdue University Global has one of the few Bachelor of Science degrees in Applied Behavioral Analysis. Graduates of the 180-credits program will have the skills and knowledge to sit for the Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst (BCaBA) examination. The lower care ‘a’ represents assistant, which the credential allows the holder to perform behavior-analytic services if supervised by a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA).
Unfortunately, the courses at Purdue do not study the criminal mind; instead, the limelight is on recognizing and modifying existing behaviors, classical conditioning, environmental influences, historical trends, research methods, and exceptional needs children. Therefore, applied behavioral analysis programs might not provide the necessary education for criminal profiling.
Criminal Profiler Intermission
We interrupt this article to look at one of the most important aspects of criminal profiling: Where can you work? If the job prospects are sparse, you should know what qualifications you need besides a college degree. Even a doctorate will not suffice if you don’t meet the basic requirements.
Two principal places hire criminal profilers:
- Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
- Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF)
They each have similar requirements. First, the FBI:
- Be between the age of 23 and 37
- Be a United States citizen
- Applicants require a four-year college degree from an accredited U.S. institution
- Be able to receive Top Secret clearance
- Have two years of professional work experience
- Pass a drug test and meet physical fitness standards
- Polygraph test
- Medical Exam
- Background Investigation
- Panel Interview
The ATF has the exact requirements, which can take up to a year.
Therefore, failing to meet any one of the criteria will negate your chances of ever working for the FBI or ATF. And just because you might satisfy all of the above doesn’t translate to a job offer. However, before becoming disheartened, in 2009, there were 68,500 special agent applications (FBI), and in 2018, there were only 11,500. Labor markets change, and the requirements might relax in unison, and acceptance statistics vary from 5 % to 20%.
One way to increase your chances of acceptance is with a graduate degree.
Liberty University Online has an M.S. in Criminal Justice with a Forensic Psychology concentration that probes the criminal mind. The major courses are Forensic Psychology, Crisis Intervention, Psychology & the Legal System, and Rehabilitation. The psychology and the legal system class looks at criminal personality, criminal profiling, inmate counseling, jury selection, and more.
Ask a Professional Profiler
Pat Brown is a renowned author, crime consultant, and criminal profiler who founded the Pat Brown Criminal Profiling Agency in Bowie, Maryland. She has appeared as an expert on CNN, The CBS Early Show, Larry King, America’s Most Wanted, discovery Channel, and Inside Edition, and she’s the author of six books, including Killing for Sport: Inside the Minds of Serial Killers . Her agency defies the premise that only the FBI and ATF do profiling since she and her staff handle threat analysis, serial rape and murder, and victimology. Ms. Brown has a master’s degree in Criminal Justice from Boston University.
Pat Brown recognizes the fact that there are few jobs in her field of expertise. She advises students to earn a degree in forensic psychology, crime analysis, criminal justice, and attend seminars on these topics. Because profiling is a specific niche, there are not many job opportunities. However, becoming a crime scene investigation and conducting forensic lab analysis is a start to gaining experience. Others may begin their careers as police officers, state troopers, or crime lab technicians while continuing their education in law enforcement, crime scene analysis, and associated areas. Therefore, as you decide on a degree, select the one you can apply to other professions within law enforcement.
Pat Brown furnishes valuable insight into profiling on her website as she answers students’ questions. She doesn’t recommend any specific major concerning education, although she does advise a strong foundation in forensic science, crime analysis, and criminal justice. Logic is an essential trait for a criminal profiler, according to Brown. To succeed in any detective work, you need to be impartial, objective, and unemotional.
To summarize, criminal profiling is a challenging career to obtain. There are too few jobs available and many competitors with advanced degrees in forensic psychology, criminal justice, criminology, abnormal psychology, and more. Additionally, the profession requires years of experience dealing with violent offenders, and Federal agencies are one place to acquire it. Otherwise, working your way from police officer to homicide detective might provide occasions to test your profiling capabilities.
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