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Criminal profiling and its relevance in the criminal justice system of nigeria

“The more outré and grotesque an incident is the more carefully it deserves to be examined, and the very point which appears to complicate a case, is, when duly considered and scientifically handled, the one which is most likely to elucidate it”1
This statement made by the world‘s famous fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes, and his endearing ability to solve crime by describing the perpetrator from factual deductions is a skill shared by the expert investigative profiler. Evidence speaks of its own language of patterns and sequences that can reveal the offender‘s behavioural characteristics. Like Sherlock Holmes, the profiler can say âI know who he must beâ.
It is not uncommon to watch in the news, read in the newspapers or in major documentaries about serial killers and violent criminals who murder, rape or assault victims due to certain similar features that the victims all possess or out of certain distorted motive or intentions. Most serial killers and violent criminals are psychologically impaired based on a peculiar past experience that make them seek some form of personal vendetta against persons who look or act like those that have hurt them in the past or just out of sheer perverse pleasure. These crimes are committed in peculiar manners with little or no material evidence linking the offenders to the act making it more difficult for the law enforcement to apprehend them. Forensic analysts and psychologists over the years have sought means of identifying such criminals based on their mode of operation, signature behaviour, target victims and material evidence from previous crime scenes. This is where the process of criminal profiling is applied.
Criminal profiling has been defined in many ways by various scholars based on their distinct backgrounds and as such, been called many names such as criminal personality profiling, criminological profiling, behavioural profiling, criminal investigative analysis2, offender profiling, psychological profiling, crime scene analysis, socio-psychological profiling and linkage analysis3
1 Sir Aurthur Conan Doyle, 1901, Sherlock Holmes “The Hound Of Baskervillesâ
2 A term used by The United States Of America‘s Federal Bureau Of Investigation(FBI) Behavioural Science Unit
3Labuschagne, G.N., 2006, “The Use of Linkage Analysis as Evidence in the Conviction of the Newcastle Serial Murder, South Africa”, Journal of Investigative Psychology & Offender Profiling, 3(3), 183-191.
Despite the different names, all of these tactics share a common goal: to help investigators examine evidence from crime scenes and victim and witness reports to develop an offender description. Holmes states that the major function of profiling is to assist in the detection of offenders by extrapolating their personal attributes from information available in crimes.4
Criminal profiling is the identification of specific characteristics of an individual committing a particular crime by thorough systematic observational process and an analysis of the crime scene, the victim, the forensic evidence and the known facts of the crime. It is acknowledging the skewed validity of the perpetrator‘s perspective to be able to predict him âwithout allowing yourself to become lost in him and his worldâ5. Criminal profiling is a behavioural and investigative tool that is intended to help investigators to accurately predict and profile the characteristics of unknown criminal subjects or offenders.6 A basic premise of criminal profiling is that the way a person thinks (i.e., his or her patterns of thinking) directs the person‘s behaviour. Thus, when the investigative profiler analyzes a crime scene and notes certain critical factors, he or she may be able to determine the motive and type of person who committed the crime.7 All the information from the crime scene is a reflection of the criminal‘s behaviour and this behaviour can create a surprisingly accurate picture of the offender.8 This technique has been used by criminal psychologists who are experts in this field to examine criminal behaviour and to evaluate as well as possibly predict the future actions of criminals.
Described as psychological profiling, it is a method of suspect identification which seeks to identify a person’s mental, emotional, and personality characteristics (as manifested in things done or left at the crime scene)9
Criminal profiling is a relatively new enforcement practice. It newly emerged in the last two decades and still remains a highly controversial tool.10 It has become part of public consciousness even though
4 Holmes R.M, 1989, Profiling Violent Crimes: An Investigative Tool; Thousand Oaks, Sage Publications.
5 Wayne Choniki, Of The Arcane Research Group, United States Of America
6 Kocsis R. N., 2009, Applied Criminal Psychology: A Guide To Forensic Behavioural Sciences, Charles C Thomas Publisher, 2009, Pp.226
7 Douglas et al., 1986; Criminal Profiling From Crime Scene Analysis; Behavioural Sciences and The Law 403. Vol 4, Number 4.8 Accessed March 21. 2011.
9 Berg Bruce, 2008, Criminal Investigation, 4th edition.
10 Wilson, P., Lincoln, R., Kocsis, R. (1999), Validity, Utility and Ethics of Profiling Serial Violent and Sexual
Offenders. Retrieved from:,/ Accessed December 1st, 2014.
many people are not really sure what it is and the great majority of people have no idea at all of how it is done. This ignorance is just as prevalent in professional circles as amongst the lay public.11 Despite the widespread use of criminal profiling in serial crime investigations, the practice continues to endure fierce criticism from researchers, who almost unanimously agree that profiling lacks scientific foundation and depends on flawed methodology. As a result the validity and utility of criminal profiling is compromised to the extent where evidence is not admissible in court, and serious miscarriages of justice are caused. Profilers are often characterized as being socially alienated individuals, deeply troubled by their own selfless insights into the minds of the unknown offenders that they are hunting. This view presented by fiction and the media not only is completely false but also vehemently misleading.12
The question whether criminal profiling is a science or an art has been a common topic of debate by psychologists and experts. It is frequently asserted that profiling is more art than science, and evidence for its validity is limited. Holmes reports 1981 FBI data indicating that in 192 cases of profile generation, arrests were made in 88, but in only 17% of these did the profile contribute to arrest.13 Canter and Heritage cite more recent FBI claims of 80% accuracy, although this has been disputed.14 As Canter notes, if psychological profiling is to achieve a firmer basis than astrology or spiritualism in aiding the police, âpsychologists need not only to establish the predictive validity of the process, but also why it worksâ.15 There is also a popular myth that profilers are âpsychic‘, have special metaphysical and supernatural powers, and are born with an intuitive gift. Although there is a quiet consensus that intuition is an asset to the profiler, the rest is basically a myth, untrue. Turvey dismisses this myth by advocating a discipline that entails 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 capture16. The contents of this project will however discuss the controversies, issues and doubts and also highlight the importance and expediency of criminal profiling.
11 ibid
13 ibid
14 Blackburn R., 1993, “The Psychology of Criminal Conduct: Theory, Research and Practice” Wiley and Sons.
15 Canter, 1989, “Offender Profiling: The Psychologist” 2, 12-16
16Turvey B, 1999, Criminal Profiling: An Introduction To Behavioural Science Analysis, M.S. San Diego, Academic Press
The basic idea for a profile is to gather a body of data yielding common patterns so that investigators can develop a description of an unknown suspect. Offender profiling is grounded in the belief that it is possible to work out the characteristics of an offender by examining the characteristics of their offences. It helps investigators examine evidence from the crime scenes and victim and witness reports to develop an offender description. These descriptions may include the analysis of psychological variables such as personality and behaviour patterns, as well as demographic variables such as age, race or geographic location. Investigators use profiling as a means to narrow down the suspect pool, or in structuring an interrogation of a suspect once apprehended.17 It involves the psychology-trained experts using their knowledge on human behaviour, motivation and patterns to create a multi-dimensional report. Although it does not provide the specific identity of the offender, it indicates the kind of person most likely to have committed the crime by focusing on certain behavioural and personality characteristics.
It should encompass the integration of material from the crime scene (i.e., blood stain evidence), witness statements, autopsy findings, photographs, related materials such as cameras seized at the crime scene, weapons, items used for torture, and a host of suggestions derived from âbrainstorming sessionsâ with forensic experts and police detectives.
Criminal profiling is done by the employment of both tangible and intangible tools. The tangible tools involve the crime scene, the offender‘s modus operandi (mode of operation), his signature behaviour, clues he or she may have left behind in the commission of the offence as well as insight into the possibility of having more than one person involved in the crime, victimology. Five behavioural characteristics that can be gleaned from the crime scene include: the amount of planning that went into the crime, the degree of control used by the offender, the escalation of emotion at the scene, the risk level of both the offender and victim, and the appearance of the crime scene (disorganized versus organized)18. The intangible tools include the profiler‘s intuition, knowledge, experience, the uncommon ability to objectively get âinto the mindâ of the criminal and think like him or her and an analytical mind. This technique might be considered a âpaper tiger.â It can be powerfully aggressive in helping forensic scientists focus on an investigation, or it can be destructive in leading investigators astray. At best it is an adjunctive guide to a complete forensic and criminal investigation and a team
17 ibid.
18 ibid
4 effort.19 The investigator goes through the following steps or phases in the profiling process: the evaluation of the crime and the criminal act or acts itself; comprehensive evaluation of the specifics of the crime scene(s); comprehensive analysis of the victim; evaluation of preliminary police reports; evaluation of the medical examiner‘s autopsy protocol; development of a profile with critical offender characteristics, investigative suggestions predicated on the construction of the profile; and finally, the possible apprehension of the suspect.
Investigating violent crimes especially murder can be a very difficult and hopeless process when there are no experts or trained personnel, biodata databases, Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS), no DNA database or equipment, and no modern technological infrastructures.
To many jurisdictions, a criminal investigation system without these mentioned above may sound like a place in an epic tale from some time long past, but it is not. This is the reality in some places such as Nigeria.
The recent upsurge in violent crimes in Nigeria has created enormous uncertainty in the security of lives and property of individual and of social stability in Nigeria. The incidents of traditional crimes such as armed robbery, arson, murder, kidnapping, rape, hired assassinations and ritual killings are examples of the most serious and violent crimes, which have been on the increase in the recent past.
In Nigeria, many crimes go unsolved because of a lack of adequate equipment and training. Very rarely do the police take fingerprints, there are no DNA laboratories, and there is an extreme paucity of forensic and ballistics experts in the country. With almost 160 million people, Nigeria is Africa‘s most populous nation and also one of its longest democracies but even Nigerians admit their criminal justice system is woeful. Many criminals have gone scot free and many innocent people have been condemned by our justice system because there was no forensic linkage to the crimes to convict and vindicate them respectively.
19 Ronald Turco, 2008, Criminal Profile Construction and Investigative Procedures âStudy of the Westley Dodd Serial
Sexual Murders” R. N. Kocsis © Humana Press, Totowa, NJ.
Experts have linked the many cases of unsolved crimes that dot Nigeria‘s criminal justice system to the absence of forensic evidence. Besides inadequate equipment, lack of regular training has also largely inhabited investigations and the solving and prevention of crime. The poor training that police officers go through lacks global competitiveness.
The practice of psychological profiling remains very much a virgin area and largely unpopular amongst law enforcement agencies in Nigeria particularly by the Nigeria Police Force in the course of their various investigations. Contrary to this, the practice has become widely used in unraveling crimes by counterpart law enforcement agencies in developed nations particularly the Federal Investigations Bureau (FBI), USA and other western nation sister agencies. This technique has to be inculcated into the practices of the Nigerian criminal justice system in criminal investigations because its numerous benefits cannot be overemphasized and our criminal justice system is in dire need of all the help it can get to improve in crime prevention and detection.
A criminal investigation of any kind should start with the assumption that every human on the planet is a suspect. That is to say, the suspect set is universal. One of the purposes of criminal profiling is to assist an investigation, at any phase, in moving from that universal set of suspect characteristics to a more discrete set of suspect characteristics. It cannot typically point to a specific person, or individuate one suspect from all others. It can, however, give insight into the general characteristics of the offender(s) responsible. This type of insight can be used to educate an investigative effort, as well as attorneys, judges, and juries in a forensic context (e.g., criminal proceedings, civil proceedings, and public hearings).
Criminal profiling is mainly used when the offender does not leave any physical trace at the crime scene. As Douglas and Olshaker have pointed out, “criminal profiling is used mostly by behavioural scientists and the police to narrow down an investigation to those who possess certain behavioural and personality features that are revealed by the way a crime was committedâ20. Continuing, Douglas and Olshaker also maintained that “the primary goal is to aid local police in limiting and refining their suspect list so that they can direct their resources where they might do the most good”.
20 John. Douglas, J., and Olshaker, M., 1999, Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit, New York Pocket Books 1996.
“Another key use of a profile, is when necessary, to go proactive, which means letting the public become a partner in crime solving. The unknown suspect may have displayed some sort of odd behaviour to those close to him that will indicate his involvement with the crime. Getting the public, and hopefully those people to be aware of what they have seen, telling them to come forward may solve the case”.21 Egger maintained that “the purpose of profiling is to develop a behavioural composite, combining sociological and psychological assessments of the offender. Profiling is generally based on the premise that an accurate analysis and interpretation of the crime scene and other locations related to the crime can indicate the type of person who committed the crime”.22 Hence, “because certain personality types exhibit similar behavioural patterns (in other words, behaviour that becomes routine), knowledge and an understanding of the patterns can lead investigators to potential suspects”.23 Similarly, Jackson and Bekerian maintained that “a profile is based on the premise that the proper interpretation of crime scene evidence can indicate the personality type of the individual(s) who committed the offence. It is assumed that certain personality types exhibit similar behavioural patterns and that knowledge of these patterns can assist in the investigation of the crime and the assessment of potential suspects”.24
Holmes and Holmes have outlined three major goals of profiling as follows.25
(1) Social and Psychological Assessments of Offenders.
This involves an evaluation of the social and psychological characteristics of the offender. In fact, “a profile should contain basic and sound information concerning the social and psychological core variables of the offender’s personality, including the offender’s race, age, employment status and type,
21 ibid
22 Steven A. Egger, 1999, Psychological Profiling: Past, Present, and Future, Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice,
vol. 15, No.3, August 1999,243.23 ibid
24Janet L. Jackson, and Bekerian D. A. (eds), 1997, Criminal profiling: Theory, Research and Practice, 3, Chichester, John Wiley.
25Ronald. M. Holmes., and Stephen T. Holmes, 1996, Profiling Violent Crimes: An Investigative Tool, (2nd ed. 1996) Thousand Oaks, Sage Publications.
religion, marital status, and level of education. This psychological information will help to focus the investigation by allowing police to narrow its range, which in turn will have a direct effect upon the number of days and weeks the police could spend on the case”.26 It may also help the police to predict possible future attacks;
(2) Psychological Evaluations of Belongings Found In the Possession of Suspected Offenders.
This involves the evaluation of items found at the suspect’s home, such as souvenirs taken from the crime scenes, pictures, videos, books, magazines, items of pornography or other items that might point to the background and motives for the crimes, as well as link the suspect to the crime. Such physical evidence could be listed on a search warrant so the police take particular care to look for them. Holmes and Holmes noted the case of Jerry Brudos a sadistic serial killer in the United States who had such a fetish about his victims’ high heeled shoes. He took their shoes, wore and stored them at his home.27
(3) Suggestions and strategies for interviewing suspected offenders when they are apprehended.
Another primary goal of profiling is to suggest the most effective interviewing strategy to be used once the offender has been arrested. As there are different types of offenders, one interviewing/interrogation strategy may not be suitable for all the different types, especially when dealing with rapists. As Holmes and Homes have pointed out, “not all people react to questions in the same fashion. For one type of offender, one strategy may be effective, but it is a mistake to assume that all those who commit similar crimes will respond to the same interviewing strategy. For example, not all serial murderers kill for the same reasons, and not all respond to the same type of interviewing strategy. Violent personal offenders also vary in their motives as well as their responses to interrogation.28 A good profile can provide the police with strategies that may be effective for a particular offender.
It has been observed that criminal profiling is usually taken up late in an investigation. It tends to be normally taken up as an alternative where DNA profiling is impossible because there were no samples
26 ibid27David Canter, 1994, Criminal Shadows: Inside the mind a/the serial killer, 12.
28 David Canter and Rupert Heritage, 1990, “A Multivariate Model of Sexual Offence Behaviour: Developments In Offender Profiling”, Journal of Forensic Psychiatry.
8 left at the scene of crime.29 There are obviously certain dangers with this approach. It is therefore suggested that in serious/major crimes, criminal profiling should be used at the onset, along with the other techniques. It should not be left till later in the investigation when we have come to realize that no physical trace has been left at the crime scene, bearing in mind the issue of ‘staged crime scenes’. Important details might be lost later in the investigation and as we know, crime scenes can be tampered with, by both weather conditions and human tampering.
Brent E. Turvey divided criminal profiling into two separate but equal contexts, divided not by the method that is employed to arrive at conclusions, but rather by their divergent goals and priorities.30 Turvey continued that âthese goals and priorities are dictated by a necessity that is dependent upon when, in a given case, a profiler‘s skills are requestedâ.31 The two time frames typically include the investigative phase, before a suspect has been arrested (or before a defendant is taken to court with a lawsuit), and the trial phase, while a suspect is being tried for a crime (or put on trial for damages).
Investigative Phase
The investigative phase involves behavioural evidence analysis of the patterns of unknown perpetrators of known crimes. Criminal profilers tend to be called in to extremely violent, sexual and/or predatory cases when witness testimony, confessions, and/or physical evidence have not been enough to move the investigation forward.
Primary Goals
1. Evaluating the nature and value of forensic and behavioural evidence in a particular crime or series of related crimes;
2. Reducing the viable suspect pool in a criminal investigation;
3. Prioritizing the investigation into remaining suspects;
4. Linkage of potentially related crimes by identifying crime scene indicators and behaviour patterns (i.e., modus operandi and signature);
29 Ebisike Norbert, 2001, âAn Appraisal of the Forensic Science Evidence In Criminal Proceeding” London Greenway Press, 2001.
30Turvey, B., 2011, Criminal Profiling, 4th Ed., London: Elsevier Science ibid
5. Assessment of the potential for escalation of nuisance criminal behaviour to more serious or more violent crimes (i.e., harassment, stalking, voyeurism);
6. Providing investigators with investigatively relevant leads and strategies;
7. Helping keep the overall investigation on track and undistracted by offering fresh and unbiased insights;
8. Developing communication, interview, or interrogation strategies when dealing with suspects
Trial Phase
The trial phase of criminal profiling involves analysis of known crimes for which there is a suspect or a defendant (sometimes a convicted defendant). It takes place in the preparation for hearings, trials, and post-conviction proceedings. Guilt, penalty, and appeal phases of trial are all appropriate times to use profiling techniques, depending on the evidence at issue.
Primary goals
1. Evaluating the nature and value of forensic and behavioural evidence to a particular crime or series of related crimes;
2. Helping to develop insight into offender fantasy and motivations;
3. Developing insight into offender motive and intent before, during, and after the commission of a crime (i.e., levels of planning, evidence of remorse, precautionary acts, etc.);
4. Linkage of potentially related crimes by identifying crime scene indicators and behaviour patterns (i.e., modus operandi and signature).
Criminal profiling has been used successfully by law enforcement in several areas and is a valued means by which to narrow the field of investigation. Profiling does not provide the specific identity of the offender. Rather, it indicates the kind of person most likely to have committed a crime by focusing on certain behavioural and personality characteristics. This technique has been proven to be very
effective in various criminal investigations and in various criminal offences. Violent and sexual offenders lend themselves to profiling techniques. Through careful interview of the rape victim about the rapist‘s behaviour, law enforcement personnel begin to build a profile of the offender. The rationale behind this approach is that behaviour reflects personality, and by examining behaviour the investigator may be able to determine what type of person is responsible for the offence.
It is no news that the Nigerian criminal justice system faces some major setbacks especially the Nigerian police force in their investigation processes and inability in apprehending the right perpetrators of criminal acts and bringing such offenders to justice. The significance of this study is that showcases how and why the technique of criminal profiling is important and helpful to the police and law enforcement agents in Nigeria in determining criminal offenders and also in crime detection and prevention and reasons why it should not be overlooked as a resourceful tool in criminal investigations.
This research, which is undertaken in the light of the above stated problems and questions, is a qualitative one. It adopts an analytical approach and a comparative analytical approach.
The standard legal research method of case analysis is been used. This involves extensive case analysis. Cases that involved offender profiling is been analyzed. This method provides adequate background information on the relevance of criminal profiling in the criminal justice system.
The study will also be based on both primary and secondary legal sources. These primary sources include various legislations relating to the criminal justice system in Nigeria and other jurisdictions and countries most especially the USA and the UK. Secondary sources will include reference to textbooks, journals and articles written by leading authors and scholars in the area of criminal and offender profiling. Online articles, journals, abstracts and books will also serve as a secondary information source in this study.
The limitation to this project is the inability to carryout interviews with crime scene analysts and criminal profilers due to the rarity of such experts in the country. This limitation affects the access to first hand and up to date information on the different approaches to criminal profiling.

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