Criminal Investigative Analysis
Skills Expertise and Training (Part Two of Four)
By J. Amber Scherer, M.A., and John P. Jarvis, Ph.D.
The previous edition of the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin featured the first of a four-part series on criminal investigative analysis. Part one, “Criminal Investigative Analysis: Practitioner Perspectives,” outlined variations in the understanding of criminal investigative analysis and how that inconsistency affects both the definition and practice of this specialized method for investigating criminal behavior. Criminal investigative analysis encompasses a variety of services—including construction of an unknown offender profile, behavioral investigative strategies, interviewing techniques, media strategies, prosecutorial advice, and expert testimony—to aid law enforcement officers with investigations.1
Part two will extend the previous work by reporting the prevailing thoughts relative to the required training, skills, and expertise considered essential to yielding successful results from providing these services. Because the most common analysis believed to encompass criminal investigative analysis, both in academic journals and in common conceptions, is the creation of an unknown offender profile, the authors offer a short history of the evolution of criminal investigative analysis. This history underscores the variation in practice that has emerged and provides clear insight into the specific training and skills required.
HISTORY OF THE PROCESS
Different Approaches to Profiling
Academic literature has described three general approaches of the offender profiling process: 1) criminal investigative, 2) clinical practitioner, and 3) scientific statistical (empirical) approach.2 Historically, the criminal investigative approach stems from the original process developed by the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit (BSU) in the 1970s. The clinical practitioner application relies heavily on the individual’s level of experience and ability to draw inferences from crime scene information, which some people suggest differs little from the criminal investigative approach, except for the noticeable absence of the requirement for extensive investigative experience.3 Because these first two approaches predominantly focus on the specific case details in crime scenes, the criminal investigative and clinical approaches often are collapsed into experiential-based methods, differing from the empirical method.
In contrast, the empirical approach adheres to statistical methods aimed at detecting global patterns and trends and largely is based on multivariate analyses of behavioral information found at the crime scene to infer offender characteristics.4 Academic literature has considered these approaches, and some publications have described, perhaps too simplistically these methods as experience-based processes employing common sense and deductive reasoning, rather than an empirical-based process using an inductive approach based on empirical results.5
Experiential Versus Empirical
Dr. Jarvis serves in the FBI’s Behavioral Research and Instruction Unit and chairs the Futures Working Group.
In the experiential-based methods, originally characterized as “art” based on the experience of the analyst, little research allegedly exists documenting the actual process of deriving inferences.6 However, part one of this series contained details of the processes used at that time for constructing offender profiles; a description of the expertise involved is described qualitatively as “the result of years of accumulated wisdom, extensive experience in the field, and familiarity with a large number of cases.”7 Later research described the process of offender profiling (i.e., constructing an unknown offender profile) as a sequence of inferences, but also noted considerable variation in the application of the process.8
Similarly, other researchers identified a number of characteristics and skills important to conducting this type of analysis: investigative experience, research experience, intuition, lack of emotions, analytical skills and logic, ability to reconstruct the crime from the criminal’s perspective, thorough knowledge of the criminal mind, and fundamental understanding of psychology.9 In fact, these researchers underscored the importance of experience in their assertion that “no amount of education can replace the experience of having investigated crimes.”10
In the empirical-based approach, the analysis of inferences reportedly relies upon the application of general psychological principles to empirically examine an offender’s behavior and statistically analyze a large number of police cases and crime information all at one time.11 This approach was established due to the original work of another researcher and his colleagues who aimed to develop an explicit, psychological framework believed to be directly useful to police investigations.12 The benefits of this approach include having the ability to analyze large datasets at one time to run multivariate analyses of behavior and other information found at the crime scene to infer the offender’s characteristics. However, certain critiques of this method also have arisen.13 Most significant, this type of analysis is less useful when using inductively gathered research on specific cases, especially when base-rate behaviors are ignored and when studies are small or use unrepresentative samples.
CRIMINAL INVESTIGATIVE ANALYSIS IN PRACTICE
Since the early work detailing this process, several practical limitations have been offered regarding the provision of profiling services within criminal investigative analysis.14 For example, care in constructing analysis that relies on strictly broad generalizations about an offender’s behavior, avoidance of specific statements about the likely traits and characteristics of an offender, and reservations relative to specificity in claims about an offender’s motivation for the crime all have been noted as possible. Overreliance on information and analysis can lead to an inappropriate prioritization of suspects, mismanagement of resources, and, ultimately, a delay in successfully solving the case.15
Subjective Versus Objective
The scientific status of the offender profiling service depends upon the reliability and validity of the actual process.16 Characteristic of the experiential-based perspective, the profiling process involves subjective interpretations.17 On the other hand, adhering to the empirical-based perspective and avoiding important methodological issues created by subjective interpretations suggests going beyond the subjective expertise of the analyst by concentrating on empirical methods of study, which may prove more reliable.18 Similarly, when constructing profiles of unknown offenders, other research emphasizes the importance of supporting claims concerning characteristics of suspects with empirically validated research.19 Some researchers argue that using the Toulminian framework can provide a basis for professionalism, ensure a high standard of integrity, and help prevent speculation and lack of accountability.20
Another researcher outlined a hybrid approach based upon practices used in the United Kingdom that involve behavioral investigative advisors aiding major crime investigations “to enhance the scientific method of the investigative process through appropriate provision of hypotheses, evidence-based prioritization of the ‘most likely’ and associated decision support strategies, grounded firmly in both psychological principles and available empirical research findings.”21 Overall, even in light of these varying perspectives pertaining to this behavioral analysis process, criminal investigative analysis remains an effective tool for assisting law enforcement in furthering investigations.
Defining an “expert” in any field—including criminal investigative analysis—often leads to debate. Experts have been described as individuals who have professional competence in a specialized field, usually achieved by extensive theoretical and practical training.22 According to other suggestions, experts in criminal investigative analysis should possess skills and knowledge greater than an average police officer.23 Yet, the necessary skills, scientific education, and expertise continue to spark debate among both researchers and practitioners.24
Along this line, researchers examined the accuracy of offender profiling (i.e., creating unknown offender profiles) to determine whether profilers possess specific analytical attributes.25 The results indicated that profilers used specific skills, such as an educated insight into human behavior, knowledge of psychology, investigative experience, and objective and logical analysis, which allowed them to perform more accurately overall than the nonprofiler group.26 Such results are useful; however, these studies employed only staged profiling tasks to measure accuracy, rather than actual investigative case outcomes, so caution may be warranted. Furthermore, based upon the earlier contention that investigative experience is necessary for effective criminal investigative analysis, which would include offender profiling, a second study compared experienced homicide police detectives with students and other samples and found that the level of experience did not appear to impact the outcome of profiling tasks performed.27
Complicating these debates, it has been contended that mental health professionals may not have the significant qualifications or expertise to provide criminal investigative analysis services.28 In stark contrast, it also has been contended that mental health professionals, such as forensic psychologists or psychiatrists, may be more proficient at identifying and inferring offender behavioral information from the crime.29 As such, no consensus exists as to whether mental health training alone is adequate or suitable for practicing criminal investigative analysis services.
Specific knowledge, skills, and abilities are required for professionals in any field, whether in law enforcement, social sciences, or physical sciences. To this end, to become proficient in practicing criminal investigative analysis, training in this specialized methodology is required. However, the actual content and subject areas of this training remain both unclear and frequently debated. One researcher supports this contention by noting that training processes in this area have not been documented well in the existing literature.30
In fact, this type of specialized training is not routinely provided to police agencies and, therefore, not typically included in training within law enforcement academies.31 Therefore, personnel who sometimes are asked to perform such analyses do not necessarily have adequate skills or experience to conduct such tasks. As with any discipline, additional problems can occur when training is provided by personnel not qualified in the subject matter. The training and expertise of the instructor is of particular importance when teaching such specialized analytical methods. Nonetheless, courses providing the necessary advanced skills to enable an individual to competently practice such analyses are required.32
Interestingly, one argument suggests that because law enforcement officers are exposed to crime and the criminal justice system, this would have some value on their ability to use the appropriate logic and objective reasoning to support better analysis of this type.33 This highlights the foundation of many debates surrounding training in criminal investigative analysis services because not everyone is specifically trained the same way, and not everyone possesses the same academic and experiential background. In an effort to examine at least some of these issues, the authors offer specific results of a recent study devoted to examining criminal investigative analysis and the necessary skills, training requirements, and expertise reported by actual practitioners of criminal investigative analysis.
These results constitute part of a larger study that examined current issues and debates surrounding the practice of criminal investigative analysis.34 For this effort a sample of 40 subjects, comprising retired FBI personnel, individuals who formerly worked with the FBI’s practicing analysis unit, persons trained by the FBI, or FBI-trained individuals who have law enforcement experience in providing criminal investigative analysis services, were interviewed for this study.35 All of them provided informed consent.
Respondents reported that the most essential required skill is not just law enforcement expertise but also experience in violent crime investigations. The respondents also indicated that those who practice this analysis should be knowledgeable of cognitive biases, research methodologies, and theories used and possess the ability to effectively communicate verbally and in writing. Specific training topics identified included forensic science, knowledge of specific types of crime, statement analysis, victimology, and interviewing. More general subject areas identified included psychology, criminology, and sociology as foundational academic training. One respondent highlighted the critical need for having experience as an all-around investigator.
Being an experienced investigator, having years of experience actually investigating cases...so you know the difficulties, you know the realities of what investigators are facing when they bring cases to you. Without that knowledge of how cases really work, and it isn’t necessarily the academic issue, and crime analysis. It is understanding how police agencies work and the roadblocks and how you get things done and how you deal with a difficult prosecutor and…how you deal with someone who wants to be the lead investigator. Real-life questions that investigators have to deal with. If you haven’t had to deal with these questions yourself, then you probably are not going to be very helpful.
Of all essential training, when asked a follow-up question of what, if any, important prerequisite qualifications should be required, investigative experience was reported most often at 57.5 percent with the second-most reported being developing an analytical mind at 30 percent (see table 1). One interviewee offered insight.
Police are generally more apt to seek help from someone they can relate to, so when you can talk about investigative experiences with them and have an understanding of what they’re doing in terms of their day-to-day activities, I think that is a real benefit.
Interestingly, 45 percent of participants indicated that a degree should not be required to practice criminal investigative analysis, but 40 percent said that it would be an asset to have an advanced degree. Even though 87.5 percent of the participants have advanced degrees themselves, 45 percent still believe that this practice can be done without a degree due to the experiential knowledge that can be acquired in training and experiences outside of an academic institution.
Prerequisite Qualifications Necessary to Practice Criminal Investigation Analysis
|Prerequisite Qualification||Number of Respondents||Valid Percent|
|Violent Crime Inv. Experience||9||22.5|
|Knowledge of Police Agencies||2||5.0|
Note: Percentages do not total 100 percent due to multiple responses.
Open-ended questions related to specific courses important to an overall training program yielded the following topics: forensics, forensic pathology, psychology and human behavior, crime scene analysis, specific types of crime investigation and crime typologies, scientific methods and research, risk assessment, threat assessment, statement analysis, knowledge of evidence and legal issues, and interviewing skills and strategies. There also was clear evidence that any training should be a combination of classroom training and field mentoring by someone experienced in this form of analysis. A respondent explained the importance of on-the-job learning.
The more cases I worked, the more I started to feel more comfortable with it, and, so, in reality, the formal training that you can receive to become a profiler is not nearly as important as working the cases day in and day out and learning from a mentor, somebody who has been through the process before and has an impeccable reputation. That is how you become an analyst.
Ninety-five percent of the respondents also reported that training needs to stay in step with continuing education, whether it involves taking courses (85 percent), reading new knowledge and materials (47.5 percent), or performing additional case consultations (32.5 percent). It also was indicated that criminal investigative analysis training needs to be an ongoing process.
The authors have illustrated how this specialized criminal investigative analysis process varies in its application and presented some specific types of required training and skills. The value of these findings lies not in the academic consideration of these issues, but in harnessing the perspectives of those who not only have been trained in criminal investigative analysis but who also have a long history of providing these services in case investigations.
Regarding the skills and training required, this work clearly provides some evidence to shed light on the debate as to whether any investigative experience is necessary. Or, can only academic training suffice? The interview results illustrate that both investigative experience and formal training are essential to providing effective criminal investigative analysis services. Although the present study found investigative experience to be the most critical skill necessary to practice this analysis, logical and objective reasoning also were identified as important.
With that said, oftentimes, crime analysts or intelligence analysts are pressed into performing this type of behavioral analysis. Yet, many do not have adequate investigative experience and may have varying degrees of training in the application of this method. Does this affect the services provided? While this remains a debated question, the evidence from the experienced practitioners in the current sample would argue that investigative experience is of utmost importance, but academic and on-the-job training also can advance efforts in this area. Of course, it is noteworthy that the respondents in this study all had considerable experience themselves.
Perhaps, one solution to this and other issues pertaining to criminal investigative analysis can be found in the notion of creating a formal, standardized training process with the goal of licensing those who provide these services.36 However, to do this, one researcher argues that criminal investigative analysis must become much more of a science than an art.37 In contrast, others contend that criminal investigative analysis is a delicate combination of science and art that only investigative experience can appropriately balance to shed light on effective processes.
The next edition of the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin will feature part three in this series. The third article will address the issue of measuring outcomes and usefulness of criminal investigative analysis with regard to assisting law enforcement agencies in responding to violence in their communities.
The authors wish to thank Dr. Gabrielle Salfati of John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, New York, for substantial assistance in formulating the research questions, constructing the protocols employed, and providing other general guidance in earlier stages of this research effort.
Investigators who believe that their case can benefit from criminal investigative analysis services and would like to request such services should contact their local FBI field office. The field office representative will put investigators in contact with the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime (NCAVC) coordinator, who will assess the case and contact the NCAVC office in Quantico, VA.
“…the true determinant of success may not be with any single task, but with the overall success of the service in meeting consumer needs.”