How a Psychological Profile is Built

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Profiling is a tool used by law enforcement agencies around the country to help identify distinguishable characteristics of a perpetrator of a crime based on an analysis of the crime and the way it was committed. While psychological profiling is more famously known for its use in apprehending serial killers, it is also commonly used in of other crimes like product tampering, arson, serial rape and other crimes.

A psychological profile is built using the evidence left at the scene of a crime and the knowledge and experience of the profilers themselves. Other factors that are included in a psychological profile are victimology, perpetrator’s MO and signature, scene of the crime and forensic evidence.


Victimology is the study of victims of the crime. It can reveal what attracted the perpetrator to the victim – if all victims are short blondes in their twenties, then that is a victim type. risk is how likely a person will come to harm because of their personal, professional and social life. A good example of a low risk victim would be someone with a lot of friends, who has a steady job, does not travel alone and does not travel on a routine schedule. If this was the victim, it would mean the perpetrator had put in a lot of time planning and researching the victim and had to be confident and able to take the victim as the opportunities present to do so are very low.

Perpetrator’s MO (modus operandi) and signature

This refers to the tools and strategies used by the perpetrator to carry out the crime. Whether the crime scene was left sloppy or organized; if the murder weapon is present; if the body is present; what was done to the body; method of disposal all reveal clues to the offender’s behavior.  They also help profilers categorize the perpetrator as disorganized or mixed type perpetrators. Each category has its own set of characteristics compiled by research on other criminals.

A signature is something a perpetrator does intentionally for his or her own emotional satisfaction – something that is not necessary to “perpetuate the crime” (Douglas). For example, a calling card or note might be an of a signature

The Violent Criminal Apprehension Program (ViCAP) is a federal database in which information about particular crimes are put in and is used often to track signatures and similar crimes.

 Scene of the Crime

The scene of the crime can reveal many things about a perpetrator; if they have access to a vehicle or have to rely on public transportation or walking, if they have scouted out the place before or if it was a spur of the moment crime, if they had partners or if it was a one person crime.

The way the crime scene was left also reveals information about the perpetrator. If there are no fingerprints, it could mean the perpetrator knew to wipe off his fingerprints or thought to bring gloves – which reveal foresight and knowledge of police procedure. Leaving prints, or not using a condom for example, might be indicative or a disorganized killer.

Forensic evidence

evidence plays a big part in any profile of a perpetrator. While revealing physical characteristics of the perpetrator – shoe size, blood type, fingerprints – it can also reveal psychological traits by adding to the profile.

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