Profiling, Ethical Issues

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Profiling, Ethical Issues

Profiling is known by a variety of terms, including criminal investigation analysis, crime scene analysis, behavioral evidence analysis, psychological profiling, biopsychosocial profiling, psychosocial profiling, investigative process management, criminal profiling , psychological criminal profiling, criminal behavioral profiling, offender profiling, and criminal personality profiling. As part of the criminal investigative process, profiling can add depth to crime scene investigations; the behavior of an offender is reflective of his or her underlying psychological process. The appearance of a crime scene can also reveal important information regarding the perpetrator's underlying psychopathy, sociopathy, psychopathology, or enduring character traits. Profiling is also useful when attempting to find subtle commonalities in serial crimes.

Profiling has not been developed as a means of identifying a specific offender in a particular case; rather, it has evolved as a means of adding depth to an investigation. Profiling aids in conducting psychological examination in cases of equivocal death, where a profile can assist investigators in establishing the likelihood that the death was a result of natural, accidental, suicidal, or homicidal origin. Profiling can suggest new avenues of investigation, support the working hypotheses of investigating officers, create a framework for interrogation after suspect apprehension, and assist the defense or prosecution in formulating a strategy for case presentation in the courtroom, or paving the way for plea construction.

There are many typologies and definitions of profiling, most likely at least as many as there are names for the cluster of activities that fall under the profiling heading. In the Unites States, the widespread use of profiling largely resulted from the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI ) work with serial murders and the perpetrators thereof. Its formal use was popularized by the FBI's Behavioral Science Unit (BSU), starting in the 1970s, as part of an effort to incorporate the principles of behavioral science into the law enforcement community. Profiling has received a great deal of attention in the media. It has been the subject of novels and nonfiction crime books (including a large number written by former FBI BSU staff members), featured in movies, and the central topic in numerous television shows and series. Because there are so many labels and definitions, the field of profiling has suffered a lack of credibility in the legal, and often the public, arenas. Additionally, the lack of uniformity has led to a significant number of ethical issues with the entire concept of profiling.

There are two predominant methodologies currently utilized for profiling: inductive, which is typically used by the FBI and moves from specific case findings to general theories, and deductive, which builds from general theories to specific case findings.

Profiling is currently practiced by a large number of professionals (and paraprofessionals), in a variety of occupations and, as such, currently lacks standardization or uniformity of practice. The concept of profiling is, by its very nature, one that involves interplay among numerous disciplines. In order to achieve some degree of homogeneity, the practice of profiling must attain several developmental milestones; it must have an infrastructure, or set of rules, procedures, guidelines, standards of practice, and requires a universally, or at least consensually, agreed upon vocabulary and set of ethical guidelines. There has been considerable resistance in the field to the concepts of standardization and "professionalization" of profiling, to which a number of reasons have been attributed. Profilers in different disciplines have displayed an inability to find common ground in which to discuss the principles of practice (a police detective has different mandates than a forensic psychiatrist or an FBI Special Agent, forensic nurse, forensic anthropologist, and so on). Profilers often decline (or are prohibited from so doing) to publicly discuss the details of cases due to issues of confidentiality (this can be circumvented by de-identifying case materials). There is also a vocal group of diverse profilers who oppose standardization because it may limit their creativity. In many ways, the art of profiling may be likened to a niche market, in which individuals have honed their expertise (often local) to the point that they have achieved some degree of indispensability in their law enforcement arena. To standardize the profession would be to suggest that any trained profiler (by whatever means trained were to become defined) could be contracted by any jurisdiction to be brought in, create the necessary profiling process, and then leave. This possibility could conceivably threaten to create a loss of livelihood for private, small, and local agencies.

There are a significant number of ethical issues raised by the lack of professionalization of profiling. There are no specific educational or training requirements in order to label oneself a profiler. The lack of educational or training requirements also means that there are no minimum standards for the measurement of competency; the lack of competency standards leads to an inability to either discipline or sanction practitioners who are irresponsible or incompetent. There is no juried or peer-reviewed system of practice measurement, there is no agreement as to what the process of creating a profile entails, nor what one should contain, and there is no agreed upon methodology for the conduction of the profiling process. That means, there is no scientific basis upon which profiling rests, as it cannot be subject to analysis and its process cannot, therefore, be replicable. In terms of the actual outcome of the practice of profiling, there are ethical difficulties associated with the use of personality and psychological theories as a means of directing the outcome of a criminal investigation. Profiling has been portrayed by the media as a romantic or heroic profession, possibly resulting in an inaccurate perception of the life and role of a profiler. As a result, the field may attract individuals who are poorly suited to competent practice. When not credibly accomplished, profiling can cause serious harm or impose delays in the actual solution of a case by suggesting inappropriate directions of investigation. The pursuit of suspects who fit a typology suggested by the profiler that is very different than that of the actual perpetrator could also result in the implication or arrest of innocent parties. Finally, there are no official ethical standards for the practice of profiling.

The Academy of Behavioral Profiling (ABP), an internationally recognized, not-for-profit corporation, was initiated in 1999 and incorporated in 2004. The ABP was created, in part, to address some of the ethical concerns raised by the lack of standardization in the field of profiling. Its mission statement describes a commitment to raising the professional bar for profilers by promoting the concepts of peer review, multidisciplinary education and training, and common professional standards for practitioners of evidence based criminal profiling. Among its initial goals were: the creation of written multidisciplinary practice and ethical code of conduct guidelines; development of readily accessible, uniform educational and continuing professional education opportunities; creation and promulgation of a profiling general knowledge exam in order to create some common competency standards; promotion of research opportunities for the advancement of the field of knowledge in evidence-based profiling as well as replicability of results; creation of an informational profiling database; to evolve the peer review process in the professionalization of the practice of profiling; and to increase positive public awareness of behavioral profiling.

The ethical guidelines and code of professional conduct created by the ABP suggest the need for increased professionalism on the part of profilers. They call for a universal attitude embodying integrity and support the need for an unbiased approach to the profiling and reporting process by mandating impartiality, independence, and objectivity. As such, they set standards for maintenance of confidentiality of case information to ensure the dignity of crime victims and their families. They also require that the interpretations and conclusions developed as a result of the profiling process be strictly limited to the information and evidentiary materials reviewed and discovered to avoid the introduction of bias. The ABP ethical code of conduct requires limiting expert witness testimony to the facts of the case, and mandates against the use of conjecture and the offering of opinions regarding guilt or innocence of a suspect in a particular crime. Finally, the ethical guidelines set the standards for reporting unethical conduct, or ethical code violations, to the appropriate authorities associated with the governing bodies of the profession in which the violator was credentialed.

Within the ABP, there are three levels of possible sanction for members who violate the ethical guidelines for professional conduct: (1) advisementan individual who is responsible for the violation receives a written notice that they are to cease and desist the unethical activity. A member who receives two such advisements is automatically issued a warning; (2) warningthe individual who is responsible for the ethical violation is given a written warning that failure to immediately end the unethical conduct may result in expulsion form the ABP. Notification of a warning is made publicly available to all ABP members, and receipt of two warnings will result in automatic expulsion form the ABP; (3) expulsionan individual responsible for the ethical transgression will be given written notice of expulsion from the ABP. Such notices of expulsion are made available to the general public. The underlying premise of the sanction process is to educate membership about the importance of maintaining the highest standards of ethical professional behavior.

The ABP has achieved all of its initial goals and continues to grow internationally, suggesting that it may be possible to unite the professionals involved in the practice of profiling, and to someday achieve standardization and adherence to the highest standards of ethical conduct, while maintaining the art of the multidisciplinary process.

see also Careers in forensic science; Crime scene investigation; Criminal profiling; Criminalistics; Forensic Science Service (U.K.).