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Offender Profiling

Could be anyone of this lot!

"Could be anyone of this lot!"

What is Offender Profiling?  

Traditionally offender profiling has involved the process of predicting the likely socio-demographic characteristics of an offender based on information available at the crime scene. In the last 10 years, however, a broader definition of offender profiling has emerged that recognises the range of fruitful, reliable, tested and transparent evidence-based methods by which psychologists might provide advice to the police during investigations. This has, more recently, involved practitioners adopting the term ‘behavioural investigative advisor’, which reflects change of tack from the exclusive focus on the killer and his likely ‘psychological profile’ to the myriad of issues that are involved in investigating crime. Extending well beyond attempts to set suspect parameters or explain the behaviour of offenders in one-off critical incidents, advisors can now assist on issues such as media strategy, interview strategy, DNA intelligence led screening, risk assessments, geographical analysis, veracity of victim statements and the linking of a series of crimes. Thus, as Adhami and Browne (1996) point out, “offender profiling, in all its guises, is [now] viewed as a means of improving crime detection practices” (p. 1).


How is the Centre for Critical Incident Research studying offender profiling?

Professor Alison and Dr Louise Almond are currently working on a project funded by the Leverhulme trust, with support by the National Centre for Policing Excellence (NCPE) Behavioural Investigative Advisors (BIA’s). This project is devoted to an examination of the content of behavioural investigative advice and, more importantly, an examination of the ways in which such advice is interpreted, used and (potentially) misused. We have content analysed all reports written by the NCPE BIA’s in 2005 and have compared this contemporary sample with a previous sample of profiling reports. We are currently conducting a number of tightly controlled experimental studies to investigate what factors influence the interpretation of a profile. The factors investigated include heuristics, biases, stereotypes, presentation, context and individual differences. By gaining a better understanding of these issues profilers will be able to produce clearer transparent reports by helping to reduce any potential misinterpretations between themselves and the police officer.  In addition, the CCIR is conducting a number of workshops entitled ‘Enhancing the use of Behavioural Investigative Advice’ which considers the academic and practical functions of profiling as an investigative tool. Individuals who are interested in attending this workshop should e-mail Dr Louise Almond at for further details.



  1. Alison, L., McLean, C., & Almond, L. (in press). Profiling suspects. In T. Williamson (Ed.), Handbook of Criminal Investigation. Devon: Willan.

  2. Alison, L., & Almond, L. (in press). Using offender profiles and behavioural investigative advice. Police Review.

  3. Almond, L., Alison, L., & Porter, L. (under review). An examination of National Centre for Police Excellence Behavioural Investigative Advice. Psychology Crime and Law.

  4. Goodwill, A., & Alison, L. (2006). The development of a filter model for prioritizing suspects in burglary offences. Psychology, Crime and Law, 12, 395-416.

  5. Alison, L. (2005). From trait based profiling to psychological contributions to apprehension methods. In L. Alison (Ed.), The Forensic Psychologist’s Casebook: Psychological Profiling and Criminal Investigation (pp. 3-22). Devon: Willan. 

  6. Alison, L., Goodwill, A., & Alison, E. (2005). Guidelines for profilers. In L. Alison (Ed.), The Forensic Psychologist’s Casebook: Psychological Profiling and Criminal Investigation (pp. 235-277). Devon: Willan.  

  7. Canter, D., Alison, L., Alison, E., & Wentink, N. (2004). The organised/disorganised typology of serial murder: Myth or model? Psychology, Public Policy and Law, 10, 293-320.

  8. Alison, L., West, A., & Goodwill, A. (2004). The academic and the practitioner: Pragmatists’ views of offender profiling. Psychology, Public Policy & Law, 10, 71-101. 

  9. Alison, L., Smith, M., Eastman, O., & Rainbow, L. (2003). Toulmin’s philosophy of argument and its relevance to offender profiling. Psychology, Crime and Law, 9, 173-183. 

  10. Alison, L.J., Smith, M.D., & Morgan, K. (2003). Interpreting the accuracy of offender profiles. Psychology, Crime and Law, 9(2), 185-195. 

  11. Alison, L., Bennell, C., Mokros, A., Ormerod, D. (2002). The personality paradox in offender profiling: A theoretical review of the processes involved in deriving background characteristics from crime scene actions. Psychology, Public Policy & Law, 8, 115-135.

  12. Mokros, A., & Alison, L. (2002). Is profiling possible? Testing the predicted homology of crime scene actions and background characteristics in a sample of rapists. Legal and Criminological Psychology, 7, 25-43. 

  13. Alison, L., & Canter, D. (1999). Profiling in policy and practice. In D. Canter, & L. Alison (Eds.), Profiling in Policy and Practice (pp. 1-20). Aldershot: Ashgate.