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Minor Clarification

Reader comment on item: A Call for Intelligent Profiling[ by Frederick Schauer]

Submitted by Dr. James Buccigross, Forensic Psychologist (United States), Dec 30, 2003 at 15:55

Daniel Pipes' "A Call for Intelligent Profiling" is a very concise and well-reasoned article that makes a critical point at a crucial time. I agree completely with the conclusions made. However, I would just like to make a minor point of clarification regarding the methodology of profiling, specifically, criminal profiling vs. profiling for airport passenger screening.

Criminal profiling, as utilized by police detectives, is primarily conducted after a violent crime has already occured. As such, it is thus reactive rather than proactive. And it takes as its starting point not a generalization about an individual encountered during the course of their investigation, but rather starts from the crime scene itself and the behavior of the perpetrator that can be inferred from it. It is from the behavior as displayed by the evidence at the crime scene that the criminal profile is developed. This is quite different from starting with a generic profile that has already been developed empirically, and looking for any and all individuals who fit the profile in order to prevent a future crime from taking place, although police detectives naturally are also trying to prevent further crimes from the perpetrator of the crime that has already occured. In other words, criminal profiling procedes from some known set of behaviors that have already occured in order to identify the specific individual responsible, while types of profiling such as airport passenger profiling procede from a general group of individuals who fit an empirically-derived profile in order to identify a set of potential behaviors that have not yet occured from some or none of them, which, it should be noted, also introduces a temporal factor as well.

Criminal profiling is otherwise identical in many ways to the type of profiling discussed in the article. Such as, for example, criminal profiling is also "...seeking to narrow the list of possible suspects by identifying an area of interaction among numerous generalizations". However, criminal profiling, also known as "behavioral profiling", should be more properly considered as seeking greater specificity as opposed to being a "process of generalization" in itself, and unlike racial profiling,which is concerned solely with a single physical characteristic, behavioral profiling is concerned with multiple psychological factors in order to identify a specific individual.

In violent crimes such as serial homicide, the concept of what is referred to as the "signature" pulls together a very large number of interacting generalizations (the set of behavioral clues derived from evidence at the crime scene) in order to develop a profile which points to one specific individual. This signature is as unique behaviorally as a fingerprint is physically. For simplicity's sake, what is called the signature - of a serial killer, for example - can best be conceived of as the unique configuration of those aspects of his personality which are expressed in his behavior during the commission of his crime and hold necessary psychological significance for him in that same regard. In this manner, behavioral profiling seeks to narrow the list of possible suspects down to one specific individual who is guilty of already having committed a specific crime, as opposed to generalizing to a group of individuals who present a statistically elevated degree of risk of potentially committing a crime in the future. The difference is a little like that between a rifle and a shotgun.

This may seem like hair-splitting, and indeed it may very well be, as the main premises of the article remain nonetheless basically unaffected by the points made above. It is primarily a matter of difference of starting point as well as purpose (proactive vs. reactive). However, as was pointed out in the article, profiling, to use the term in a general manner, has received a lot of bad press for the very reasons noted. Thus, unfortunately, in many people's minds, any "profiling" became synonymous with "racial profiling", which indeed smacks of predice. As a result, behavioral profiling became tainted by the reputation of racial profiling, even though racial profiling was indeed a crude, single-factor reductionism while behavioral profiling focuses on multi-factored behavior, as opposed to just an individual's race. I believe it is important to point out even such minor distinctions as those outlined in the previous paragraphs in order to maintain conceptual clarity and separation from misconceptions arising from the misuse of profiling methods.

I would like to add that I strongly agree that any and all non-spurious factors must be taken into account in order to increase the incrimental validity of the profiling analysis & thus its predictive power which in turn justifies its "intelligent use". To illogically weaken the predictive ability of any tool intended to enhance safety, is unjustifiable, unconscienable, and an even greater evil when lives are at stake.

It is often forgotten by critics of profiling who do not distinguish between improper & crude single-factor types of profiling and proper & sophisticated multi-factored methods of analysis, that despite the sometimes unavoidable inconvenience and irritation that could be caused to those individuals who are subjected to greater scrutiny as a result, when proper profiling methodology is employed, it is for the purpose of enhancing everyone's safety, including those who may be singled out as false positives by the profile. To use signal-detection terminology, any number of false positives are infinitely preferable to even one false negative in such a situation. If the individual who is thus subjected to increased scrutiny is in fact a false positive, the resulting additional information that is then obtained should enable a properly-constructed profile and method to then rule-out the individual as a potenially suspect passenger. I do not see any other way to properly employ any such profiling procedure to protect all passengers without including all non-spurious factors involved. To do otherwise is nothing less than criminal negligence and is morally irresponsible in regard the duty owed to the safety of all passengers.

One final note in regard to the bomber profile developed by Dr. Brussel - as I recall from one account, it was indeed so detailed & eerily accurate that when the police went to detain George Metesky, he was even wearing the double-breasted suit that Dr. Brussel's profile predicted he would be wearing. The proper & intelligent use of profiling analysis - to include all non-spurious factors - can be a powerful weapon in the War on Terror, one we should not deprive ourselves of.
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Note: Opinions expressed in comments are those of the authors alone and not necessarily those of Daniel Pipes. Original writing only, please. Comments are screened and in some cases edited before posting. Reasoned disagreement is welcome but not comments that are scurrilous, off-topic, commercial, disparaging religions, or otherwise inappropriate. For complete regulations, see the "Guidelines for Reader Comments".

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