Webinar presenter Gabrielle Salfati answered a number of your questions after her presentation, Investigative Psychology: The Latest Science on Offender Profiling and Linking Serial Crimes. Here are just a few of her responses.
Audience Question: In regard to standard practice and keeping up with modern psychology, has investigative psychology been adapted to the cognitive psychology era?
Gabrielle Salfati: That’s a very interesting question because cognitive psychology is really at the forefront of where a lot of cognitive psychology is. Cognitive psychology is definitely at the forefront of where the sciences right now, and it is absolutely crucial in terms of understanding the brain functions and the cognitive functions of the offender, and it certainly helps us understand people’s thinking patterns. The field is very much at the start of that. What we have to remember is that offender profiling is about what an offender does, versus what they think. And so, we really focus on the actions, but where cognitive psychology is very useful to us is telling us, whether, based on what someone does, can you see that there may be some cognitive function there that is impacting that psychopathy, any kind of psychosis, drinking, drugs – and we know that all of those things will actually change the pattern at the crime scene. There is some work in this right now, but we’re still at the very beginning. What is really exciting about this is that it is linking in another field with investigative psychology. Investigative psychology, we’re very multi-disciplinary, and we’ll link in with all different areas of psychology. But here, we’re really linking with neuroscience and clinical psychology as well. So, again, watch this space, And I’m hoping that we’re going to get a lot more work in this field.
Audience Question: Can you apply these concepts to sex trafficking?
Gabrielle Salfati: It depends on what it is that you want to find out about sex trafficking. What we have to remember is what profiling aims to do is look at what someone does and come up with an understanding of who they may be so that we can use this as a prioritization tool for police investigations. So, if we’re trying to find out, let’s say, people are going missing – women, men, children, young people, whoever they are, they’re going missing in a particular area, is there some kind of consistency between the types of victims who are going missing? Then, yes, you could possibly deal with looking at what kind of offender, what kind of organization you’re dealing with because profiling also links in with organizations. But if it’s about identifying patterns of the organization, you’re really bringing in a whole other area of investigative psychology that we haven’t talked about, which is really when we’re combining investigative psychology with the understanding of criminal organizations themselves and how they operate. So, again, it depends on what angle you take on that question. But I would say yes because what we’re ultimately trying to understand is criminal behavior and being able to intercept in order to keep victims safe and get to the offender more quickly with less resources – because very few organizations have a lot of resources and being able to keep our communities safe.
Audience Question: Jonathan said that forensic science research has developed tools that are starting to provide activity level conclusions such as age estimations, or fingerprint or body fluid depositions. Have you heard of anyone that has been able to integrate both behavioral and this kind of forensic evidence?
Gabrielle Salfati: No, I have not! And this is actually really exciting news. I know that this is very, very, at the very beginning of the science. But what is very exciting about this is that we’re now getting a combination, again, of different fields. That collaboration is absolutely crucial in science. And I’m a great believer that you shouldn’t be in your own silo, you should be linking in with others. If forensic science is making advances, we need to tap in with that and collaborate together so that we can add the biological to the behavioral, sort of what I was talking about in the beginning. The same goes actually for geographical profiling. We didn’t talk about that today, but there is work being done in locating an offender’s home based on the patterns of where they commit their crimes. Much of that work is mathematical in nature, very much based on environmental psychology, but it hasn’t got a high level of behavioral information with it. Again, a collaboration would be very useful. But this work in forensic science sounds very exciting, and I’ll definitely be checking that out. So, thank you very much for letting us know about it.
Audience Question: Is statistical profiling as good as offender profiling without the use of themes?
Gabrielle Salfati: You’ve really identified a big discussion that we have in the field. So, there’s a number of us who are doing research in linking. So, linking is, if you want the practice area, we’re linking different crimes. And there are different approaches to this, and there are definitely two schools of approach or thoughts on this. One is what you are calling the statistical way of looking at it. Where a lot of people are using Bayesian analysis or artificial intelligence to find patterns for us in order to identify what might be going on. Or that work is also saying, can we randomly link specific crime scenes to each other? What’s the likelihood that if we match them on these mathematical criteria, that we can find patterns? There’s some excellent work being done in that, a lot of his coming out of Canada and the UK, and really good work from colleagues of mine. The question becomes, although we can maybe increase the linking, we don’t increase our understanding of patterns. And that is where the behavioral analysis of consistency from the investigative psychology angle comes in, where we’re really trying to understand what people do from crime scene to crime scene. Because if we know that people change in their patterns and that we have to look at different types of behaviors, that actually informs the statistical kind of linking. So, there’s a number of us internationally who are doing work in this field. Some of us are more in the behavioral consistency camp, some of us on the statistical, but all of us are actually a part of a collaborative called ———-, you can find it online, where we’re sharing information and best practice, and we’re really taking each other’s expertise and linking it in together to trying to get to exactly that question that you’re asking. We’re still looking at it, and we’re still looking at a different approach to taking what works best. My opinion is that they’re both important for different reasons, but putting them together is, like anything, always makes it stronger.
Audience Question: Are you aware of any evidence-based tools or software that can help with the profiling of offenders such as the FBI’s VICAP program?
Gabrielle Salfati: So, the VICAP program is a data storage mechanism. So, investigators will fill in a form, send that form to the VICAP unit at the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime. There’s the Canadian and European version, which is called VICLAS, which is slightly different that has more criteria in it, and it has been researched a lot more. And the idea is that the crime analyst will have all of this information, and then they will use strategies to try to find similarities and differences. The difficulties with those is that, like with any computerized system, you have the numbers, and you have the information, which is a fantastic, first step, absolutely needed, and I’m so grateful to all those officers who take the time amidst all of the other work that they’re doing to then send this into those of us who are dealing with the data to try to find patterns. The thing is, in order to find those patterns, we need to have an understanding of behavior, and that was missing until very recently, so, building up our understanding of how people behave informs those crime analysts when they’re looking through these datasets. But that’s just a dataset. There are people David Canter’s one of them, who’s been able to work on trying to put this together into what we call an expert decision-making tool, expert system. Where you are, rather than artificial intelligence, where you’re just putting in numbers, and then he finds the answer for you but doesn’t give you an explanation. An expert system actually hones the research done by experts puts it into the computerized system using those algorithms will then analyze the data on what we know. So, you’re bringing in the human factor in it, which also helps us understand what we’re doing. Because ultimately, without the understanding, we can’t really apply it. And the answer is, there is nothing right now for behavioral systems. Because the science has been so new, and it’s only until very recently that we’ve really been spending the last 25 years building up the research so that it is evidence-based. Before that, it really wasn’t evidence-based. There’s a lot of great, practical work being done, but there was no statistic that supported it. Some of that has been verified, some of it has not, and we’ve taken what was good about it, and we’ve moved that forward. So, we always have to be thankful to those who created the field in the first place. But the next step is then putting in those computerized systems. However, where we do have the computerized system isn’t geographical profiling. Those, because they’re mathematical in nature, it has been much easier to set up computerized systems to help support investigators. So, the answer is, both, yes and no. We are there, we have the knowledge, some people are working on it, some people have been working on it for years. What we needed was to have the expertise in it. So, some people are working on the artificial intelligence Bayesian system. So that’s the statistical question we had before. Some people are working on expert systems, which are based on the science that we have created so that we can inform the computerized system. Other people are doing mathematical modeling, based on things that are already mathematical, like the distances that people travel and the patterns of those which from what the research shows follow very clear mathematical patterns that we can then apply to the crime scene, so a little bit of everything on that one.
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