After the Webinar: Investigative Psychology. Q&A with Dr. Gabrielle Salfati

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: This is an interesting question because it allows us to highlight how Investigative Psychology is a multi-disciplinary field. Investigative Psychology is newer than Cognitive Psychology. And it definitely includes elements of Cognitive Psychology. . Understanding the cognitive functions of the offender can certainly help inform our understanding of how cognition may affect behavior. 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. What we want to know is how styles of thinking and viewing the world may affect what someone does.  Where cognitive psychology is also very useful to us is telling us, is whether, what someone does,  is impacted by other factors that affect cognition, as an example,  psychopathy, psychosis, drinking, drugs, in terms of how it may affect  changes to pattern at the crime scene. Investigative psychology is very multi-disciplinary, and this is another example of how one sub-area of science links in with another, in this case cognitive psychology, and how we can use this to apply it to the area of understanding crime scene analysis.


Audience Question: Can you apply these concepts to sex trafficking?

Gabrielle Salfati: This is an interesting question because it allows us to talk about how Investigative Psychology applies to understanding behavior both as it applies to individuals, and to organizations. 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 more about, let’s say, people who are going missing – women, men, children, young people, whoever they are, they’re going missing in a particular area, the question may be whether there is some kind of consistency between the types of victims who are going missing, and how we can use this to link crimes. If the question is about the organizational aspect of sex trafficking,  we are bringing in a whole other area of investigative psychology that we haven’t talked about, which is when apply investigative psychology approaches i to understand and analyze the behavior of criminal organizations and how they operate. But either way, we are ultimately trying to understand criminal behavior.


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: This is an interesting question because it allows us to once again look at how different fields of science can be combined. Thank you for bringing this work to our attention. Forensic science deals more with the biology and chemistry aspects of the crime scene, whereas Investigative Psychology deals more specifically about behavior.  If science is starting to be able to link the two areas that is very exciting because once again we are seeing how one sub-area of science informs another.  That collaboration is absolutely crucial in science.  I’m a great believer that in science we should not be operating in silos, but instead, combine forces and knowledge. By collaborate together we can add the biological to the behavioral, sort of what I was talking about in the beginning of my talk. The same goes 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, and also cognitive psychology, but it hasn’t yet been strongly linked in with behavioral information.  A collaboration would be very useful.


Audience Question: Is statistical profiling as good as offender profiling without the use of themes? 

Gabrielle Salfati: Thi is an interesting question because it allows us to discuss what we mean by statistics, and how we use statistics in analyzing behavior. This question is also central to a big discussion that we have in the field.  There’s a number of different approaches in linking research, each of which aims to look at different elements of the question – all of which are important.  Linking is 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, such as using Bayesian analysis or artificial intelligence to find similarities across crimes answering the question of whether we can randomly link specific crime scenes to each other.  There’s some interesting work being done on this, a lot of his coming out of Canada and the UK  by colleagues of mine, and they are finding some interesting results that allow us to identify linkages. However – what we still need to know – is Why there are these linkages, We need to understand the psychology behind these patterns. And that is where the behavioral analysis of consistency from the Investigative Psychology angle comes in, where we aim to really 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, this understanding will ultimately inform the statistical kind of linking. For example, if we know that people change the behaviors they engage in at a certain point in the series, we can use this to factor into the statistical analysis, and more clearly identify what behaviors we should focus on as remaining the same, and what behaviors may be less reliable to focus on as they change, and as such, will not give us good results as they will muddy the statistics.  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 aiming to answer the same question, and together, the work allows us to compare different methodologies, and see how we can combine things in a way that advances our understanding the best.


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: This is an interesting question because it looks at how the work on crime scene analysis is being done in practice and allows us to look at how Investigative Psychology can inform this practice with the work we are doing.  The VICAP program is a data storage mechanism. I 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, 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 across different crime scenes. 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 the work done by crime analysts when they’re looking through these datasets. But that’s just a dataset. There are people, David Canter is one of them, who has been able to work on trying to put this together into a  decision-making tool, what we call an expert system.  Artificial intelligence is where you have a system analyze numbers to find patterns but without an explanation. An expert system is actually constructed by adding the research done by experts into the computerized system, which will provide the basis for the calculations the computer makes. The algorithms in this way are based on a psychological understanding of patterns, and provides the system with these patterns, and asks the system to look for the patterns. Because ultimately, without the understanding, we can’t really apply it. But, right now there is nothing fully developed because we needed to first build up the science and we have been spending the last 25 years building up the research so that it is evidence-based so that it can be used in such systems, to ensure the systems are evidence-based and informed. 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 is geographical profiling, which helps inform where an offender’s home location may be, based on where they offend. So, the answer is both yes and no.


Click Here to Watch a Recording of Investigative Psychology: The Latest Science on Offender Profiling and Linking Serial Crimes.   


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