Psychological profiling or Criminal profiling is a relatively new investigative technique that, in the past 30 years, has developed from that which is used to describe an art to a rigorous science based on advanced empirical research. Results from the first wave of research have shown that there is validity to the idea that aspects of an offender’s characteristics may be inferred from the way and manner the offender acts at the crime scene. Ongoing research is focused on refining these efforts so that a systematic and reliable framework may be put in place, one that can provide a solid basis for constructing a useful psychological tool for police investigations.

Timilehin Olalusi (Associate)

Over the years, the mankind has evolved so much to the extent that it is rather quite impossible to predict the evils of which man is capable. It is almost impossible to predict the next criminal act or violent crime a perpetrator is capable of or the mode of operation of a future criminal in other to lay down preventive measures for a future crime. All over the world, there are series of violent crimes of varying degrees perpetrated daily. Criminal profiling has made it easy for law enforcement agents in foreign countries such as United States, South Korea, Canada, Sweden, South Africa, Russia, United Kingdom to study a crime scene and come up with empirical data which infers the characteristics, the mode of operation and mental state of the perpetrator which helps to narrow down the possible suspects of a crime.


Criminal profiling which is also known as offender profiling, crime scene profiling, psychological profiling, and personality profiling is an investigative strategy or process of linking an offender’s actions at the crime scene to their most likely characteristics to help law enforcement agencies identify or narrow down and prioritize a pool of most likely suspects. Criminal profiling helps law enforcement agencies to identify likely suspects and to link cases that may have been committed by the same perpetrator. Multiple crimes may be linked to a specific offender and the profile may be used to predict the identified offender’s future actions.

Psychologists are sometimes called upon during a police investigation to analyse the behavioural indicators of the crime and, based on these, to draw up a profile of the most likely characteristics of an offender responsible for such actions. In addition, psychologists continue to be involved in researching the processes of profiling itself, to establish its validity and utility as a police investigation tool. These psychologists are called Criminal Profilers.


The main psychological premise behind profiling is that there will be consistency between the way offenders act at the crime scene and who they are in their daily lives. This is based on the broader findings from longitudinal studies and cross-situational consistency in general as well as from findings on the development of criminal behavior. By understanding consistencies in offenders’ development and change over time, the suggestion is that we can link the way they behave at the crime scene with how they have previously behaved in different contexts. Three general interlinked areas have been the focus of recent profiling research: individual differentiation, behavioural consistency, and inferences about offender characteristics.

Individual differentiation aims to establish differences between the behavioural actions of offenders and uses this to identify subgroups of crime scene types. The focus here is on analysing the observable, rather than motivational, aspects of the crime to increase the reliability and practical utility of these models in actual investigations. Although it is important to gain insight into the cognitions of offenders and add these to emerging models, research has shown that motivations are inherently more subjective and difficult to measure. As such, behaviours provide a more reliable unit of analysis, at least at the first stages of building models of criminal differentiation that are valid, reliable, and ultimately useful and applicable to actual investigations.

Behavioural studies of differentiation usually focus on differences among crimes scenes in various observable factors, including victim characteristics, interaction with the victim, nature of the violence, and other activities engaged in by the offender at the crime scene.  Any crime can be profiled using the appropriate frameworks. Profiling has been used to analyse the following crimes such as theft, burglary, robbery, arson, fraud, rape, paedophilia, crimes committed by youths, homicide, serial homicide, and others. The relevant psychological dimensions depend on the crimes analysed. Some examples used in homicide work include behaviours indicative of expressive and instrumental types of aggression such as the treatment of a victim as an object or as a person, acting in a controlled or an impulsive manner, all of which are already well-established thematic classifications of human behavior in the general psychological literature.

Behavioural consistency is a key issue in profiling, specifically for understanding both the development of an offender’s criminal career and an individual’s consistency across a series of crimes, this means that, whether the same subsets of actions are displayed at each crime scene over a series i.e., linking serial crime. A very important question is whether consistency in criminal behavior can be established over time, as well as how individuals change and develop through learning and experience and whether offenders specialize or are generalists?

The search for consistencies has been approached in various ways in the theoretical literature, notably by establishing whether the offender acts according to the same psychological subtype or theme from one crime to the next e.g., expressive or instrumental, whether the offender engages in the same specific behaviours from one crime to the next modus operandi, or whether the offender engages in highly specialized behaviours unique to him or her and that are related more to his or her personal agenda, or fantasies “signature”. The first few published studies on empirically validating these theoretical concepts indicate that although some consistency is evident, our understanding of the intricacies of the actual patterns over time requires closer empirical study, specifically in terms of how offenders develop, mature, experiment, and change in a consistent manner across time, as well as how situational factors influence an offender’s behavioural consistency.

Inferences about offender characteristics is at the core of profiling and it uses consistency analysis as its focus. However, the main aim is to establish the link between subgroups of crime scene actions and subgroups of offender background characteristics to make predictions about an offender based on his or her criminal actions at the crime scene. This can then ultimately be used as a primary tool for law enforcement agencies to narrow their suspect pool down to statistically the most likely offender. Offender characteristics focused on typically include demographics, such as gender, age, and education, previous interpersonal and criminal history, home location and travel patterns which is also known as geographical profiling, and the offender’s relationship with the victim.


Criminal or Psychological profiling is also described as a method of suspect identification which seeks to identify a person’s mental, emotional, and personality characteristics based on acts done or left behind at the crime scene.

There are two major assumptions made when it comes to offender profiling: Behavioural consistency and Homology. Behavior consistency is the idea that an offender’s crime will tend to be like one another. Homology is the idea that similar crimes are committed by similar offenders.

Fundamental assumptions that offender profiling relies upon, such as the homology assumption, have been proven outdated by advances in psychology and behavioural science. Many profiling approaches assume that behavior is primarily determined by personality, and not situational factors. This is an assumption that psychological research has recognized as a mistake since the 1960s. In a 2021 article, it was noted that out of 243 cases, around 188 were solved with the help of criminal profiling.


An Italian psychologist Cesare Lombroso (1835-1909) was a criminologist who attempted to formally classify criminals based on age, gender, physical characteristics, education, and geographic region. When comparing these similar characteristics, he understood the origin of motivation of criminal behavior, and in 1876, he published the book The Criminal Man. Lombroso studied 383 Italian inmates. Lombroso classified criminals into three categories:

  1. Born criminals or people with atavistic characteristics.
  2. Insane criminals including idiots, imbeciles, and paranoic as well as epileptics and alcoholics.
  3. Occasional criminals or criminaloids.

Although profiling was attempted as long ago as the mid-1880s, in the Jack the Ripper serial murder case in London, profiling as it is known today is a relatively new area in forensic psychology. Much of the early work in profiling dates to the 1970s and 1980s, when there was an initiative to focus on analysis of the crime scene itself. Most of this work, typically done by practicing clinicians or police investigators, was based on understanding an individual’s behavior at the crime scene through interviews with actual offenders and primarily focusing on the offender’s internal motivations and drives, in addition to identifying specific behaviours.

With its increasing popularity through the 1980s, and with more recent efforts to bring profiling into court as evidence, the method came under increasingly close scrutiny by researchers within the field. Consequently, the 1990s saw the creation of a new area of forensic psychology, investigative psychology, spearheaded by David Canter and colleagues, that focuses on the contribution of psychology to police investigations. Researchers in this growing field have stressed the importance of providing a solid methodological approach and framework for establishing an empirically based science testing the psychological principles on which profiling rests.

One of the first offender profiles was assembled by detectives of the Metropolitan Police on the personality of Jack the Ripper, a serial killer who had murdered a series of prostitutes in the 1880s. A police surgeon Thomas Bond was asked to give his opinion on the extent of the murderer’s surgical skill and knowledge. Bond’s assessment was based on his own examination of the most extensively mutilated victim and the post mortem notes from the four previous canonical murders. In his notes, dated November 10, 1888, Bond mentioned the sexual nature of the murders coupled with elements of apparent misogyny and rage. Bond also tried to reconstruct the murder and interpret the behavior pattern of the offender. Bond’s basic profile included that “The murderer must have been a man of physical strength and great coolness and daring… subject to periodic attacks of homicidal and erotic mania. The characters of the mutilations indicate that the man may be in a condition sexually, that may be called Satyriasis.

Offender profiling was first introduced to the FBI in the 1960s, when several classes were taught to the American Society of crime lab directors. There was little public knowledge of offender profiling until publicization with TV. Later, films such as Manhunter (1986) and Silence of the Lambs (1991) based on the fictional works of author Thomas Harris caught the public eye to the profession. The fastest development occurred when the FBI opened its training academy, the Behavioural Analysis Unit, in Quantico, Virginia. It led to the establishment of the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime and the Violent Criminal Apprehension Program.

Investigations of serial killers Ted Bundy and Gary Ridgway were performed in 1974 by Robert Keppel and psychologist Richard Walter. They went on to develop the four subtypes of violent crime and the Hunter Integrated Telemetry System (HITS) database which compiled characteristics of violent crime for research.


As of the year 2021, although the practice of offender profiling is widely used, publicized, and researched globally, there is a significant lack of empirical research or evidence to support the validity of psychological profiling in criminal investigations. Critics question the reliability, validity, and utility of criminal profiles generally provided in police investigations. Over the years common criminal profiling methods have changed and been looked down upon due to weak definitions that differentiate the criminal’s behaviours, assumptions and their psychodynamic process of the offender actions and characteristics that occur in other words, this leads to poor and misleading profiles on offenders because they are based on opinions and decisions made up from one profiler conducting research on the offender.

Research in the year 2007-2008 into profiling’s effectiveness have prompted critics to label the practice as pseudoscientific. At the time, Malcolm Gladwell of The New Yorker compared profiling to astrology and cold reading. Other critics described criminal profiling as an investigative tool hidden behind a lack of scientific evidence and support .


The profession of criminal profiling is highly unregulated. There is no governing body or regulation established to determine who is and who is not qualified to be a criminal profiler, and therefore those who identify themselves as criminal profilers may range from someone with minimal to someone with extensive experience in the realm of criminal investigation. In addition to the lack of criteria as to what makes an expert in the field of criminal profiling, there is little empirical evidence supporting the accuracy of criminal profiling. There is an abundance of anecdotal support for criminal profiling, much of which originates from reports made by police officers and investigators regarding the performance of criminal profilers.

However, law enforcement agents have been found to greatly support the use of criminal profiling, but studies have shown that detectives are poor profilers themselves. One study presented police officers with two different profiles for the same perpetrator, each of which varied greatly from the officers’ own description. It was found that the officers were unable to determine whether one profile was more accurate than the other and felt that all profiles accurately described the perpetrator. Officers were able to find truth in whichever profile they viewed, believing it accurately described the perpetrator, demonstrating the presence of the Barnum effect. In addition, an investigator’s judgement of the accuracy of a profile is impacted by the perceived source of the information; if the officer believes that the profile was written by an “expert” or “professional”, they are likely to perceive it as more accurate than a profile written by someone who is identified as a consultant. This poses a genuine problem when considering that there are no true criteria which determine who may be considered a “professional” criminal profiler, and when considering that support for criminal profiling is largely based on the opinion of police officers.


The most routinely used typology in psychological or criminal profiling is categorizing crime scenes, and by extension offender’s personalities, as either “organized” or “disorganized.  The idea of classifying crime scenes according to organized/disorganized dichotomy is credited to the FBI profiler Roy Hazelwood.

A typology of serial sexual homicides advocated by Robert Keppel and Richard Walter categorizes them as either power–assertive, power–reassurance, anger–retaliatory, or anger–excitation. Criminal profiling can also be ex-ante or ex-post. Descriptive profiling of a perpetrator is a type of ex-post profiling and can be used to prevent a serial killer from striking again. 


The Nigerian Justice System is not entirely ignorant or unaware of the use and the merits of the application of criminal profiling as a tool in crime investigation. However, criminal profiling in Nigeria has not advanced to the level of that of the western countries in recognition, functionality, or institutionalization that it has attained in other jurisdictions.

The Nigerian Criminal Justice System encapsulates the police, and their operations, the courts, and the prisons and other correctional or rehabilitative facilities. The police are the most visible, biggest, and important sub-system of the criminal justice system. Force Criminal Investigation Departments (FCID) is the highest investigation arm of the Nigerian Police. The department is headed by a Deputy Inspector-General (DIG). Its primary roles include investigation and prosecution of serious and complex criminal   cases within and outside the country. The NPF-CID is divided into sections and most of them are headed by Commissioners of Police.

In Nigeria, the absence of a DNA database, Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) and other necessary fancy equipment needed to investigate the DNA obtained from a crime scene as seen in western countries has made it difficult to investigate and profile crime. Many crimes have not been resolved to date because of lack of equipment and adequate training.

Police do rarely take fingerprints at crime scenes as there is no DNA laboratory and there are few ballistic experts in the country. Nigeria is Africa’s most populous nation but with an inadequate criminal justice system. The Nigerian Police Force do not possess the expert or equipment for forensic investigations, as a result, they have been unable to uncover most of the high-profile murders in the country. Nigeria has only one barely functioning forensic laboratory in Lagos. This has impeded the positive result of police investigations.

Criminal or psychological profiling is very important in any criminal justice system of any society. Nigeria has a country lacking in experts and adequate equipment in conducting forensic investigations will do well in training its law enforcement agents. In Nigeria, there are daily reports of violent crimes, but police investigations are crippled due to the dearth of modern equipment, skills, capability to solve high-profile crimes and murder cases.

Profilers analyze the crime scene and generate criminal profiles in other to narrow down possible suspects. The Nigerian Police Force has no expert on criminal profiling nor have been keeping database of criminal profiles. Thus, linking crimes to likely suspects is near impossible. With profiling, there will be a database of criminal profiles in the country, the modus of operandi of perpetrators will be studied and a reoccurrence of a crime can be predicted, and adequate preventive measures can be made in the future.

To embrace profiling in Nigeria, there is the need for the Nigerian Police Force and the government to provide adequate funds to purchase necessary equipment and establishment of laboratories for forensic and ballistic investigations. Kidnapping, Armed Robbery, Rape, Murder, Paedophilia, and several other crimes are common in Nigeria, but with less investigation progress and arrest of perpetrators by the Nigerian Police Force. With profiling and the embrace of forensic, fingerprint, DNA and other investigative technology, the crime rate in Nigeria will reduce drastically and be well contained and perpetrators will be on a database for future reference and profile. Profiling is a relevant aspect of any law enforcement agencies in any society as crimes are on the rise with varying degree of violence and operation. The relevance cannot be undermined.


Criminal Profiling can work and is indeed relevant in the Nigerian Criminal Justice System. However, certain issues must be addressed for it to be possible and successful like in several foreign jurisdictions.

Criminal profiling is important in the Nigeria Police Force in that it will enrich the ability of the Force to investigate, unravel and combat crimes more effectively. Although it may be difficult for criminal profiling to be successfully adopted and implemented in the Nigerian police system, it is possible. It will be a long journey but a journey to victory. The following issues to be addressed are computerization of the Nigerian Police Force, computer literacy and soft skills training, funding for adequate upgraded equipment for investigation and sensitization on the evolution of crimes and the need to be aware of the varying pattern of violent crimes that will plague our society now and in  the future.


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