Evaluating the use of data-based offender profiling by researchers, practitioners and investigative journalists to address unresolved serial homicides

Published date08 February 2020
Date08 February 2020
AuthorEnzo Yaksic
Evaluating the use of data-based offender
proling by researchers, practitioners and
investigative journalists to address
unresolved serial homicides
Enzo Yaksic
Purpose The purpose of this article is to improve the use of evidence-based practice and research
utilization in the offender profiling process. The use of offender profiling has been met with increasing
resistance given itsexaggerated accuracy. The ‘‘InvestigativeJournalist/Expert Field Micro Task Force’’
model, a collaborative method that incorporates offender profiling and is designed to address
unresolved serial homicides, is introduced and evaluated alongside recommendations on attaining
Design/methodology/approach The model was field tested in 17 instances. The measuresused by
the Federal Bureau of Investigation to gauge the usefulness of their case consultations, whether their
input helped catch the offender,offer new leads, move the case forward, provide new avenues or give
new ideas,were used to evaluate the model.
Findings The model established likely patterns of serial murder activity among strangulations of
women in Chicago, Cleveland, and Panama and resulted in convictions of suspects in Louisiana and
Kansas City. This model is valuable when used to parse modern-day offenders from those who
committed unresolved homicides as the latter display different behaviors that can make investigations
difficultendeavors. Results from the field tests mirrorthose from the literature in that profiling alonedid not
result in the capture of serial killers. Instead, profiling was used in conjunction with other efforts and
mainlyas a means to keepthe investigation moving forward.
Originality/value Unresolved homicidesare at a point of crisis and represent a significant but largely
unaddressedsocietal problem. The success of this modelmay compel law enforcement to restore faith in
Keywords Collaboration, Investigation, Law enforcement, Profiling, Serial homicide,Cold case
Paper type Research paper
At the height of the serial murder phenomenon, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
Special Agent profilers of the Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU) consulted with the
expert fields[1] (EF) to establish itself as the “one-stop-shop” for the resolution of
homicides committed by serial homicide offenders (SHOs). Although their output
comprised nearly half of articles on offender profiling (OP) (Fox and Farrington, 2018), that
total began to decrease to zero about 15 years ago after:
a symposium on SHOs (Morton and Hilts, 2008);
the topic was coopted by the entertainment industry (Yaksic, 2019a); and
a decline in SHOs (Yaksic et al., 2019a,2019b,2019c).
Enzo Yaksic is based at the
Serial Homicide Expertise
and Information Sharing
Collaborative, Boston,
Massachusetts, USA and
Atypical Homicide
Research Group, Boston,
Massachusetts, USA.
Received 6 September 2019
Revised 26 November 2019
Accepted 6 January 2020
DOI 10.1108/JCP-09-2019-0032 VOL. 10 NO. 2 2020, pp. 123-144, ©Emerald Publishing Limited, ISSN 2009-3829 jJOURNAL OF CRIMINAL PSYCHOLOGY jPAGE 123
As mass murder becomes increasingly prevalent (Berkowitz et al., 2019;Weise and
Woodyard, 2019), the FBI has disinvested from the SHO search (Miller, 2015).Investigative
journalists (IJs) have since teamed with the EF to find SHOs responsible for unresolved
(cold) homicides. Such consultations use data and evidence-based OP within the Micro
Task Force (MTF) model, a collaborative environment beneficial to law enforcement
organizations (LEOs). This report recounts 17 field tests where data and evidence-based
OP was used in conjunction withthe IJ/EF MTF model in the search for SHOs and evaluates
the process.
Unresolved homicides are at a point of crisis (Stein et al., 2017) and represent a
significant but largely unaddressed societal problem (Adcock, 2017). Although LEOs
have had success in apprehending SHOs[2], scientists are urged to re-emphasize the
value of scholarship in solving these types of problems (Nature, 2019)anddoso
through the use of OP to aid in criminal investigations. This method has fallen out of
favor since Muller (2000) identified several process failures. Eastwood et al. (2005)
recommend that OP be used sparingly given that the validity of profilers’ predictive
abilities is not empirically supported (Gladwell, 2007;Matthews, 2018), whereas
Jackson, Wilson and Rana (2011) warn that scrutiny and criticism will follow those that
use OP. Profilers are reluctant to validate OP because of a misplaced belief that
demand equates to evidence that it works (Chifflet, 2014) is conducted in isolation and
lends itself to profiteering (Seymour, 2019) so little guidance on how to use it exists.
Treading on territory laid by the original profilers presents practitioners of OP with a
dilemma; emulate the old ways or introduce new ideas and be ostracized for straying
from the established principles. LEOs also argue that catering to the personalities
associated with OP[3] make closing unresolved homicides more difficult. Still, the IJ/EF
MTF model is necessary given that wider efforts to understand and apprehend SHOs
have been discouraged and curtailed (Yaksic, 2018)[4].
Because collaborations with the BAU became less common, the EF embarked on efforts to
close unresolved homicides[5] by adapting the work of “citizen sleuths” (Halber, 2014;
Warzel, 2014)andIJs(Crombie, 2018;Olsen, 2017). The IJ/EF MTF model formed when
serial murder began to grow in popularity alongside shrinking newspaper readership. The
BAU equates communicating withthe media with a quest for recognition and refers to those
that do as “talking heads” that insert themselves in investigations (Morton and Hilts, 2008).
Criticisms surrounding the use of media reports to develop OP undercut the benefits of
today’s IJs who uncover minute details of criminal events. Even though the EF have been
exposed to serial murder, including the offender’s thought patterns, desires, methods of
operation and behavior, their qualifications are unduly judged and compared with
investigators an ironic phenomenon given that profilers either do not outperform or only
slightly outperform the general population when predicting offender characteristics
(Reynolds et al., 2019).
The EF has become adept at applying data to the investigation of SHOs[6](Keatley,
2018)inresponsetoDowden’s (2005) call to use sophisticated methodology. The IJ/EF
MTF model is a valuable resource because unresolved homicides committed by SHOs
occurred before their evolution and display of new behaviors (Yaksic, 2019b) which can
confuse modern LEOs. The practice of data and evidence-based OP places unknown
offenders into a typology that includes education level, socioeconomic background
and social capabilities using information from captured SHOs (Aamodt et al., 2019)
alongside the Murder Accountability Project’s (MAP) Supplementary Homicide Report
(SHR) file (Hargrove et al.,2017), demographic data and characteristics from the
surrounding population[7]. Using these methods, IJ/EF MTFs established likely
patterns of SHO activity among strangulations of women in Chicago (Sweeney and
Figueroa, 2018), Cleveland (Dissell, 2017), missing girls in Panama (Kryt, 2017)and

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