Criminal Profiling: Career Information

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The term "criminal profiler" likely conjures images of popular characters such as Hannibal Lecter of The Silence of the Lambs or Dr. Samantha Waters from The Profiler. While television and movies have raised awareness of criminal profiling as a profession, as with most careers, it's important to separate fact from fiction to get a better picture of what a job as a criminal profiler is about really.

The idea of a brilliant but deranged psychiatrist and murderer who spends his time in prison assisting rookie FBI agents on major cases is intriguing, but reality TV it's not. Nonetheless, a career as a criminal profiler can be a tremendously fascinating and intellectually stimulating pursuit.

The title "criminal profiler" is used to describe investigators who specialize in inductive and deductive reasoning to build a profile of particular criminal based on characteristics of the crime committed. Most profilers are law enforcement investigators with several years of experience investigating violent crimes and who have training and degrees in ​forensic science and psychology.​​

Roles of a Criminal Profilers

Criminal profilers work closely with other detectives and criminal investigators, helping them develop leads and suspects of high-profile crimes. Profilers look at a number of factors to help them determine everything they can about a particular criminal.

Profilers meticulously analyze information from crime scenes. They read reports from ballistics experts, bloodstain analysts, and other forensic investigators, looking at every aspect of the crime to gather important insights into a suspect's identity.

In a sense, a profiler is very much like a modern-day Sherlock Holmes, though they rely far more on deductive reasoning, hard facts, and accepted principles. Criminal profilers take into consideration important details, such as:

  • The manner in which crimes were committed
  • The location of crimes
  • The choice of victims
  • The type of crimes
  • The timing of crimes
  • Any communications from the suspect
  • The condition of the crime scenes

In addition to those listed, profilers look at a host of other factors to determine suspect characteristics such as age, race, residence and mental state.

The job of a criminal profiler often includes:

  • Visiting and analyzing crime scenes
  • Reading reports from investigators and other analysts
  • Writing reports
  • Providing court testimony
  • Working with police officers and detectives
  • Studying human behaviors and characteristics

Police can use the information gathered from criminal profilers to help them narrow their search for suspects. In high profile criminal cases, especially cases with multiple victims spread out over time, profilers are indispensable components of a criminal investigation.

Requirements to Become a Criminal Profiler

Criminal profiling is one of many professions within the field of forensic psychology. Profilers go through extensive education and training, as well as years of experience investigating violent crimes. A successful profiler will need to have, at a minimum, a master's degree.

In actuality, though, profilers most often hold doctorates in behavioral sciences, such as psychology, with specializations in human and criminal behavior. Also, profilers will attend other training and schooling to hone their trade, such as that conducted by the FBI in their Behavioral Science Unit.

Most profilers are FBI special agents who work at the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime (NCAVC) at Quantico, Virginia or investigators from large state or local agencies. It means that to become a profiler you will need to receive law enforcement training from a police academy, as well as build a long résumé of investigative experience to be considered for a profiler position.

Crime profiling requires critical thinking skills and the ability to deduce information from a variety of facts. It is very detail-oriented work. At the same time, a profiler must be able to "see the forest for the trees," maintaining a focus on the big picture. Strong analytical skills are also necessary. 

Criminal Profilers Salary

There are only a relative handful of investigators who work full time as criminal profilers. Most of those work at the FBI's National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime as supervisory special agents. As special agent supervisors, many profilers can expect to earn up to $140,000 annually.

Criminal profiling is a fascinating and highly competitive field in which only the most qualified will be chosen. To compete, you'll need to gain extensive investigative experience and training.

Is a Career As a Criminal Profiler Right for You?

Criminal profiling is a highly analytical field, requiring tremendous attention to detail. It can also be an extremely intellectually stimulating career. Working as a criminal profiler is the perfect criminology career choice for those people interested in studying and analyzing deviant human behavior. People who enjoy puzzles and problem solving will be especially interested in a criminal profiler career.