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What is Geographic Profiling?

By Christina Edwards
Updated May 16, 2024
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Geographic profiling is one method that can aid police or other law enforcement officials apprehend a suspect. This criminal investigative method is often used to capture serial violent offenders, but it can sometimes be used to find criminals who commit crimes against property as well. Many times, if law enforcement officials believe that there is a serial murderer or rapist terrorizing a specific jurisdiction, geographic profiling can be used. Investigations of a series arsons or burglaries believed to be related also benefit from this procedure.

A psychological profile of the offender and the layout of the area in which the crime was committed are used as the basis for geographic profiling. In some instances, a serial killer may dispose of a victim's body somewhere other than where he killed her. This place, commonly referred to as a body dump, is often known as a secondary crime scene. Witness reports and details at the crime scene or secondary crime scene are also important to geographic profiling.

If the victim's body was dumped at a different location than where she was killed, criminal profilers can reasonably assume that the killer had access to a personal vehicle, not just public transportation. When putting together a geographic profile, this tiny little detail can make a big difference. Most killers usually have some knowledge of both the areas where they commit the crime and the areas where they dump their victims' bodies. Studying the location of the dump sites, along with the layout or street map of a certain area can help law enforcement officials pin down an area that is probably significant to the perpetrator, which is usually his home or place of employment.

In a geographic profile, many profilers take into account the quality and quantity of roads in the area of the crime scene or scenes. Some roads may be preferred by killers because of certain desirable attributes. The road may have fewer stop signs or stop lights, or it could simply have better scenery. Many scientists and police believe a perpetrators is usually familiar with an area before he commits a crime.

A complicated formula, known as Rossmo's formula, can help investigators put together a geographic profiling model. This complicated formula was created by a Canadian law enforcement official, Kim Rossmo, while he was working for the Vancouver police department. By considering the areas and distances between each crime scene, investigators can usually get a good idea of where the suspect lives, works, or visits frequently.

Scientists have also found that Rossmo's formula not only works on humans, but on certain predatory animals. This formula was applied to certain shark attacks. The results showed that the great white sharks that were killing seals actually waited in one specific area, stalking their prey, before attacking. Although serial killers have been compared to great white sharks because of this study, there is a major difference between these two types of killers. Sharks kill for food and survival, while serial killers typically kill for the sheer pleasure of it.

MyLawQuestions is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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