In my first crime fiction novel Compulsion, Emily Stone’s love interest Detective Rick Lopez uses a form of profiling called a “Threshold Assessment”. He carefully weighs the evidence from the serial homicide crime scenes, criminal behavior patterns, and victimology to begin to put together a preliminary profile of the serial killer.
I’m an associate member in the Criminology Section of the Academy of Behavioral Profiling. I’m intrigued by behavioral evidence analysis and it was the driving force behind completing my criminology degree in 2008.
People frequently ask me, “What’s profiling and how does it work?”
Some people think of profiling as some type of psychic or other intuitive paranormal ability and not something that should be used as a practical resource in all types of criminal investigations. There are two types of effective profiles that can be used in an investigation: threshold assessment and criminal profile.
Every investigator or detective should know how to incorporate profiling into his or her investigations as an investigative tool. It should never be done in place of solid investigative work; however, it should be one of the pieces available in the criminal investigation arsenal. No two crime scenes occur in the same way or are ever exactly alike. This is where it’s important for the investigator to use his or her analytical and deductive reasoning skills in an objective manner.
According to criminal profiler and forensic scientist, Brent Turvey, a “Threshold Assessment” refers to a document that reviews the initial evidence of crime behavior, victimology, and crime scene characteristics of a particular case or a series of cases. This procedure is the evaluation of what is understood to be fact about a particular case or cases and does not render the conclusions or opinions of a full criminal profile report.
A “Threshold Assessment” should include the following:
1. Overview of established facts of the case.
2. Overview of established facts relevant to the victimology (thorough study of the victim).
3. Overview of established facts relevant to the crime scene.
4. Initial hypothesis of motivational behaviors.
5. Initial hypothesis of offender characteristics.
6. Suggestions of further facts needed to be determined or analyzed.
7. Suggestions of further facts needed through victimology.
8. Suggestions and potential strategies for suspect development.
All of this information is helpful in creating a complete criminal profile. A criminal profile refers to a “court-worthy” document that incorporates all of the physical and behavioral evidence relating to the known victimology and crime scene characteristics of the offender responsible for the crime or series of crimes. This document concludes with the opinions and conclusion of the profiler of the most logical suspect for the case or series of cases. Criminal profiling shouldn’t be limited to just homicide investigations; it can used for burglary, rape, and arson investigations as well.
Great post Jennifer. I think it’s great that you’re taking the time to explain these things that are so often bandied about in crime fiction and cases in the media without any real explanation as to what they really are and what their impact can be on a criminal investigation. I wonder though, if you don’t mind my asking, how would you apply the Threshold Assessment to the case of the Long Island Serial Killer?
Thank you! Yes, the Long Island serial killer is huge undertaking and criminal investigation. I hope they find the suspect(s) soon. As with any case, the public only hears just pieces of the pertinent facts: such as remains were found, name of victim, ongoing search for serial killer, etc. We aren’t privy to inside info (which is important to the confidentiality of the case to finding the killer) of forensic evidence (hair, fiber, dna, etc.), victimology (extremely important and difficult in this case), details of the remains found, hypothesis of the motivational behavior evidence, and hypothesis of the type of offender based on facts (evidence) found. All of these types of evidence contribute to the threshold assessment, which will begin to form the actual criminal profile.