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How does one become a “Profiler?”

Studies Regarding the Reliability and Validity of “Profiling”

From the Desk of Gregg O. McCrary, FBI Special Agent (Ret.)

One of the most common questions I receive is, “How does one become a “‘Profiler?’” The second most common question I am asked revolves around academic questions for term papers or dissertations. These academic questions typically inquire about what studies have been done regarding the reliability and validity of profiling. I will attempt to answer both of those questions.

How does one become a “Profiler?”

While there is no singular path to becoming a profiler, there are some accomplishments and experiences that in my opinion are a prerequisite to becoming a credible profiler. The FBI selects its profilers from its ranks of experienced FBI Agents. These agents then receive advanced training in numerous disciplines including the forensic sciences, forensic pathology, sex crime investigations and interview and interrogation techniques. Knowledge of these and other related disciplines are necessary to form the proper foundation for becoming a competent profiler. (Those interested in becoming an FBI Agent or seeking employment with the FBI can click on the link to the FBI web page for more detailed information.) While this path is undeniably valid, it is also undeniably difficult for there are many more FBI Agents interested in becoming a profiler then there are positions available. Of the approximately 13,000 FBI Agents less than 40 are full-time profilers. While I do not intend to discourage anyone from pursuing their dream of becoming an FBI profiler, one should be aware that the odds are slim—and more importantly—there are other ways to become a credible profiler.

The FBI has trained numerous police officers in this discipline. Many large police departments currently have their own behavioral science units run by these FBI-trained officers. These police profilers are now training other police officers to become profilers as the demand for the service grows. Do not overlook the opportunity to become involved in profiling through a local or state police agency that has such a program. In fact, this may offer a more realistic opportunity for direct involvement. Because profiling is investigatively oriented, there is no substitute for gaining experience as a criminal investigator. One’s academic background is less important because the specific disciplines necessary to become a profiler can be taught. Most FBI profilers have advanced degrees in one or more of the social sciences, but there is no singular academic background that would either guarantee or preclude one from becoming a profiler.

Studies Regarding the Reliability and Validity of “Profiling”

Those students writing papers on profiling and are interested in a literature review concerning the reliability and validity of profiling are well advised to obtain a copy of “Geographic Profiling” by Dr. Kim Rossmo (Published by CRC press). Dr. Rossmo, a Detective Inspector with the Vancouver, B.C. Police, has written two informative chapters in his book that meticulously set forth virtually all of the current research in this area.

A Word of Caution:

There are a number of pretenders who claim to be “profilers.” Some come from academia and some from the law enforcement community. Others have backgrounds in psychology or “forensics.” The common traits found among these individuals is little or no formal training in profiling and some have no investigative experience at all. The lack of training and experience has not stopped some these individuals from authoring books about profiling. Some offer workshops or courses on the Internet and proclaim that they can teach you to become a profiler—for a fee, of course. One such individual claims he can teach anyone to become a profiler in about three days. For comparative purposes, the FBI fellowship program required approximately one year of full-time work for seasoned police officers to complete. Before investing your money in workshops or online courses, make that sure those who are offering these courses are worthy of your time and money.