Criminal psychology and it s roles

Roles of Criminal Psychologist 1
What is criminal psychology?
The term ‘criminal psychology’ has been defined in a number of different ways. Even
today there is no accepted definition. For example, ten years ago two leading criminal
psychologists in the UK defined it as ‘that branch of applied psychology which is concerned with
the collection, examination and presentation of evidence for judicial purposes’ (Gudjonsson &
Haward 1998).
In 1981 Professor Lionel Haward, one of the UK’s founding fathers of criminal psychology,
described the four roles that psychologists may perform when they become professionally
involved in criminal proceedings. These are:
1. Clinical: in this situation the psychologist will usually be involved in the assessment of
an individual in order to provide a clinical judgement. The psychologist could use
interviews, assessment tools or psychometric tests (i.e., special questionnaires) to aid in
his or her assessment. These assessments can inform the police, the courts, or the prison
and probation services about the psychological functioning of an individual and can
therefore influence how the different sections of the criminal justice system process the
individual in question. For example, a psychologist may be asked to assess individuals in
order to determine whether they are fit to stand trial or whether they have a mental illness
which means that they would not understand the proceedings.
2. Experimental: this can involve the psychologist performing research in order to inform a
case. This can involve carrying out experimental tests in order to illustrate a point or
provide further information to the courts (for example, how likely it is that someone can
correctly identify an object in the hand of an individual from a distance of 100 meters at
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twilight). Alternatively, it can involve psychologists providing the court with a summary
of current research findings which may be relevant to the case in question.
3. Actuarial: in this instance the word ‘actuarial’ relates to the use of statistics in order to
inform a case. One example of how a psychologist may act in an actuarial role is if they
are required to present actuarial information relating to the probability of an event
occurring to the court. For example, a court may wish to know how likely an offender is
to reoffend before the sentence is decided. In such a case. psychologist could be called
upon in order to inform the pre-sentence report to the court
4. Advisory: in this role the psychologist may provide advice to the police about how to
proceed with an investigation. For example, an offender’s profile could inform the
investigation, or advice could be provided about how best to interview a particular
suspect. Alternatively, a prosecution or defense lawyer may ask for advice on how best to
cross-examine a vulnerable witness or another expert witness. This role involves the use
of the psychologist’s expertise in order to advise the police, courts or prison and probation
As you can see, psychologists can be used in a variety of different scenarios within the
criminal justice system and for a number of different reasons. This list of roles, however, does
not claim to be exhaustive — there are many more ways in which psychologists play their part.
We have therefore chosen the most well-known roles in order to give an indication of what
working in criminal psychology can involve.
Crime analysis
Crime analysis (sometimes also called intelligence analysis) is one field of work which
draws upon criminal psychological methods. Crime analysts are generally employed by the
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Roles of Criminal Psychologist 3
police (or policing agencies, for example in the UK the National Crime and Operations Faculty
and the National Crime Squad) in order to analyses crime data to aid the police to carry out their
One of the most common roles of crime Analyst is that of case linkage. This process
involves the linkage of crimes based on the similarities in the behaviors of the offender as
reported by the victim or as inferred from the crime scene. For example, let us examine a rape
case committed by a stranger on a woman walking home alone after a night out with her friends.
Crime analysts could use the details of this case — the fact that she had just left a nightclub, that
the rapist took some of her clothing away from the scene with him, and the content of the threats
used towards the woman — in order to check against an already established database of similar
crimes to see whether there are any similarities to past crimes. If matches are found — the same
threats were used, similar items of clothing taken by a rapist, and it was in a close geographical
location to another rape — then this information can be used by the police to investigate the
potential that the same individual offender has committed both crimes. This allows the focusing
of the resources of the investigation in order to avoid duplication of work.
Case study
Sarah is a criminal psychologist who is employed by a national police agency within the
UK. Sarah has received information from a local police force on a serious undetected stranger
rape. She will read through the statements and reports relating to the case and pick out
information relating to the behavior of the perpetrator. This will then be compared to the
behavioral indicators recorded from similar crimes, to look for any indications that the same
person committed more than one crime.
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Sarah will then prepare a report for the police, summarizing as to whether the behavioral
evidence indicates that the undetected crime was likely to have been committed by the same
individual as any of the crimes held on the national database. This information can be used by
the police force to focus their investigation, or if the crime on the database is solved, the police
can use Sarah’s report to aid them when building a case to arrest this individual for the
undetected rape.
Offender profiling or criminal Investigative analysis
Offender profiling has received a great deal of attention from the media in recent years.
Media reporting of the utilization of criminal psychologists in high profile cases has introduced
the general public to the notion of offender profiling. While this has raised the profile of the
field, it could be argued that the (largely) sensationalist portrayal of profiling has resulted in a
general confusion of what profiling actually is, how often it is done and who does it. This
uncertainty amongst the general public is not altogether surprising however, as there is an
absence of an agreed definition of the term ‘profiling’, even in academic circles.
What we can be clear about is that profiling uses information gleaned from the crime
scene relating to the offender’s behavior during the crime. This can be pooled with other
information, such as victim statements (if available), in order to draw conclusions about the
nature of the person who committed the crime. Was the crime planned precisely or was it
impulsive? Does the offender live locally to the crime scene? What age range is the offender
likely to fall into? What gender is the offender? This information can then be used to aid the
police in investigations and in targeting resources.
But how exactly is a profiler able to look at the scene and use this to specify the
characteristics of the offender? The answer to this question is not entirely clear, mainly because
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different people involved in offender profiling can, and do, use a variety of techniques in order to
reach their conclusions. Even those individuals who claim to be working from the same
theoretical standpoint can still vary in how the theory is applied to any given case.
Interviewing, detecting deception and eyewitness research
One of the most important tasks during an investigation is collecting reliable evidence in
order to put together a case of what happened during the event in question. One of the main
sources of this evidence is the people who were eyewitnesses to the event. In order to gain this
information, an interview needs to be conducted by the investigating police officers with the aim
of gaining as much accurate information from the witness as possible. In addition, once a suspect
has been identified, he or she too is interviewed in order to gain his or her view of events and
possibly to extract a confession to the crime. Hence the interview (whether with a witness or
suspect) and the manner in which it is conducted can be crucial to a case.
It is not surprising, therefore, when you think of the processes (those relating to memory
and the retrieval of memory) that are involved in the interview situation, that psychologists have
been interested in this area for years. Given research findings such as those that state that the
recall of events by witnesses can be manipulated by the interviewer (either intentionally or
unintentionally — for example, by the type of questions asked), it is clear that those carrying out
the interviews need to receive training in how to conduct the interviews appropriately.
Psychologists have been instrumental in developing guidance and advice on how best to
interview witnesses and suspects and have also provided training to various police forces on
these techniques.
The police can also use psychologists in order to gain advise us how to interview particular
types of witnesses or suspects. For example, psychologists have conducted research into inter-
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views with vulnerable witnesses such as the young, the elderly and learning-disabled witnesses.
This research can be used to inform the police on how best to retrieve the information that they
require from such witnesses without causing them too much stress while at the same time
ensuring that the information received is as accurate as possible. Research performed by criminal
psychologists investigating detection of deception also has useful applications for the police
when interviewing witnesses and in particular suspects.
Robert is an academic who works within the field of criminal psychology. He specializes in the
interviewing of vulnerable witnesses, such as the elderly and the young, and has been carrying
out active research within this area for a number of years. The police have asked him to provide
them with some advice in relation to a case they are working on. An adult male has been found
murdered and the only known witness is a little boy. The police wish to gain as much accurate
information from the child as possible in order to help their case but are unsure as to how much
they can rely on his statement due to his age and the trauma he has been through. The police also
need advice on how best to approach the little boy so as not to traumatize him any further. They
therefore need the help of an expert in this area and contact Robert, who is able to use the
findings from his research to advise the police.
Criminal psychologists and assessment and treatment of offenders
Page 12-16
The rehabilitation of offenders
167The management n treatment of sex offenders
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Roles of Criminal Psychologist 7
Bull, R., Cooke, C., et al, (2010). Criminal psychology: A beginner’s guide. One word
publications, England.
MAM ZUNAIRA | Criminal Psychology

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