Inductive Profiling


As noted above, inductive profiling is the practice where law enforcement officers use past criminal records to predict future crimes and likely offender characteristics to detect future trends in criminal activity. It involves a profiler extracting key information from previous criminal records and establishing commonalities between that information. Essentially, the inductive profiling process becomes an inferential process whereby the profiler makes a sequence of rational judgments about the information gleaned from previous criminal records which leads to an overall conclusion of likely offender characteristics.

The statistical information used for predicting probability is drawn from at least two sources: firstly, previous criminality and/or secondly police officer investigative experience.93 If the profiler can identify patterns in the characteristics of offenders from previous criminal records or previous officer investigative experience, then correlations of future criminal behaviour may become possible. Inductive profiling can be used for specific crimes such as drug trafficking or in specific geographical areas which are known for high crime rates as a basis for identifying potential offenders. It holds the potential for being an important tool in allowing police officers to target their policing policies in practice.

A core foundation in inductive profiling is the assumption that the higher the probability of matching an individual to a profile constructed from past criminality, the greater the likelihood that person will be engaged in crime.94

Therefore, the distinction between deductive and inductive profiling is that deductive profiling is reactive to a particular crime and seeks to assist police officers to solve crimes that are already committed. In contrast, inductive profiling is intended to interfere with or foil crimes which have not yet been committed. The core basis of inductive profiling is the ability to predict likely crime with the likely offender characteristics. It is aimed at assisting police officers in predicting criminality based upon previous occurrences and patterns of crime.

There is a considerable imbalance in the coverage in the literature between inductive and deductive profiling. There is substantial coverage of deductive profiling whilst inductive profiling is covered somewhat less. It may be argued that there is a substantial coverage of deductive profiling as it has evolved essentially from police officer investigative experience, whereas inductive profiling has tended to evolve as an attempt to correct methodological weaknesses within deductive profiling and as a way to predict patterns of future criminality.

The discussion of inductive profiling is divided into five parts. The discussion in the first part provides a general background to inductive profiling by examining the wider issue of the increasing use of probability and prediction within criminal justice more generally. It is important to consider this aspect because it highlights the fact that inductive profiling forms part of a much wider general theme which demonstrates a trend towards actuarial science and methods of prediction within criminal justice. The discussion in the second part concentrates on analysing the actual methods used within inductive profiling so as to consider how profiles are actually constructed using inductive methods. The discussion in the third part provides a critique and an evaluation of the inductive profiling methods. The discussion in the fourth section concentrates on the relevance and applicability of using inductive profiling methods to identify likely terrorist characteristics.

Actuarial Prediction and Criminal Justice

Kaufmann argues that during the 1980s and 1990s there has been an increasing trend in the criminal justice system towards using risk-assessment instruments, algorithms and profiling.95 Harcourt explains that selective incapacitation policies, parole prediction, predictions of future dangerousness and ‘three strike’ laws are examples of these increasing actuarial procedures.96

The use of prediction and probability for crime can be traced to the first half of the 1920s when parole boards made predictions about offender recidivism rates. This early approach involving the prediction of offending modelled its approach on the same scientific approach used by insurance companies to estimate the probable cost of insuring new applicants.97 Over time the acknowledgement of correlations between criminality and an offender’s personal circumstances, physical traits, genetic makeup and the environment of the offender changed the decisive elements of predictability. Parole boards used group traits, individual traits and their record in prison to predict the likelihood of an individual reoffending if released early on parole.98

The increasing emphasis over the past century towards the individualisation of punishment of offenders has fuelled an actuarial rise in law enforcement policy that desires to identify correlations between crime patterns and offender characteristics.99 This method of crime prediction involves the mechanical combination of information so as to classify crime with the ultimate objective of discerning the probability or a likelihood of a criminal act.100 In the context of decision-making in law enforcement, the core aspect of prediction involves probabilistic reasoning by analysing any identified correlations between crime, criminal patterns and offenders.101

The general goals of actuarial methods in criminal justice, and more specifically policing, are deterrence and efficiency. Both of these goals combine to form a utilitarian model for police action - the deterrent effect on the offender increases proportionally with the ‘cost factor’ of catching offenders. Therefore, if actuarial policing methods can increase the likelihood of identifying and catching offenders there is a correlation between deterring future offences and identifying potential offenders which may result in a general cost reduction for policing. The inductive profiling approach rests on a simple premise; if different people with

Criminal profiling and its applicability 61 similar characteristics commit similar crimes, other unknown offenders will share these common personality and general traits.102

Furthermore, if actuarial methods of policing can be used within the context of terrorism then this may have significant advantages in managing the threat of terrorism and its preparatory activities. As terrorists have used everyday objects, such as planes and trains, to successfully execute mass terrorism killings, it has become increasingly difficult for police officers to identify potential terrorists. The ability of current terrorists to operate under the guise of normality and turn everyday items into weapons capable of mass destruction requires a unique counterterrorism strategy to manage the risk and threat of terrorism as it evolves over time. The advantage of using actuarial methods and approaches to predict the likely characteristics of terrorists so as to allow police pre-emption would not only bring financial benefits but also, and more importantly, it would prevent the needless loss of life caused by acts of terrorism by allowing the police to preempt planned attacks.

This section will now turn to investigate the inductive profiling methods to identify how inductive profiling actually works in practice.

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