Q&A – How Often Is Police Profiling Used & How Accurate Is It?

Today’s entry: You said something about police profiling that caught my attention. You said that white guys are usually serial killers and all profiling isn’t about minorities. You never hear about this in the news when profiling discussions happen. How many different profiles are there and how accurate are they? 

Bottom Line: Starting with serial killer profiling for anyone who hasn’t heard me mention this. Yes, the profile of an American serial killer is a middle-aged white guy. This is because most serial killers have been and still are middle-aged white guys. I’ve used that example because commonly police profiles are positioned by opponents as a form of institutionalized racism. That’s become a central part of the police reform conversation in the wake of the killing of George Floyd. I’ll point out that we still don’t know if racism had anything to do with George Floyd’s killing and based on the crime he was being arrested for, paying with fake currency, this wasn’t an instance of racial profiling being used. That’s not stopping the practice of profiling from coming in the crosshairs of proposed reforms. 

As to your question about the number of profiles, there are about as many as there are crimes. It’s straight-forward, if there’s a crime committed and there’s a trend involving who commits them, a profile is created. Whether it’s used is a whole other story. As to their accuracy, a London based study of police profiling in the 90s called Coals to Newcastle, found profiles proved to be accurate two-thirds of the time. More recently and closer to home, a 2014 study led by the University of South Florida led to this summation statement, "These findings on the utility of offender profiling, the first to be derived from an experiment conducted in active police investigations, suggest that the statistically based behavioral profiles could be a useful tool in increasing arrest rates for police".

So, if the use of profiling by law enforcement agencies which don’t, can improve arrest rates, by how much? In the study, police profiling helped solve 260% more crimes. In other words, police departments that use established profiles are 2.5 times more effective than police departments that don’t. Clearly profiling is extremely successful. One of the biggest misunderstandings is how profiles are created. Because it’s based on behavior and statistical analysis of who most commonly commits specific crimes, most profiles are created by specialists. 

Here’s a breakdown of who created current police profiles: 

  • 43% Psychologists
  • 17% Criminologists
  • 7% FBI
  • 33% aggregated data from local law enforcement agencies

In other words, only 7% of profiles are potentially subjective, and they’re created by FBI agents. Police profiling is one of the most misunderstood and unnecessarily politicized tools law enforcement uses. Would you prefer 260% more crime? If the answer is no, you should support the use of police profiling. The proposal advanced in the House of Representatives by Speaker Pelosi would eliminate some methods of profiling. Based on facts this would make our communities and country less safe. 

Submit your questions using one of these methods. 

Email: brianmudd@iheartmedia.com

Twitter: @brianmuddradio

Facebook: Brian Mudd https://www.facebook.com/brian.mudd1

Photo by: Getty Images North America

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