Career Profile: Becoming a Criminal Profiler

In its most basic sense, criminal profiling involves reconstructing a crime scene in order to identify a suspect.

Types of information most valuable to criminal profilers include crime location, nature of the offense, timing of the crime, choice of victim, modus operandi (the particular method used by a specific criminal which facilitates identification and apprehension of said individual), the condition of the crime scene, prior similar documented crimes, and any communications from the suspect.

Criminal Profiler Job Description

The majority of criminal profilers today are special agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) who work in Quantico, Virginia, at the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime (NCAVC) or are employed by other large agencies. Some criminal profilers go into private consulting practice and others serve as college professors or police academy instructors.

The role of most criminal profilers begins at the crime scene. The main goal of this position is to provide law enforcement with a psychological or physical description of a suspect, as well as possible motives or methods associated with the crime. The data provided from profilers can be used to determine if suspects are fitting for a particular crime.

Profilers work hard using visualization and knowledge of criminal process to determine how a particular crime occurred from beginning to end. The information gained from analyzing the crime scene allows profilers to build a description of the suspect that could potentially include height and whether or not the suspect was right or left-handed.

Criminal profilers are also often employed to re-open old or unsolved cases – with some even being closed for many years with no potential leads. During these cases, profilers may review old evidence or case files to determine factors that could be used to describe a possible suspect. This may involve analyzing crime scene photos, crime scene reconstruction, or psychological profiling. At the end of a case review, profilers may provide their findings to law enforcement in an effort to narrow down a pool of suspects and find the right perpetrator.

Criminal Profiler Education Requirements

What does it take to be a criminal profiler? Education in the field of criminal justice and psychology is recommended with most criminal profilers holding an advanced degree. Whereas a master has degree is the minimum acceptable academic level, a doctorate is often preferred.

Common majors include criminal justice, psychology, criminal behavior, crime scene investigation, and crime analysis. Additional training by law enforcement and forensic agencies such as provided by the FBI has Behavioral Science Unit is also recommended.

Successful criminal profilers also have years of prior law enforcement or related experience; typically as a police officer and/or detective, crime scene analyst, or criminal investigator.

Criminal Profiler Careers

Criminal Profiler Salary

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), generally, criminal profilers’ salaries range between $65,000 and $100,000 annually. As of 2011, the average forensic psychologist profiler earned approximately $73,000 per year; with the mean earning potential nearly $68,000 annually.

At the federal level, profilers who work at the NCAVC qualify for GS-10 pay grade which translates to a base salary range between $45,771 and $59,505 annually; with the potential for promotion to a GS-15 base salary rating range between $99,628 and $129,517 per year. Cost of living and Law Enforcement Availability Pay can increase this base salary by as much as 12.5 to 53.7 percent. Supervisory criminal profilers with the FBI can earn as much as $140,000 per year and forensic psychologists can earn as much as $400,000 per year as a consultant in private practice. 

Criminal Profiler Job Outlook

The BLS has reported a likely upswing in criminal profiler employment opportunities which are expected to increase by nearly 25 percent by 2020; a rate considerably higher than the growth rate for all other US occupations which is 14 percent. There is consensus that forensic science as an employment field is particularly thriving for those individuals with the desired educational and experiential requirements. Despite such impressive projected growth, opportunities are largely limited to those who have cultivated the requisite skills and possess the necessary education.

Daily Activities for a Criminal Profiler

  • Analyzing crime scenes and associated evidence
  • Reviewing and analyzing reports from investigators, other criminal profilers, and forensic analysts; evidence; crime scene photos; witness reports; and communication with the suspect(s)
  • Effective report writing
  • Testifying in court
  • Working closely with other law enforcement personnel such as police officers, detectives, forensic experts, and crime scene analysts; as well as prosecutors, victims, and witnesses
  • Keeping abreast of emerging information through continuing training, conferences, and interactions with other forensic specialists
  • Providing forensic support such as interpretation of certain evidence and offering advice to investigators

Special Skills a Criminal Profiler Should Have

  • High attention to detail
  • Capacity to utilize seemingly minute details to construct a larger picture
  • Critical thinking skills
  • Inductive and deductive reasoning skills. Inductive thinking is a bottom-up approach that makes broad generalizations from specific data and observations in order to create a theory and is typically more exploratory than deductive reasoning which is a top-down approach that formulates broad hypotheses to predict narrow outcomes.
  • A team player
  • Interpersonal skills including effective written and verbal communication
  • Ability to and knowledge in studying human characteristics, behaviors, and motivations
  • Extrapolation of available evidence and data to formulate an accurate working profile of a potential suspect
  • Skill in researching emerging data and literature regarding psychology, criminal behavior, and other related topics
  • Ability to train other law enforcement personnel regarding criminal behavior, crime scene analysis, investigation, and other crucial and relevant areas of knowledge

Additional Knowledge

  • Crime scene investigation techniques
  • Criminological theories of deviance such as social learning theory, differential association theory, labeling theory, conflict theory, social strain theory, and anomie, for example
  • Psychopathological causes of deviance: biology, genetics, ¬†personality disorders, sociopathy, and other psychological disorders

The role of a criminal profiler is a dynamic one that requires a detail oriented mind that can piece together visual aspects of a crime scene in their head. Hopefully our breakdown has helped provide you with a deeper level of insight into some of the anticipated career aspects of a criminal profiler.

Still Looking for a Criminal Justice Program?

Below are some of the top criminal justice degree writeups. You can review the program page, or schools by state to find detailed information about the degree or career.