Behavioral Investigative Advice Research Paper

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Behavioral Investigative Advice represents the UK approach to the provision of advice and support to major crime investigations from a behavioral science perspective. Although the foundations of Behavioral Investigative Advice are built upon such precursor influences as criminal investigative analysis, offender profiling, and investigative psychology, the emergence of Behavioral Investigative Advice should be recognized more as a qualitatively distinct profession, than a variation of technique.

All such behavioral support to UK policing is delivered exclusively by a nationally funded cadre of professional Behavioural Investigative Advisers (BIAs) who have significantly widened the scope from the traditional, specific view of “offender profiling” to a discipline which now encompasses a broad range of scientifically based yet pragmatic activities related to supporting police investigations, based on replicable, transparent, and valid knowledge and research.

While elements of this approach and philosophy have begun to evolve within other (predominantly European) countries, it is emphasized that the formal recognition of Behavioural Investigative Advisers is a UK-specific initiative and should not be misinterpreted as any form of internationally recognized standard.

Brief Historical Overview

The term “offender profiling” was first regularly used by members of the FBI Behavioural Science Unit who defined it as the process of drawing inferences about a suspect’s characteristics from details of his or her actions exhibited during the commission of a crime.

Critical review of these initial efforts however drew attention to the lack of systematic basis and empirical evidence supporting the claims made. David Canter, a UK psychologist, was highly influential in advocating a more robust scientific psychological approach to offender profiling, and in recognizing the broader utility of providing investigative support to serious crime enquiries from a behavioral science perspective.

In 1992, the Metropolitan Police service commissioned research into the investigative usefulness of such offender profiling, following concerns that despite over 200 British Police inquiries utilizing such services in the preceding decade, no reliable or valid scientific assessment has been conducted to evaluate its usefulness.

While the explicit focus of this research was directed toward the methodologies employed and the resulting usefulness of profiling, it also provided important signposts toward the challenges facing this emerging discipline within the UK, most significantly in the observation that no governing body for the regulation of professional or ethical standards existed, and that there was no formally recognized program for the training of UK practitioners in profiling techniques.

However, it was not until 2001 that a significant watershed in such endeavors occurred, most conspicuously evidenced by the replacement of the term “offender profiler” with “Behavioural Investigative Adviser” (BIA). A set of common standards and working conditions were introduced, making explicit the responsibilities of BIAs, including: administrative protocols, commitment to producing written reports, agreement to have work annually audited and evaluated, and acceptance that the results of such audits would determine the retention or removal of their authority to provide Behavioral Investigative Advice within the UK.

The introduction of these new working conditions had a twofold effect. In making explicit the need to document all advice provided, not only were quality assurance issues addressed, but the true extent of behavioral science provision to UK investigations could be known for the first time, allowing for detailed qualitative and quantitative analyses of all aspects and supply and demand. The availability of such management information led to a formal strategic review of UK Behavioral Investigative Advice in 2010, which provided a clear overview of the current status of the discipline, clarified current and potential future demand, made explicit the current and anticipated threats to the effective delivery of the service and considered regulatory and governance issues, including minimum performance standards. It concluded with a proposed model of management and delivery of Behavioral Investigative Advice which significantly changed the landscape of such activity within the UK.

Today, all behavioral science contributions to major crime investigations are delivered exclusively by a nationally funded cadre of full-time professional Behavioural Investigative Advisers (BIAs).

International Perspectives

While one of the key successes of the UK approach to Behavioral Investigative Advice is the effective integration of the BIA into the investigative arena, the UK model differs significantly from many of its international contemporaries in the philosophy of individual specialism within a multidisciplinary approach. Whereas in many countries, the “profiler” assumes the role of investigator, whose behavioral science knowledge and expertise represents but one facet to an overall “investigative consultancy” role, in the UK, such expertise is far more discrete. The BIA is concerned only with contributions based on behavioral/psychological principles, and integrates such expertise with other specific experts, including those focused exclusively on investigative doctrine. An additional benefit of such approach is that unburdened by the same training and experiences of police investigators, the BIA has the benefit of a more objective and “different” view of the case. While approaches in which seasoned investigators are “trained” in behavioral science have their own merit, the UK’s approach favors the behavioral scientist gaining a sufficient and relevant understanding of the investigative process, but delegating the more “traditional” investigative advice to an “expert” investigator.

Investigative Contribution

Behavioral Investigative Advice has the potential to contribute to many aspects of the investigative process and may take many forms throughout the life of the enquiry. While all of the products and services available offer tactical or strategic solutions in their own right, all are underpinned by a broader philosophy of adding value to the decision-making of the Senior Investigating Officer (SIO), through an enhanced understanding of the offense and offender from a perspective different from that routinely employed within major crime investigation teams. Such differences in perspective can be broadly characterized as evidence (SIO) versus understanding (BIA), although both are directed at supporting the single goal of case resolution. It is this additional perspective and associated expertise which should be recognized as the critical success factor of Behavioral Investigative Advice.

While the prediction of those facets of an unknowns criminal’s background which are amenable to investigative action serves as a great asset in major crime enquiries, this does not represent the only contribution of contemporary BIAs. Analysis of the type and scope of reports produced by the national cadre of UK BIAs reveals a steady decline in producing “offender profiles,” from over 60 % of all operational activity at the launch of the unit over a decade ago to a little over 10 % in 2009. Such figures do not however imply that such inference generation regarding offenders is no longer undertaken on a routine basis, but rather that such inferences often form the basis of a more bespoke service to SIOs, tailored to their specific investigative needs.

However, the implicit assumption that all the additional services provided by BIAs are dependent upon such prescriptive predictions concerning the unknown offender is also inaccurate. Many of the products and services, as outlined below, are wholly independent of any such speculative inferences regarding the type of unknown person who has committed the offense in question.

Crime Scene Assessment And Hypothesis Generation

Critical to the provision of many BIA products and services is a fundamental understanding of the offense, and hence the offender(s), from a behavioral perspective. This is achieved through crime scene assessment (CSA) and hypothesis generation. This involves a thorough examination of the criminal event and generating hypotheses based upon the available information. Support for or against each of the possible hypotheses is then forwarded with reference to psychological theory, relevant research findings, and experiential knowledge, with information gaps identified that will further enhance the process. The benefits of such an approach are that specific hypotheses regarding the offense can be tested in a systematic, reasoned, and objective fashion, based upon sound supporting rationale. Such a methodology is consistent with, and provides a tangible product of the investigative philosophy promoted within national policing guidance. Recent practice advice advocates the application of scientific principles and methods as core investigative doctrine to be adopted across the UK police service (ACPO 2005).

Offense Linkage Analysis

In the absence of any physical evidence linking a number of crimes, the contribution of a behavioral analysis may be significant. Research into behavior exhibited by offenders during the commission of their crimes has led to a greater understanding in consistency and variability of offenders when committing a series of offenses. Through national mandates to collect and analyze a range of sexually motivated offenses throughout the UK, BIAs have access to the largest collection of data of its kind in the UK and one of the largest in Europe via the ViCLAS (Violent Crime Linkage Analysis System) database (the collection criteria cover homicide, serious sexual assault and abduction offenses, including attempts). The creation of such large datasets allows for validation of initial hypotheses regarding linkage, as well as providing statistics with regard to the frequency of individual behaviors, and more significantly, combinations of behaviors.

Predictive Profiling

Drawing inferences in relation to a particular offender on the basis of a comprehensive crime scene assessment is a process commonly referred to as predictive (or offender) profiling. However, it is important to recognize that in contrast to its media portrayal, the focus of modern day predictive profiling is very much on investigative utility rather than psychological interest. Perhaps the most widely held misconception regarding the role of the contemporary BIA surrounds the insistence that speculative predictions concerning the unknown criminal’s personality are routinely made. They are not. Not only is such activity lacking scientific reliability and validity, in itself it serves very little, if any purpose in assisting police officers to identify the offender. Despite the tabloid appeal of psychological musings over traits such as narcissism, misogyny, introversion, and the like, the lack of any police database recording such facets of the criminal population makes them somewhat limited in terms of investigative utility.

A BIA will endeavor to make accurate assessments in relation to objective and verifiable elements of an offender’s background. Consideration will be given to the likely age of the offender, whether he is likely to have previous police convictions and if so what these may be, and where he may reside or be based. The goal of the BIA in this process is to allow the SIO and the enquiry team to focus on areas of investigation most likely to identify the offender. It is perhaps only in the form of investigative suggestions and interview strategy development where BIAs may on occasion consider more trait-based interpretations and their associated behavioral implications at the investigative level (see below).

Nominal Generation

An extension to predictive profiling, suspect generation may be undertaken by the investigation under the guidance of a BIA. By taking the predictions made in relation to an offender’s likely background characteristics, it is possible to utilize local crime and intelligence databases as well as the Police National Computer (PNC) in order to generate pools of potential suspects. Outside of the criminal arena, in some cases, it may also be possible to highlight additional potential suspect pools on the basis of advice offered by a BIA, such as those from housing lists, voters register, employment records, and so on. This will always be evaluated by the BIA on a case-by-case basis.

Prioritization Matrices

Again, an extension of the predictive profiling process, a prioritization matrix takes the individual predictions made in relation to the proposed background of the unknown offender and integrates them in the form of a matrix. Each facet of a potential suspect will be given a numerical value such that nominals within an enquiry can be objectively scored and ranked in terms of how well their background characteristics fit with those proposed for the unknown offender. This process is of particular utility if an investigation wishes to undertake an intelligence-led DNA screen or is seeking to prioritize many hundreds of potential suspects from a cold case enquiry or mass media appeal. Where possible, a suspect prioritization matrix will be developed so as to integrate the behavioral predictions (in relation to an offender’s background) with a geographic profile in relation to their most likely area of residence.

Investigative Suggestions

In line with the BIAs intention to make their report as investigatively focused as possible, it is normal practice now for BIAs to offer direct investigative suggestions on the basis of the information supplied to them. It should be recognized that while the BIA role is very much an “advisory” one, they do typically possess significant experience of major criminal investigations (the national cadre of BIAs have an accumulated experience of over 1,000 cases). This experience combined with their ability to draw logical inferences on the basis of an offender’s behavior means that they will offer investigative suggestions to the SIO as a routine part of their report. Suggestions are made strictly on a case-by-case basis and should always be accompanied by a clear supporting rationale.

Interview Advice

Contributions from a behavioral perspective can provide a significant enhancement to the development of interview strategies. Such contributions can be classified as either interviewee-specific advice or crime-scene-specific advice. With respect to the former, more traditionally recognized interviewee-specific advice, an identification of salient behavioral characteristics of the individual to be interviewed can inform strategies to maximize interaction and the quantity and quality of information disclosed and minimize confabulation and fabrication. The more contemporary contribution from a crime-scene-specific perspective provides additional guidance to interviewing officers in understanding the offense; will identify any gaps, inconsistencies, and ambiguities in the information; and provide a template against which investigative hypotheses can be systematically tested during interview. It is however essential that interview advice gained from a BIA is complemented with advice from an appropriate in-force or ACPO (Association of Chief Police Officers) Approved Interview Adviser to ensure compliance with relevant legislation and support of the overall investigative aims, objectives, and strategies.

Media Advice

In certain circumstances, it may be advisable to seek opinions from a BIA in relation to utilizing the media in major investigations. This advice is intended to maximize the use of the media when, for example, making appeals to the public or releasing information about an offense, but also to enable SIOs to better understand the potential effects of the media on the behavior of an offender.

Familial DNA Prioritization

The recently introduced technique of Familial DNA (fDNA) searching allows investigations to search for relatives of an unknown offender in cases where a full DNA profile is available at the crime scene that does not match anyone on the National DNA Database (NDNAD). It works on the general principle that people who are related are likely to have more DNA in common than those who are not, and thereby seeks to identify individuals on the NDNAD who have a greater genetic similarity to the unknown offender and hence a greater potential to be related. The BIAs can utilize a sophisticated process that allows the resulting lists from forensic science providers to be re-prioritized with respect to age and geographic association. By adjusting the genetic prioritization to take into account an individual’s age and geographic association, those individuals who are more likely to be relatives of the offender should become more readily identifiable from the more general backdrop of the lists, while still preserving the appropriate weight assigned to them through their genetic similarity.

Search Advice

BIAs may also be able to contribute to any search activity within an investigation. An enhanced understanding of the offense and/or likely offender can inform search parameters for forensic evidence, witnesses, CCTV, etc., and in combination with relevant research findings assist in prioritizing potential body deposition sites. Additionally, an enhanced knowledge of specific psychological or criminal dispositions may assist in broader search considerations, such as briefing search officers as to the potential significance (from an intelligence perspective) of items which may be observed within the course of more evidential searches.

Decision Support

As highlighted above, every contribution to the investigation of serious crime from a behavioral science perspective has the single underlying goal of supporting investigative decision-making. While the above provides a more prescriptive summary of the individual products and services that offer explicit tactical and strategic solutions in their own right, the more implicit role of the BIA on the decision-making process is perhaps a less obvious, but nevertheless critical contribution.

The field of decision-making is well established within the psychological literature and offers a multitude of well-established influences on decision-making. The focus of BIA contribution is directed toward those factors which are commonly encountered within major crime investigations, namely, heuristics and biases. It is cognizance of these factors within an investigative environment that underpins an implicit but often overlooked contribution from BIAs and further highlights the distinction between “traditional” paradigms of profilers assisting investigators with “offender profiles” and the contemporary UK approach of discrete, multifaceted, professional psychological expertise.

The ability for investigators to make rational decisions in serious crime enquiries is influenced by the same heuristics and biases that affect all of our day-to-day judgments. Base rate fallacies, representativeness heuristics, illusory correlations, clustering illusions, availability heuristics, anchoring and adjustment, belief persistence, confirmation bias, and selective information search, all have the potential to undermine even the most astute of investigators’ decision-making capabilities. While such influences are by no means any more (or indeed less) prevalent among Senior Investigating Officers than among the general population, the consequences of error within a murder enquiry are of arguably greater consequence than the majority of more mundane daily decisions.

It is a critical role of the contemporary BIA to mitigate against such errors of decision-making through the implicit integration of such considerations within all advice and support offered. While such cognizance of these bias and heuristics does not form a “product” or “service” in its own right, it may be argued to represent one of the biggest contributions from BIAs, providing the foundations on which the goal of supporting investigative decision-making can be soundly built.

This requires a sound theoretical understanding of common biases and heuristics, an ability to recognize their presence and potential negative impact within the specific environment of a major incident, the capability to diplomatically address such errors, and an awareness of and access to relevant data and information to optimize subsequent investigative decision-making.

Working Practice And Process

All Behavioral Investigative Advice within the UK is provided upon request, and although advocated on Senior Detective training programs and within national guidance manuals, does not represent a procedural requirement, but rather a carefully considered investigative decision.

Once a BIA has been engaged by the Investigating Officer, a meeting takes place where an exchange of information and views leads to the agreement of explicit terms of reference. These terms are established in writing and clearly articulate what is expected of both parties. This is particularly important with regard to ownership of any material and confidentiality, which is expected in instances where a BIA might have privileged access to sensitive information about crime scenes and/or victims. This should, for example, inhibit disclosure of certain information to the media without the SIO’s permission. Terms of reference should also provide similar assurances to the BIA that all relevant case materials will be made available, and any developments which may support, refute, or refine the advice proffered be communicated as soon as reasonably possible.

It is at this stage that the precise nature of any behavioral science support will be discussed and agreed. As has been made explicit above, the potential products and services from contemporary BIAs are far broader and more diverse than either the media or naive academics would proffer, and should not be regarded as the exclusive generation of inferred offender characteristics, either as a product in its own right or as the necessary foundation to other contributions.

In order for the BIA to undertake their behavioral analysis and provide timely advice, a variety of case materials will be required from the investigation. The provision of these assist the BIA to commence their analysis and return a detailed report to the investigation within a timeframe that maximizes the utility of the advice (i.e., as soon as practically possible, but with cognizance to the investigation’s overall strategy and resourcing and competing BIA demands from other cases). Although by no means exhaustive, and with cognizance that different enquiries will generate different information and different products and services require different source materials, the following represents a summative overview of the material required and utilized.

• Full verbal case briefing and access to the SIO/investigation team

• All relevant statements

• Crime report

• Any officers’ reports/status reports B

• Pathology and forensic reports/findings

• Full set of crime scene and postmortem photographs (where applicable)

• Available analysis (e.g., telephony, palynology, entomology, etc.)

• Relevant maps

• Visit to all relevant scenes

It is worth highlighting that the scene visit represents a critical component of the process as it allows the BIA to gain a fuller understanding of the decision-making process of the offender. Such information is not routinely available from crime reports, statements, or photographs, where often the evidential focus is too restrictive to provide the necessary “behavioral” perspective.

In addition, the scene visit is typically complemented by a visit to the incident room/ enquiry team, allowing the BIA to ask questions concerning the demographics and crime profile (i.e., the type, frequency, patterns, and interpretation of previous criminal activity) of the area, as well as to get a full briefing from the SIO or nominated member of the investigation team. It is therefore of great importance that in addition to making the necessary case documentation available to the BIA, officers who meet with the BIA and who accompany them to the scene(s) should have a good knowledge of the relevant areas and of the offense(s) for which the support has been requested.

Once this information has been collated, the BIA (except in rare circumstances involving critical incidences or “crimes in action”) departs the incident room and returns to their place of work to critically review the information and begin report preparation. Establishing direct lines of communication with relevant officers within the enquiry removes any necessity to remain physically located within the incident room, which may be viewed as counterproductive when one considers the resources required by the BIA, the priorities of the investigative team, and the advantages of distanced objectivity. The BIA is reliant upon both the statistical information contained within relevant datasets (which for security reasons are not accessible outside of secure national policing premises) and the extensive academic research libraries they have collated to inform and support inference generation and investigative strategy development. The capacity to reflect and synthesize these resources with the known case material is greatly enhanced by such remote working, eliminating both the distractions and potential biases inherent in major incident rooms.

Once the analysis is complete, a report will be forwarded to the enquiry with the explicit recommendation that the document should not be viewed as the completion of the BIA’s input, but rather provide the starting point for a dialogue between the investigator and the BIA. This is critical to ensure the SIO’s understanding of the inferences and recommendations made and to promote understanding that such conclusions should be continually evaluated against additional forthcoming information.

The importance of the BIA becoming part of an advisory team is emphasized by the BIA. This ensures all experts are aware of the findings, opinions, and advice of other members of the team, allowing for hypotheses to be supported, rejected, or refined, and to prompt searches for information in other directions. Discussions with specialists from other disciplines can also act as a useful safeguard against too narrow a focus in an investigation and can encourage officers to continue to look for alternative explanations for events.

Having decided to seek assistance, the SIO should remain critical and reflective of any information or opinion put forward by BIAs. He or she should be ready to explore and challenge assumptions made as well as pointing out any inferences that are inconsistent, contradictory, or logically incoherent. Only by thoroughly discussing the opinion in this way will the SIO be able to gage the validity of the BIA contribution to the investigation. The SIO should ensure that the BIA’s opinion is fully explained in order to know what weight to assign to the information provided. Asking the BIA to justify the way in which they have developed their methodology and derived any inferences should ensure their involvement in any investigation is transparent and explicit. SIOs are urged to look beyond the psychological interest factor toward the investigative utility of the advice and are regularly reminded by BIAs to ensure any advice proffered achieves the highest possible standards of quality and effectiveness.

It is of utmost importance that any behavioral advice provided to an investigation is utilized in the manner in which it was intended. In particular, it should be remembered that advice is typically offered on the basis of what is most likely or what should be prioritized. Behavioral Investigative Advice does not deal in absolutes and as such advice from a BIA should always be evaluated carefully by the SIO to ensure that its impact on the investigation is proportionate.

Expert Evidence

Closely aligned to the above discussion, it is made explicit within BIA reports that they do not constitute expert evidence. BIA reports deal in probabilities, not certainties and provide the most likely “type” of individual in order to systematically prioritize lines of enquiry. Due to the probabilistic nature of the findings, while the majority of recommendations will prove effective for the majority of cases, it is to be expected that in a minority of cases, the individual responsible will demonstrate significant variance with the reported probabilities. Even if a significant overlap exists between the “profile” and defendant, the best that could be inferred is that the defendant has the characteristics which have been suggested as most likely from a behavioral analysis of crime scene and related information. This should be deemed insufficiently relevant and reliable and too prejudicial to be received by the court as evidence of the defendant’s guilt. It is for this reason that it is made explicit that a BIA’s report is not fit for purpose in attempting to provide evidence of an individual’s involvement or guilt, or conversely as evidence that a specific individual cannot be responsible for an offense. This is not a failing of BIA advice, rather recognition of its investigative utility as a means of better understanding an event and informing and prioritizing investigative decision-making and actions. As such a “profile” should never be attempted to be used as evidence with regard to identity. However, the wider discipline of Behavioral Investigative Advice may, under specific circumstances, be able to contribute to the court process, although the exact parameters and process for such a contribution are at present unclear and may be found to fall foul of the same obstacles as “profiles” if tested (for a review of the evidential obstacles facing “offender profiling,” see Omerod and Sturman 2005).

Conclusions And Future Directions

Behavioral Investigative Advice has developed in the UK over the past decade as a distinct profession which has significantly widened the scope from the traditional, specific view of “offender profiling” to a discipline which now encompasses a broad range of scientifically based yet pragmatic activities related to supporting police investigations, based on replicable, transparent, and valid knowledge and research.

It is acknowledged that while perceptions of such activity may be misguided and outdated, both predecessors and many contemporary practitioners are perhaps still guilty of enthusiasm over professionalism. However, such experiences are perhaps inevitable in any emerging discipline and should not continue to represent the stick that beats contemporary efforts into submission.

Such contemporary optimism is bolstered by many years of frontline experience, hundreds of case consultations, and, significantly, by the policing community. Over the past decade, Senior Investigating Officers have gone from blind acceptance of an unproven innovative technique, through suspicion and virtual dismissal, to the more balanced mid-ground of critically and judiciously evaluating the potential such contributions BIA’s make within the overall investigative process.

This contemporary policing environment not only safeguards against the excesses and failures of the past, but demands the very evidence-based practice that contemporary BIAs have recognized as critical to the continuing development and professionalization of the discipline. This cannot be achieved by the practitioners alone. The research community hasa key role to play in such endeavors, but activity must be focused on solution-oriented research of direct relevance to the practitioners. Historically, BIAs have had to rely on what has been published within disparate research domains (e.g., psychiatry, criminology, environmental psychology, forensic science, medical science, etc.) and tease out the small morsels of relevance to investigative application. What is required is a much more integrated approach where practitioners and academics better understand one another’s aims and objectives and produce findings of direct relevance to real world application. It is acknowledged that many academics will view such bold proclamations as somewhat naive and fanciful, protesting that they have been advocating precisely the same intentions but that such rhetoric is never backed up with access to the masses of relevant data held by the police. This too is changing. The emerging investigative philosophy of a more scientific approach has led to not only the development of larger, centralized, and more sophisticated data collection processes, but also a greater willingness to share such data with the academic community.

In addition to broader knowledge and research strategies aimed at improving the way in which the police service create, assure, share, and use knowledge in support of practice and decision-making, greater access to data held within the various national databases together with clear articulation of specific research questions has began to develop such collaborative activity. It is hoped that such initiatives, viewed in tandem with an enhanced understanding of the contemporary philosophy of Behavioral Investigative Advice, will encourage further solution-oriented research and continue to inform future practice.


  1. ACPO (2005) Practice advice on core investigative doctrine. NCPE, Wyboston
  2. Alison L (ed) (2005) The forensic psychologist’s casebook: psychological profiling and criminal investigation. Willan, Cullompton
  3. Alison L, Rainbow L (eds) (2011) Professionalizing offender profiling: forensic and investigative psychology in practice. Routledge, Abingdon
  4. Omerod D, Sturman J (2005) Working with the courts: advice for expert witnesses. In: Alison L (ed) The forensic psychologist’s casebook: psychological profiling and criminal investigation. Willan, Cullompton

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